Grateful for the opportunity to impact many lives, Fr. Bukala focuses on forgiveness
By John Walsh
Rev. Casimir “Casey” Bukala, S.J., ’54, has had a profound influence on the Carroll community for the past 42 years.
“He changed my life,” says Matthew Mooney ’90, a life insurance professional living in Strongsville, Ohio, who met Fr. Bukala his freshman year at Carroll. “He introduced me to the concept of Jesus as your friend and the possibility of having the same relationship with Him that you do with a human person. When I was a young man, I had aspirations of becoming a priest, and he helped me work through that. He helped me mature a lot faster and guide me spiritually.”
In 1999, when Fr. Bukala, a native Clevelander, won the Distinguished Service Award, this is what was said about him: “Casey has always gone beyond the call of duty. He is everyone’s friend, a cherished confidant, and a remarkable teacher. He is beloved by all.”
Fr. Bukala started teaching philosophy – specializing in existentialism and phenomenology – at JCU in the fall of 1970.
Besides teaching philosophy, Fr. Bukala, who spent two years serving in the Army from 1956 to 1958 before entering the Jesuit novitiate, was a longtime wrestling and football chaplain who was inducted into the Blue Streak Hall of Fame in 2005. That same year the University dedicated the concourse at Don Shula Stadium, Casey’s Concourse, in honor of his many contributions to Carroll. In 2008, he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Jesuit.
“My connection to JCU is because of him,” says Mooney, who meets with Fr. Bukala regularly. “I will always have a commitment to Carroll because of him. His passion for the school is unwavering.”
Fr. Bukala started teaching philosophy – specializing in existentialism and phenomenology – at JCU in the fall of 1970 after doctoral studies at Boston College. He’s always tried to make the subject matter as personal and challenging as possible to all students, emphasizing they should always strive to understand what philosophers had to say and be able to develop their own responses to their thoughts.
Throughout the years, Fr. Bukala has developed many of his own ideas and interpretations. Alumni might recall his stick figure, which he still uses to explain and illustrate the existentialist perspective. It suggests a person always is moving from one situation in life to another. Two phrases associated with the illustration are “Who I am is related to who I am yet to become” and “I am the artist. I am the clay. What am I making of myself?”
Fr. Bukala has taught generations of students. He goes out of his way to befriend students, remember them, and invest in their success at Carroll.
“At the end of the first class of the semester, many students will walk up to me and say, ‘Father, you taught my dad, or mom, or brother, or sister,’” he says. “Am I boasting? You’re darn right I’m boasting! I’m boasting about all the blessings our Lord has bestowed on me.”
Teaching has enabled Fr. Bukala, the son of Polish immigrants, to share numerous ideas with students and have them share their ideas with him.
“I don’t know it all,” he says. “I learn a lot from students and help them learn more about themselves because there’s so much to know about the human person. There’s a lot they can learn from each other by sharing experiences. An important question in life is asking what it means to be human to each other.”
“Who I am is related to who I am yet to become.”
A man of God Fr. Bukala, whose mother died unexpectedly the day after she registered him for the first grade, says he’d fall short in any attempts to describe the happiness he feels as a priest.
“Often, when someone asks me about my vocation, I get teary eyed with a joy born of being unworthy of something so wonderful,” he says. “It’s an awesome experience for any Jesuit to realize his personal history is connected with that of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century and every Jesuit who joined him in what constitutes the Society of Jesus.”
Fr. Bukala, who was ordained in 1966, wants his students to have God in their lives according to their own religious beliefs.
“God is all about love, and love is all about God,” he says. “In my favorite Broadway musical, ‘Les Miserables,’ Jean Valjean says, ‘And do not forget the truth that to love another person is to see the face of God.’ For me, to see the face of God means we always strive to be good to each other, never hurting each other and trying to understand and express to others what love is all about.”
Fr. Bukala, 80, has been a priest for numerous alumni at weddings, baptisms, and memorial services.
“The most important blessings are the people we’ve met and gotten to know and love,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family, Jesuit community, and colleagues, as well as many friends. I keep in contact with many alumni and have a great affection for them. They are special to me. They know who they are.”
Focus on forgiveness
A principal interest Fr. Bukala developed during the past 15 years is the topic of forgiveness, which has been something humans have needed from the beginning of time and continue to need now. He created a course titled, “The Ethics of Forgiveness.” Fr. Bukala’s focus on the topic stems from the book “Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal, a story about a Nazi prison guard who, on his deathbed, asks a Jew for forgiveness and dies before the Jew could respond.
“Jesus encouraged us to forgive each other, for we all need and want to be forgiven,” he says. “Hannah Arendt, who lived during the Nazi era, coming to the U.S. after escaping the atrocities that were to come, wrote that forgiveness in the social realm begins with Jesus of Nazareth. She and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the well-known South African Anglican bishop, have proclaimed there’s no future without forgiveness.”
Among all the books, lectures, and discussions about forgiveness, there remains a serious need to keep reminding each other forgiveness is for the forgiver, Fr. Bukala says.
“It’s a gift we give first to ourselves, and then to the other,” he says. “We’ll all be in need of forgiveness at some time in our lives.”
Fr. Bukala has suggested alumni begin and foster a forgiveness fellowship in which individuals would come together to share their experiences and be supported by others.
“We make mistakes and need to do something about them,” he says. “There’s a need to let go of being hurt by someone, or hurting someone else, as well as a need to forgive ourselves for our own fallibility. Hopefully, everyone will find comfort and relief from the negative baggage they carry in life by sharing their stories. A part of us dies when we hurt someone or are hurt by someone, as well as when we don’t forgive ourselves. There is no future without forgiveness.” JCU
Editor’s note: Fr. Bukala is the recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award, Alumni Service Award, Alumni Medal, the Centennial Medal, and a Grauel Fellowship. He also was moderator of the IXYs and Rugby Club, as well as a member of Campus Ministry, and various University committees. Additionally, there are two scholarships and one endowment in his name. To read more, visit jcu.edu/bukala.