5 minutes with Father Michael Buentello, Teaching ‘goodness, discipline and knowledge’

December 6, 2011

HOUSTON — He considers himself an avid outdoorsman. He enjoys time on his kayak, fishing, camping, cycling and hiking. But what Father Michael Buentello, C.S.B, loves the most and something that brings plenty of joy in his life is a BBQ smoker that his family gave him a few years ago.

Father Buentello said he pulls that smoker anywhere on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, where he’s the chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry.

“I find it very relaxing to sit by [the] smoker and tend the fire as the wonderful aroma [of] barbecue surrounds me,” Father Buentello said. “It also provides moments when I can further engage the students in discussions.”

Recently, he answered questions about vocations for the Texas Catholic Herald and about his life as a priest.

Texas Catholic Herald: When did you originally consider becoming a priest? 
Father Buentello: My call to the priesthood was a gradual call. I had a very happy childhood. I am one of 11 children, eight boys and three girls. My parents surrounded us with love and a happy expression of the faith. From my parents I learned the importance of daily prayer and the necessity of the Eucharist as food for my soul. I cannot remember a time when I did not want to go to Mass on Sunday or any Holy Day of obligation. This was where the seeds of my vocation to priesthood were first planted. I can clearly remember mother and father telling us of a coming shortage of priests and sisters for the Church; this would have been in the late 1960s. I felt then a desire to do something to help the Church.
TCH: Did you have role model in the priesthood growing up or in the seminary? 
Father Buentello: I grew up in Palacios, Texas where we were served by very good parish priests. They were from Ireland and had totally immersed themselves into the life of parish and the parishioners. It was common to have “Father” at the house for dinner. They were my role models. They took an active interest in me and my siblings as well as my cousins at whose homes they would also dine. As we graduated from high school and entered university, they would engage us in theological, philosophical and political conversations. 

TCH: What drew you to the Basilian Fathers?
Father Buentello: I was drawn to the Basilian Fathers because of their work in education and their closeness to my family. My first six years of life were in New Gulf, Texas, a small town that was under the spiritual care of the Basilian Fathers. Though my father’s company transferred him and we relocated to Palacios, my family maintained a relationship with them. I find it exciting to be with young people at a critical time in their lives. I have taught at various high schools in New Mexico, New York, Indiana and Michigan. It has all been fun. I was in my early 20s when I was compelled to answer God’s call to serve Him as a priest. I did investigate the diocesan priesthood and the Basilian Fathers. I chose the Basilians because I could be a priest, teach in the classroom and on the weekends celebrate Mass in a parish. It was the best of both worlds. As a Basilian priest I have taught in our very good high schools throughout the United States. Though the schools are in different states, the motto of the Basilians is instilled into the school community, “Teach Me Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge.” Living in community was also important given my family background. 

TCH: What has being part of the University of St. Thomas meant to you, both personally and spiritually?
Father Buentello: I am blessed to be stationed at the University of St. Thomas. I graduated from here in 1983 and never in my dreams did I think that I would be assigned here. The university has grown over the years. It was a great university when I was student and I am confident to say that it is a better university today. It is a joy to celebrate Mass in the Chapel of St. Basil along with my brother Basilians, some who were here when I was a student. I have great admiration for the priests who are here and their witness to priesthood enriches my spirituality. Our students, too, are a blessing. Many are very spiritual and holy in ways that they are not often aware of; they are open to hearing the truth of Jesus Christ. Finally, being at the university allows me to have more contact with my family. Mom and Dad are doing well and in addition to being my parents, they are still mentoring me in the faith. 

TCH: Do you have any advice for anyone discerning the priesthood or religious life?
Father Buentello: I would advise any young man contemplating a vocation to the priesthood to not be afraid of the future and to trust God. I would also ask them to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus through the Mass. It is there that they will grow in love for Him and grow in a desire to please God, the Father. I still get excited about every Mass that I celebrate. It always seems that I am celebrating Mass for the first time. I hope that I never lose this sense of joy and excitement. †