This is the fifth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Richard James, OFM.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Golden jubilarian Michael Madden, OFM, who lives at St. Anthony Friary here, has made a ministry of maintenance and craftsmanship using his hands.
Whether he is tiling bathrooms, painting walls, refinishing windowsills, woodworking, or just managing day-to-day repairs, Michael is happiest in his ministry when he is busy. At almost 80, he shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m someone who must keep moving,” said the friar, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary as a friar this year.
The talented brother has maintained the friar houses in which he has lived, including Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., and Washington, D.C., and has helped in the former infirmary at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y. “I’ve also seen to the internal affairs of the houses where I was stationed,” he said.
During his years at Holy Name College, the Province’s house of studies, he estimates having made 150 solid oak chairs, which to this day can be found at locations throughout the Province. The hand-turned chairs, each weighing approximately 26 pounds, took roughly six months to make, he recalled. “I’m sure none has broken,” he said of the sturdy chairs that he made with the late Paulinus Myette, OFM.
Michael’s love of craftsmanship and maintenance began when he attended vocational high school in Baltimore, Md., where he was raised. “I picked it up growing up,” he said with a smile. He has worked in a variety of woodshops over the years, managing the repair and maintenance of friaries.
He estimates that he has renovated at least twice all 78 rooms and 80 bathrooms in St. Anthony Friary in his 27 years there. “The place was in bad shape when I came here in 1986,” he recalled.
Recently, he finished installing marble windowsills in the recreation room, after replacing windows and retiling baths at the friary.
Life as a Brother
Michael knew he would remain a brother and not become a priest when he entered religious life in 1963. “I decided to stay a brother before I came in,” he said. “I figured I could come in and help the priests. I wanted to help them out any way I could.”
While Michael said he knew he was drawn to religious life at a very young age, his life took a more secular path before becoming a friar. He entered the U.S. Army after high school and was assigned to work on an anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Project, in the 1950s. He was stationed in New Mexico.
He returned home in 1958 to take an apprenticeship at Flynn & Emerick, a foundry in the Baltimore area, where he made the patterns for aerospace and medical devices, as well as other projects with which the firm was involved. “I turned up on the lathe the first nose cone that was sent into space,” he said.
When he was first professed — at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., in 1963 — Michael had been to what was then known as a “brothers’ training school” in Croghan, N.Y.
His first assignment in 1963 was in cooking and maintenance at the Province’s St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H. After three years there, he was assigned to the SBU infirmary, from 1966 to 1967, where he took care of the sick. “I got them up, got them meals, washed their clothes, did all the little everyday things,” he said.
This caregiving role was one he enjoyed, since he was raised in a large family of 12 children.
“I loved it growing up. I used to feel sorry for people who had only one brother or sister.”
His father was the comptroller for the railroad, and while he did not make much money, he managed to send all 12 children to Catholic grammar school. Tuition back then, according to Michael, was 25 cents a week. Michael’s brother, Charles, is a friar with the Conventual Franciscans in Libertyville, Ill. He enjoys visiting his seven remaining siblings who live mostly in Maryland and New Jersey.
Early Interest in St. Francis
He fondly recalls becoming interested in St. Francis at the age of “about 5,” when an older sister was enlisted to keep Michael busy and read him the story of Francis of Assisi. “She says she doesn’t remember it, but I do,” he said with a laugh.
While his work now includes setting up for Masses and caring for the recreation room, in addition to the routine maintenance, Michael acknowledges having little time for hobbies, although he does ride his bike every weekend, clocking 30 miles on Saturday and Sunday.
“If I sit down in the evening with a book, I usually fall asleep,” said the golden jubilarian who said he is currently reading “As Bread that was Broken” by Jesuit Peter Van Breemen. Michael added that he savors his quiet time.
In fact, quiet time is one of the best parts of being a friar, he said. “I’ve liked the prayer life. I look forward to quiet time.”
To celebrate his jubilee, he and Paul Santoro, OFM, are going to tour the country by car this summer, taking three or four weeks to visit California and the missions in the West.
Michael would like to be remembered in this life “as a good Franciscan brother at the service of anyone who needed help.”
When asked what people would find surprising to learn about him, he simply said, “I think everyone knows me pretty well. I don’t know anything that would be surprising.”
In June, Michael will be honored with his classmates at the Province’s annual jubilee celebration.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series include Emeric Meier, OFM, Michael Putich, OFM, andWilliam Scully, OFM.