Declan A. Madden, OFM
1920 – 2006
Fr. Declan A. Madden, OFM, was born on Aug. 6, 1920, in Titusville, Pa., and entered St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y., in 1935.
He was received into the Franciscan Order in 1941 at St. Bonaventure Friary, Paterson, N.J., and professed first vows in 1942. In 1945, Fr. Declan professed solemn vows at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. He completed his philosophical studies at St. Stephen’s Friary in Croghan, N.Y., and St. Anthony’s Friary Butler, N.J., and his theological studies at Holy Name College. In 1947, he was ordained a priest in the Franciscan Monastery Church of Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington.
After early assignments at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston and St. Anthony Parish in Butler, Fr. Declan headed West in January 1950. He arrived at St. Elizabeth Friary in Denver, Colo., where he was to spend the rest of his life.
For 20 years, St. Elizabeth’s provided a “home base” for Fr. Declan, who as a member of the Western Mission Band and constantly on the road preaching parish missions and retreats throughout the Rocky Mountain region. He then “settled down” at St. Elizabeth’s, as guardian of the friary from 1970 to 1973, and again after the death of Fr. Eugene Dudley, OFM, from 1977 to 1983; he also served as pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish and director of campus ministry at the St. Francis Interfaith Center from 1977 to 1980.
Fr. Declan, however, was best known for his many outreach ministries in the Denver area, especially to the elderly. For many years, he served as chaplain to the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, whom Fr. Francis Koch, OFM, had invited to Denver in 1888. He also began visiting a local nursing home staffed by the sisters to say Mass, hear confessions and socialize with senior citizens.
During these visits, he sensed the lack of contact the residents had with the outside world and organized the Senior Roadrunners of Colorado program. In 1969, he chartered two buses and brought 82 seniors from three homes for a ride in the mountains. This program, sponsored by freewill donations, eventually chartered at least 25 buses each year for various outings, for 1,200 people from 55 different nursing homes.
In addition to his nursing home apostolate, Fr. Declan worked in the Center for Creative Arts, Inc., founded by the late Fr. Anthony Fedell, OFM. Fr. Declan served as operations consultant, as well as writer and co-developer of programs involving the elderly. When the Province decided to withdraw from St. Elizabeth’s in 1983, he requested permission to remain in Denver to continue his various ministries. He moved to an apartment at Francis Heights, a low-income housing complex for the elderly.
A Rocky Mountain News article published shortly after Fr. Declan’s death noted that over the past five decades, he had played the role of Santa Claus throughout the Denver region. Over the years, he wore out four Santa suits.
Fr. Declan shared with St. Francis the firm conviction that the best form of preaching is yourself. He related to people first and foremost on the human level. As Fr. Declan once recalled, he was still debating whether to enter the novitiate, working construction one summer in the late 1930s, building approaches to bridges: “I was young and there were these older guys on the work crew, and we got to talking about life and religion,” he said. “I told them I was thinking about going to the seminary, and one of the older men — I’ll never forget him, and I’ll never be able to repay him for this — he looked at me and said, ‘Give it a try.’ He said, ‘We can build bridges. But you can be one.’”
He died July 18, 2006, at Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette, Colo. The final Holy Name friar to serve in Denver, Fr. Declan was 85 years old, a professed Franciscan for 63 years and a priest for 59 years.