Illinois farm boy became missionary and helped develop New Guinea region

Father Joseph Bugner, 1935-2024


Father Joseph Bugner SVD, a missionary in Papua New Guinea for 35 years, died at Techny on May 8 at age 89.

A priest for 61 years and in religious vows for 69, Father Bugner was ordained to the priesthood in 1963. He fulfilled pastoral ministry for a year in Washington, D.C. before beginning his first overseas assignment in Papua New Guinea (then New Guinea).
In 1964, he was assigned to Mount Hagen, where he provided pastoral care for the area’s residents and supervised catechists in Kuli in northeast New Guinea. Father Bugner’s parish served roughly 6,000 Catholics in a 120-square-mile territory in the Wahgi River Valley.
During Father Bugner’s time in Kuli, the government launched a reclamation project that drained swamps and promoted land cultivation. The Department of Agriculture allocated 4,000 acres to New Guineans to develop tea plantations. The population blossomed as more and more people moved into the region from other parts of the island.
Under Father Bugner’s leadership, schools and community facilities increased. He managed catechists who taught about 300 children in 12 outlying areas. The parish school added two grades, and the government established an additional two schools. Father Bugner also built a medical clinic for Kuli.
The 600-square-foot building of timber and galvanized iron contained four rooms with a dispensary and a maternity ward that could accommodate overnight patients.
He seemed to have inherited his gifts in community development. A proud Illinoisan, Father Bugner descended from immigrants who settled in Rogers Park in 1844.
At the time, the Village of Rogers Park was an independent entity. The City of Chicago annexed it in 1893. According to the Edgewater Historical Society, Father Bugner’s forefather, John Bugner, deeded the property upon which Chicago’s St. Henry church was built.
Generations later, the future priest was born in Prairie View, Ill., an unincorporated community between Buffalo Grove and Lincolnshire, on Feb. 24, 1935. He was the ninth of John and Margaret (Losch) Bugner’s 14 children, who grew up on the family farm.
Father Bugner had lived in the Divine Word Residence at Techny since 1999.
His funeral Mass was held on May 15 in the Divine Word Residence chapel, and he was buried in St. Mary Cemetery at Techny.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the name of Father Bugner and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.