The 900 students at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Cordova got some good news Wednesday morning, and some bad news.
“School was supposed to end on the 25th, but now it will end on the 24th,” Monsignor Peter Buchignani told students gathered in the sanctuary for Wednesday mass.
“That is my gift to you, an extra holiday,” he said. The students clapped and cheered.
The monsignor’s gift was a parting one. That was the bad news.
“I am retiring,” said Buchignani, the 72-year-old Memphis native who was ordained a priest in 1965 and who likes to spend a little time holding class before saying mass.
“What does that mean?”
Dozens of students raised their hands. He called on one. “It means you’re not going to work here anymore,” one youngster offered.
Buchignani laughed. “That’s about as blunt you you can make it,” he said.
That’s about as blunt as it feels to most St. Francis parishioners and parents. Peter Paul Buchignani (his twin brother is Paul Peter) has grounded their parish and school for the past 17 years, a time of phenomenal growth.
St. Francis parish was established with 100 families in 1985. A decade later, when Buchignani was appointed parish priest, there were 900 families. Today, there are more than 2,500 families, making it the largest Catholic parish in the area.
During his tenure, Buchignani oversaw construction of a new family life center and a $1-million sanctuary expansion. He also led expansion of St. Francis Elementary School and adjacent St. Benedict High School, which has more than 1,000 students.
“Monsignor is a wise and caring priest, a man of integrity and strength, who always seeks to affirm what is good and true,” said Dr. Mary McDonald, retiring as superintendent of Memphis Catholic Schools.
“He may be retiring from his assignment as Pastor of St. Francis, but his ministry, and his legacy live on in the work he has accomplished in the Diocese.”
Buchignani, who over the years has served eight parishes in the Memphis Diocese, won’t be working as a parish priest anymore, but he plans to continue his legal duties as the bishop’s vicar general.
“Monsignor Buchignani has served in every capacity imaginable for the Diocese,” said Monsignor John McArthur of St. Louis Catholic Church. “He has been a strong friend and adviser to all four of our Bishops. He has been a priest’s priest. He is very gifted at seeing a situation and quickly understanding all sides and giving wise advice as to a solution.
“As pastor, Vicar General, Chancellor and Head of the Marriage Tribunal he has been the constant face and name of the Catholic Church of Memphis. He is a dear friend and support to me and a model of the priesthood for all of us. His retirement will only be in name because he was meant to be a priest and nothing can change that.”
Buchignani grew up in Memphis and graduated from Christian Brothers High School. His mother Margaret died three years ago at age 98. He has a sister and three brothers, including Richard who is a retired priest.
“I have admired Monsignor Buchignani since my seminary days,” said Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, a former Memphis priest. “He has always been a priest I look up to – for his kindness and joy, his pastoral zeal and experience, his intelligence, his good advice, his faithfulness to the church, and his patience.
“Since his ordination for the Diocese of Nashville, he has been an important part of the Catholic church in Tennessee, and all the bishops and priests of Memphis have relied on him for help and support. He has always been eager to help in any way, and I for one benefited many times from his encouragement and assistance in many areas of priestly ministry. I hope he enjoys retirement and plays a lot of golf.”