HAMILTON >> The Rev. John Roger Madden, a much loved Roman Catholic priest who came to question the Church's teachings on several key issues, died on Aug. 10, 2016 in Syracuse. The cause was complications of heart problems that almost took his life in a "near death" experience two decades earlier.
Father Madden was one of seven children of Eugene and Genevieve (Tormey) Madden. A native of New Hartford, N.Y., he was educated at the village public schools and entered the University of Notre Dame in 1949. He withdrew in his junior year to begin seminary training in Rochester, N.Y. later attending the School of Sacred Theology at the Catholic University of America. In 1959, he was ordained as Priest for the Diocese of Syracuse and served in upstate New York for his entire ministry.
Father Madden began his pastoral ministry at St. Agatha's, Canastota, N.Y. and was later assigned to St. Mary's, Clinton. Devoted to Youth Ministry, he became involved in community affairs such as the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Advisor to Children's Court, Migrant Ministry and the early efforts for Civil Rights with the Clinton Committee of Brotherhood.
He later commented that he felt fortunate to have been a priest in the time of reform following the Second Vatican Council. Having been ordained in the "old church," he was excited to experience Liturgical Renewal with deeper spiritual and devotional expression. Social justice concerns in the Church suddenly seemed relevant to modern times. The role of the "People of God" was greeted with well-informed and competent Lay responsibility. The Church appeared to be on the path to genuine renewal.
In the early days following the Second Vatican Council, Father John was active in the Priestly Formation Committee and helped introduce "Parish Councils," now found in most parishes for responsible leadership in all phases of parish life. He urged continuing education for priests in pastoral counseling and ecumenical action for social issues, himself serving for 15 years as Family Life Director for Catholic Charities. As Director of Area Catholic Charities he also helped jump-start a Community Support System for former mental patients, a severe problem at a time when de-institutionalization was depriving many mentally-ill patients of the support they needed. Providing decent housing for the vulnerable was a particular challenge. Fr. John was proud of his leadership in helping create Bethany House in Rome, the state's first health related facility.
From 1965 to 1980 he worked in Catholic Charities of Utica, Rome and Madison County, while also serving parishes of St. Mark's, Utica and St. John the Baptist, Rome, pastor of St. Mary's, Florence and once again, St. Mary's, Clinton. In 1980, he concluded his work with Catholic Charities and Camp Nazareth and enjoyed a year's sabbatical at his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, at which time he was awarded his degree of bachelor of science with his class of 1953.
In 1981, Fr. John returned to pastoral work at St. Bernard's, Waterville and its Mission of St. Mary's, North Brookfield. He thoroughly enjoyed parish ministry as well as community involvement, particularly in serving as an E.M.T. with the Volunteer Ambulance Corps. During his years at St. Bernard's, he opened the rectory to many who were in need of housing and guidance. When his term limit expired, he became pastor of St. Helena's, Sherrill, to serve what he later called "the easiest year of his priesthood," thanks to the gifted leaders within the congregation. In 1994, he assumed his final pastorate at St. Mary's, Hamilton and several years later became administrator of St. Joan of Arc, Morrisville. In these positions, he developed many friendships through sports, recreation and water therapy at the Colgate University pool. Embracing life in the "Spirit of Ecumenism," he cultivated friends and acquaintances of all faiths and creeds.
These years, however, were not without their disappointments and one near tragedy. In his first year at St. Mary's, Hamilton he had a traumatic near-death experience when his heart stopped for a terrifying few minutes. The result, as a friend observed, was a renewed appreciation of the preciousness of all human life, and the value of each new day. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and great care, he was able to enjoy another 17 years of parish ministry.
Fr. John voiced his disappointments, ironically, at a celebration of his retirement in May, 2009. There he presented a "Mission Manifesto" that spoke of the impending tragedy in the Church due to the shortage of ordained priests, a tragedy he attributed directly to the doctrine of priestly celibacy and the refusal to ordain women. He also had come to realize, not having been married, how singularly unsuited he had been to dispense family counseling in his years as a Family Life Director for Catholic Charities. Regarding contraception, he censured the Church's "failure to promote the teachings of the Second Vatican Council concerning responsible parenthood and the mutual expressions of love in marriage and family life."
Reaction to the "Mission Manifesto" suggested that Fr. John had given voice to sentiments many fellow Roman Catholics shared. "I just wanted to tell you, John, how much I appreciated your "Mission Manifesto," wrote Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame. "If I had the power to do so, I would enact your suggestions, not tomorrow but tonight, before midnight."
By this time, Fr. John had staged his own quiet protest. In 1972, he had been honored by Pope Paul VI by being named a Domestic Prelate with the title, Reverend Monsignor, for his work with Catholic Charities. Later in life, he disregarded the title in solidarity with an Austrian priest who was stripped of the title, "Monsignor" because he encouraged just discussion of the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood.
Loyal to his calling, Fr. John vigorously defended his decision to remain in the priesthood despite his disappointment over the failed promise of Vatican II. At his retirement luncheon he reminded guests that "we Christians are a pilgrim people and Jesus Christ never told us it would be quick and easy." With these words, he retired from active ministry after 52 years, later enjoying his retirement at the Nottingham Senior Living Community in Syracuse, thanks to the generosity of the Diocese of Syracuse.
Fr. John was predeceased by his parents; his sisters, Eleanor (Vic) Eghigian, Janice (John) Hunt; brothers, Eugene (Nancy), Robert (Helen Marie), Thomas and Jerome. He is survived by sisters-in-law Joan Frank Madden (Jerome) and Rita Hameline Madden (Thomas) and also 34 nieces and nephews and their families.
An affable, social man with a wry sense of humor, Fr. John leaves many friends, among them Stephen W. Girard and his wife Sandy, of Kentucky and Shawn K. Migdal, whose care and companionship he particularly enjoyed on their Adirondack adventures. Josh Cook has been particularly kind and compassionate during Fr. John's stay at the Nottingham. Some people joked that Fr. John had more interest in Irish Setters than in giving good sermons. But those who knew him soon realized he had a heart big enough to embrace all God's creatures.
In memory of Fr. John Madden you may wish to write to: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, President, 3111 Fourth St. N.E, Washington DC 20017 or join an on-line petition organized by Fr. John's nephew, Richard D. Hunt, Lancaster, N.Y. ([email protected]
) which states a clear and forthright expression of grassroots people that the Conference begin discussions of the Ordination of Women and of the end of Mandatory Celibacy. You will not be excommunicated.
Fr. Madden's body will lie in state at St. Mary's Church in Hamilton, N.Y. from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. The Vigil Service will begin at 7 p.m. Friday. Fr. John's Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated at St. Mary's Church, Hamilton, N.Y. on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Burial will be in a family plot in St. Bernard's Cemetery, Waterville, N.Y.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Burgess & Tedesco Funeral Home, 25 Broad St., Hamilton, N.Y.
To send a condolence and sign the Book of Memories online go to www.burgessandtedescofuneralhomes.com.
Published by The Oneida Daily Dispatch from Aug. 11 to Aug. 12, 2016.