In Fr Martin Bugler, people saw the goodness of God mirrored in his humanity, and that was something that attracted people to him.
So said Fr Stuart Sellar in a homily preached at a requiem Mass at a packed St Joseph’s church, Takapuna, on December 29.
Fr Bugler died on Christmas Eve, at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby. He was 93 years old, and had been a priest for 62 years.
In his homily, Fr Sellar recalled Fr Bugler preaching another homily one year previously, at St John Vianney House in Auckland, that highlighted the mystery of Christ at Christmas. “The Word of God. The Son of God. Humanity and divinity come together in one – and the extraordinary mystery of the little baby.”
It took Fr Bugler back to his childhood in Clonusker, Ireland, and to a very prayerful experience he had once had in a cowshed, sensing deeply the presence of God, and envisioning the baby Jesus at Christmas. God was “everywhere” in this experience, Fr Sellar explained.
“Martin, the whole of his life, was constantly seeking and finding God who is everywhere, so that, each day, his eyes saw the salvation of my God,” he said, referencing the words of Simeon from the passage in Luke’s Gospel read at the Mass (Luke 2:30).
“Several times Martin told me that, as a boy, everyone in his village was a mystic – and I believe [this]. They could see God in places that are hidden from many others that aren’t looking for him.”
Fr Sellar spoke of Fr Bugler’s “dancing days” as a young man, his brush with the law for riding a motorbike without a light, and his experience at the novitiate of the Redemptorist fathers.
Fr Bugler was later to say that his time with the Redemptorists “broke” him. But he added that it was “the breaking that made me. It made me fit for all that lay ahead”.
After meeting then-Bishop James Michael Liston, who was in Ireland looking for young men to serve as priests in Auckland, Martin Bulger entered St Patrick’s Seminary, Thurles, and he was ordained in to the priesthood in 1958.
Fr Sellar prefaced this part of the homily with an amusing anecdote which related how the young Martin Bugler initially thought Bishop Liston might be Japanese.
In this country, Fr Bugler served in Hamilton – where he worked with his dear friend and fellow Irishman Fr (later Msgr) Vincent Hunt – and then in Gisborne. He was parish priest of Dargaville, Owairaka, Papatoetoe, Waiuku, Te Atatu, Pukekohe, Helensville, and then finally moved to Milford for nine years.
“During his pastoral years,” Fr Sellar said, “the thing that stood out for me was his extraordinary love for the people. They, in turn, responded with their love. They cared for him, they recognised his deep pastoral care. He loved all his people, because they could see – as the Psalmist said – he was a blessed man, who held no malice.”
But Fr Bugler did not confine himself to parish ministry. He was involved with various groups, including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Legion of Mary, the Latin Mass community and with pro-life causes.
“He had this inseparable link with life, love and the goodness of people. He was, in fact, one could say, a man for all seasons,” Fr Sellar said.
“He found the goodness of the Lord in the ordinariness of life, and the ordinariness of people.”
A phrase from Hildegard of Bingen sustained him for many years, Fr Sellar added. Fr Bugler saw himself as a “feather on the breath of God”. Later, after so many years of celebrating the Eucharist, he came to see himself as absorbed into Christ.
“We come here with a mixture of grief and great delight that we have known and loved Martin and he has known and loved us too,” Fr Sellar said.
At the start of the Mass, Bishop Patrick Dunn thanked people “for loving and supporting [Fr Bugler] throughout his 60-plus years of ministry here in Aotearoa New Zealand”.
Among those the bishop thanked were the Little Sisters of Poor and Sister Disciples of Divine Master for their care for Fr Bugler in recent years.
Describing Fr Bugler as a “lovely pastor”, Bishop Dunn told of “one occasion when Martin was present, I referred to him as the Bishop of Milford [on Auckland’s North Shore].
“And he never forgot that,” Bishop Dunn said, with a laugh. “He sometimes had a bishop’s cross around his neck . . . he was waiting for the crozier,” the bishop added, which elicited laughter from the congregation.
At the start of Mass, among the “symbols of Christ” laid on Fr Bugler’s casket was the Book of the Gospels, which was placed there by Anglican Rev. Grant Robertson. Fr Bugler had enjoyed warm, good relations with ministers of other churches.
N A book about Fr Bugler’s life, titled “A Song to be Sung”, was printed not long before Fr Bugler’s death. The official book launch will be after 10.30am Mass on Sunday, February 14, at St Joseph’s church, Takapuna.