May 7, 2024 | Local News, Obituaries
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

In this undated photo, Fr. Mark Buckner is seen with schoolchildren of Owensboro Catholic K-3 Campus during a school Mass. COURTESY OF OWENSBORO CATHOLIC SCHOOLS

‘Always hospitable’

Friends, parish community, remember Fr. Mark Buckner who was ‘like family’


Cecilia Millay and her family will never forget Fr. Mark Anthony Buckner’s catchphrase: “Thank about it, pray about it.”

“His biggest impact was fostering our family’s faith,” she said. “He was always an ‘arms wide open’ man. He wanted everyone involved. If he saw someone hanging around, he would be sure to invite them in. He was always hospitable.”

Fr. Buckner, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley, passed away April 26, 2024, at age 65.

Born in Owensboro on Dec. 29, 1958, he attended Highland Elementary School and Daviess County High School and went on to attend University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Cardinal Stritch University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies in 1999. He received his Master of Divinity degree in 2002 from Sacred Heart School of Theology. Fr. Buckner was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Owensboro by Bishop John J. McRaith on May 5, 2002.

Cecilia Millay’s husband, Todd, said their pastor was good at “keeping the parish community engaged” and that Fr. Buckner would always make breakfast – with bloody marys – for those who cooked at the parish family picnic.

Todd Millay said Fr. Buckner was “neat and orderly” and dedicated to keeping the parish grounds beautiful, as well as welcoming families into the parish community.

Fr. Mark Buckner lights candles around the altar at St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley on Nov. 21, 2021, prior to a Mass celebrated in the presence of the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, which were on a pilgrimage tour across the United States. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

Cecilia Millay said their pastor was known for giving high-fives to the kids at Mass, which was fondly remembered by her religious education students.

“He was a very giving person,” she said, recalling a time in which she and their son, Trace, were going to attend YOUTH 2000, an annual retreat for teens. Fr. Buckner called her and asked if they might stop by the rectory on their way to the retreat.

“And he gave us rosaries that had been blessed by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict,” she said.

Amanda Fischer is another parishioner whose family’s faith grew because of Fr. Buckner.

She said that after the weekly Saturday vigil Mass, Fr. Buckner would usually join her, her husband, Brian, and daughter, Meredith, to go out to eat. The restaurant was always “Father’s choice,” because he loved good food.

He loved the outdoors, as well.

“He did a lot of gardening with us,” said Fischer. “He’d sit on a bucket at the end of the row, chat with us as we were picking green beans… he was part of our family.”

Fischer said her daughter, who has been an altar server, lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, was encouraged by Fr. Buckner.

“She really looked up to him,” said Fischer. “He was a great mentor to her.”

He was also a mentor for many of the priests of the Diocese of Owensboro, according to Fr. Ryan Harpole, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bowling Green.

Saying a few words at the end of Fr. Buckner’s April 30 funeral Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral, Fr. Harpole said he was one of several priests who regularly went to Fr. Buckner for confession, recognizing him as a compassionate confessor.

(Left to right) Fr. Pynadath, HGN; Fr. Mark Buckner; Fr. Will Thompson; and Fr. Jerry Riney are seen in this photo from Owensboro Catholic High School’s 2019 homecoming. COURTESY OF ST. STEPHEN CATHEDRAL

He had met Fr. Buckner 18 years ago, when Fr. Harpole was a young seminarian, and from that point on Fr. Harpole looked up to the older priest.

“Over the last few days, I’ve tried to pick up my phone and call him or text him, because I did call him and text him quite a bit for advice about this or that,” said Fr. Harpole. “And I find myself giving myself the consolation and advice I give to people when I do a funeral. That you know that person is closer to you now, than they ever were when they were here on this earth.”

He said he keeps saying in prayer when this happens, “Mark, pray for me, and pray for us.”

Fr. J. Patrick Reynolds, vicar general for the diocese and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, gave the homily for Fr. Buckner’s funeral.

Fr. Reynolds acknowledged that while Fr. Buckner had suffered multiple health challenges for many years, his death has been a shock for all.

“But there was always a sense of hope and even joy that shone in him – knowing that God was assisting him through every event of his life,” said Fr. Reynolds. “And he knew that God’s grace was strengthening him and preparing him for eternal life, because he preached that so often.”

Fr. Reynolds said Fr. Buckner lived “to be a beacon of joy and hospitality to others.”

“He was never stingy in offering food and drink, he was the perfect host; the Gospel reminds us that the Lord does the very same thing for us,” said Fr. Reynolds.

Fr. Buckner’s first assignment was as an associate pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green from 2002 to 2003. During that time, he also served as vice chair of the Bowling Green/Warren County Ministerial Association and on the Citizen Advisory Board for Bowling Green, holding these positions until 2004.

Fr. Mark Buckner is seen during a May Crowning at St. Pius X Parish in Calvert City on May 1, 2005. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

He then moved to serve as associate pastor at Blessed Mother Parish in Owensboro from 2003 to 2004. In 2004, he assumed his first role as pastor at St. Pius X Parish in Calvert City, where he remained until 2007; while there he also served as chaplain at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville and Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia. From 2007 to 2009, Fr. Buckner served as the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Grand Rivers, and then became pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho from 2009 to 2016. He also served as the pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish in Curdsville from 2016 to 2017.

Fr. Buckner served as a chaplain for the Christian Women’s Organization, the Owensboro Police Department, and the Owensboro Council of Labor. Throughout his career, he also held multiple terms as Dean.

In the final years of his life, starting in 2017, Rev. Buckner served as the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Browns Valley.

Dcn. Tim Nugent, who serves at St. Anthony Parish, had ministered alongside Fr. Buckner ever since the latter’s arrival in 2017. Dcn. Nugent echoed others’ memories of Fr. Buckner’s hospitality and desire to create a welcoming parish.

“The Monday of the week he died, he mulched (the parish grounds),” said Dcn. Nugent. “You might not realize how much he did under the radar.”

Dcn. Nugent said Fr. Buckner was impacted by his years of poor health, but that he would not let it stop him from serving the parish.

“He suffered, but he refused to slow down – he just kept going,” said Dcn. Nugent. “I think he wanted to serve out his ministry for as long as he could.”

Dcn. Nugent said Fr. Buckner always arrived at the church early; “sometimes hours before Mass. Everything was ready, ordered, prepared. He was usually vested 30 minutes before Mass. He literally greeted every single person who came to the door.”

Spiritual bouquets, representing prayers for the repose of the soul of Fr. Mark Buckner and made by the students of Owensboro Catholic 4-6 Campus, are seen on April 30, 2024, at St. Stephen Cathedral during his funeral liturgy. Fr. Buckner was known for his support and ministry to the Owensboro Catholic School system. COURTESY OF APRIL DICKENS

“He walked with our parishioners,” said Dcn. Nugent. “He took that seriously. We have some older parishioners, and he took great care in visiting the sick. He was very compassionate to our sick and homebound.”

“I learned a great deal working with him,” he said.

Rosemary Thompson, a parishioner of St. Anthony Parish, said she is still processing Fr. Buckner’s death.

“He was a wonderful pastor and a dear friend,” she said, adding that she and her husband, Bill, would often have Fr. Buckner over for a drink on their patio. “We’re a close-knit parish, like a family – and he was family.”

She recalls that he was “great with youth and kids,” she said. “He knew every child’s name. The louder they got in church, the more he grinned. That’s the future of the Church, and he knew that.”

Thompson said Fr. Buckner was “very close” to his parents and family members; “they were the center of his life.”

“We’re going to miss him,” she said.

April Dickens, who serves as the bookkeeper at St. Anthony Parish, said his closeness with his family was “probably why he so easily became like family to his parishioners,” calling him “a great priest, boss, and friend.”

She said Fr. Buckner was known for his care and support of Owensboro Catholic School system, including Owensboro Catholic Middle School, where he served as their chaplain.

“He is one of the priests who was always at YOUTH 2000 hearing confessions,” she said. “My own kids will tell you that he touched their lives during his time as my boss at St. Anthony, and in their time at Owensboro Catholic Schools.”

The students of Owensboro Catholic 4-6 Campus even created a spiritual bouquet to display at Fr. Buckner’s funeral, and which was later displayed for the weekend Masses at St. Anthony. One of the “flowers” in the bouquet, made by a student, read, “Father Mark was an awesome person. He was kind, caring, and encouraging.”

Those left to cherish Fr. Buckner’s memory include his parents, Claudine and Joseph “Bennie” Blandford; sister, Cindy L. Roberston and her husband Bryan; nephew, Eric Roberston and his wife Sarah; niece, Jamie Potter and her husband Ryan; great-nephews, Karson and Adler; and great-nieces, Emersyn, Sophia, and Gracen.

Fr. Buckner’s Mass of Christian Burial was held on April 30, and he was laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery in Owensboro. Expressions of sympathy may take the form of contributions to St. Anthony Catholic Church, 261 St. Anthony Road, Utica, KY 42376, or the Carmel Home, 2501 Old Hartford Road, Owensboro, KY 42303.

A flower in a spiritual bouquet for the repose of the soul of Fr. Mark Buckner reads: “Father Mark was an awesome person. He was kind, caring, and encouraging. He was an awesome guy everybody liked. He was amazing. We loved him. He will be welcomed into heaven like a saint.” The spiritual bouquet was made by students of Owensboro Catholic 4-6 Campus, where Fr. Buckner often ministered. COURTESY OF APRIL DICKENS

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