A Priest I Wish I Had Known

By Coday, Dennis | National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

A Priest I Wish I Had Known


Coday, Dennis, National Catholic Reporter


I never met Fr. John Madden, who was a priest for the Syracuse, N.Y., diocese for some 57 years, but after reading his obituary and talking with his nephew, I wish I had known him. He died Aug. 10 at age 84. He could be described, like the best of those ordained in his generation, as a priest's priest. He would have been as comfortable chairing a Catholic Charities board of directors meeting as sitting at a parishioner's kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

A priest friend of Madden's sent me his obituary (online at tinyurl.com/j7j9n7n), asking me to share it with NCR readers.

Ordained in 1959, Madden was already an experienced parish priest by the time of the Second Vatican Council. Madden had a deep appreciation for the best of the church before the council, but enough lived pastoral experience to make him embrace the reforms of Vatican n. After the council, his obituary says, he believed "the Church ... to be on the path to genuine renewal."

Serving on the diocesan priests formation council, Madden helped introduce parish councils and encouraged continuing education for priests, urging his fellow clergy to seek advanced degrees that could help the pastoral missions.

His obituary is a litany of parish assignments and deep involvement with Catholic charities. He seems to have had a special affinity for ministry to the mentally ill, and helped establish community-based programs as the de-institutionalization of mental patients left them fending for themselves.

His obituary says that Madden "opened the rectory to many who were in need of housing and guidance."

That was no metaphor, Madden's nephew Richard D. Hunt assured me in a phone call Aug. 16. He would literally open the rectory to people who needed a place to say, Hunt said. "And you didn't have to be Catholic."

Madden "was a Pope Francis priest before there was a Pope Francis," Hunt said.

This doesn't mean that Madden's life also didn't have a full share of trials and disappointments. A heart attack and near-death experience in 1992 created in Madden a deepening appreciation of human life and the value of living fully each new day It also stirred in him a disappointment in the church.

In the last years of his active ministry, he would write: "The future of the Church appears in many ways, to be in crisis, and I feel saddened to enter the final stage of ministry with such a bleak outlook. …

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