Throughout her career as a Christian minister, the Rev. Kathleen Buckley has risen to the challenges confronting her and the communities in which she’s served.
In July 2001, she became the chaplain at St. Lawrence University in Canton. The United States endured the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks two months later. She had to find ways to help students, faculty and staff members grasp the senselessness of these atrocities.
“Not long after the fall semester opened that year, the horrific deadly events of Sept. 11 occurred. It was Kathleen’s leadership in a difficult day, even years later, that gathered our community in grief and remembrance,” SLU President William L. Fox recently wrote on his school website. “She used the offices of the chaplaincy and the chapel itself to comfort so many Laurentians in a moment of devastating confusion and loss. Her ministry at St. Lawrence rose out of tribulation. And yet, she served our community in the dignity of countless public ceremonies, such as welcoming new students, blessing the senior class at commencement and arranging the annual candlelight service at the end of the fall term. In our shared moments of joy and sadness, Kathleen was the vital presence of a calming, uplifting effect felt by us all.”
Mr. Fox’s message reflects the mourning felt by many today within the school community. Rev. Buckley died Jan. 12. Prior to coming to SLU, she served at both Union College in Schenectady and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.
“She was a pillar by every measure, one to lean on, one to look up to and one to remember in despair. Kathleen was especially gifted and skillful in caring for people as individuals, people in small groups, and in particular communities of experience,” Mr. Fox wrote. “Her work as a teacher in the study of human relationships was expressed in the practice of mediation, restoration, and healing. Her affection for international students was evident every Thanksgiving when dozens would shuttle out to her home in the woods for a feast, much of it coming from Kathleen’s impressive garden. Kathleen helped students discover a bibliography and vocabulary for conversation about human spiritual needs and questions. Her series of seminars called ‘Build Your Own Beliefs’ have given students the caring, accepting and secure occasion to explore their values and hopes. Her compassion for just one person in ‘little unremembered acts of kindness’ was multiplied times and lives past counting.”
Rev. Buckley obtained a master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. She became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1986.
That year, she traveled to New York to serve as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Watervliet in Albany County. She came out as a member of the LGBTQ community and resigned her position in February 1993.
Rev. Buckley eventually left the Presbyterian Church in March 2001 and became ordained in the United Church of Christ (Congregationalists). Her story is recounted in “One Step at a Time,” part of the 1995 book “Called Out: The Voices and Gifts of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Presbyterians.”
A group called Seeking God’s Wisdom, part of First United Presbyterian Church in Troy, made a wonderful stole more than 20 years ago in honor of Rev. Buckley. It’s part of an online display called Shower of Stoles, a website maintained by the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. The physical collection of stoles is held by the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Martha Juillerat, founder of the Shower of Stoles Project, wrote the following in 2006 about the stole made for Rev. Buckley:
“This is one of my favorite stoles. It’s proof that, despite all the pain and loss we’ve known, this movement still has a sense of humor. At about 11 feet in total length and 1 foot wide, this is the largest stole in the collection. Kathleen, herself, is just a bit over 5 feet tall. A member of the Troy church told me that they chose to make a stole that would ‘reflect her personality and her preaching style, not her stature!’ On the Sunday that her stole was to be dedicated, Kathleen was invited to preach and preside over communion. Undaunted, she wore the stole throughout the service, proudly pinning it to her shoulders and hoisting it up when necessary. Big letters running the full length of one panel read, ‘GOD IS WILD!’ Indeed, Kathleen embodies the spirit of our wildly inclusive God.”
Rev. Buckley was cherished by those she ministered to for more than three decades. She encountered environments that could be indifferent at times and hostile at others. But she persevered in her profession, finding her place and using her many talents to provide guidance and comfort.
A void was left in Gunnison Memorial Chapel on the SLU campus after Rev. Buckley’s death. But those who knew and loved her will commemorate her life in this sacred space at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2. People are invited to visit http://wdt.me/6BR88y to share their memories of her.
The school is establishing a memorial fund in Rev. Buckley’s honor. More information can be found at http://wdt.me/rCLXVF.