On Saturday, 4 July 2015, American Independence Day, US-born and raised Bryan Buenger was ordained to the priesthood at Palmerston North’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Charles Drennan celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Fr Bryan was born in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, earning advanced degrees in marketing, and Northern Arizona Education, and Educatioanal Leadership.
His varied career path before answering the call to priesthood included working in banking, being an international flight attendant, a retail store manager, and a secondary school teacher and department Chair at Gilbert High School in Gilbert, Arizona. ‘The good Lord has blessed me with many opportunities throughout my life prior to becoming a priest,’ he says.
While discerning the call to the priesthood since the age of 15, Fr Bryan finally said, ‘yes’ during his fifties. Fr Bryan said, ‘Spending hours each week before the Blessed Sacrament at St Anne’s – my home parish in Gilbert, Arizona, where I was involved in various pastoral works – I came to realise that I had been saying ‘not yet’ to the Lord for many years, and the longing to serve Him in ordained ministry reached its pinnacle there’.
‘As an older person entering the priesthood, I bring a lifetime of experience. This isn’t to say younger men are to be discounted in their experience – their youth and vitality are just as important. There is, however, a benefit that can come from life experiences only time can provide.’
Fr Bryan enrolled in the Kino Institute to begin theological studies, culminating in an invitation by Bishop Charles Drennan to continue studies at New Zealand’s national seminary in Auckland. There he completed a BA in theology.
Fr Bryan was assigned to Fr Brian Walsh, parish priest of St Joseph’s, Dannevirke (including Eketahuna, Pahiatua and Woodville) to further his preparation to the priesthood.
‘Fr Brian Walsh has been a great mentor and friend. The people of the many parishes I have been honoured to serve in New Zealand as well as in Arizona have, and always will be, my inspiration to do God’s will. I thank God for each and every one of them daily.’
Coming from the United States to celebrate the ordination were Barbara Buenger (sister), Fr Sergio Munoz Fita (pastor at St Anne’s), as well as Fr Bryan’s friends from Arizona and Oregon.
On the subject of becoming, and serving as, a priest so far from home, Fr Bryan says, ‘While I miss my own family in the States, the warm and generous people with whom I have been placed seem to have adopted me in my new ‘home country’, Aotearoa New Zealand. Our wonderful Māori community in Dannevirke, where I am based at St Joseph’s, has honoured me with the title Pā Bryan, and it seems to be catching on with the locals.’