Remembering a special “Father”

Gods Backyard 2017

The altar in “God’s Backyard” at the Carmelite Monastery on Volney Road, Youngstown, OH

On Fathers Day I usually like to scribble a few words about my cherished dad who passed away at the tender age of 99 years, 8 months, and 9 days – he so wanted to hit the century mark – but today while Norman Patrick Travers is foremost in my thoughts, there’s another special “father” I had in my life who deserves a moment or three of warm and affectionate reflection.  A “father” who slipped away to the Home Office, as he liked to call it, five years ago this past Friday.

This particular father bore the title of Father.  Father Richard Madden, OCD (Order of Discalced Carmelites).

Fr Madden

Fr. Richard Madden, OCD

When I first met Fr. Madden in 1980, he had been in Youngstown already for 25 years. As a 31-year-old monk born in Philadelphia and ordained in Milwaukee, he helped establish the Carmelite Monastery on Volney Road on Youngstown’s south side.  The rear of the monastery abutted Mill Creek Park high on a hill above Pioneer Pavilion, a setting he fittingly called God’s Backyard.  On Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, Father never failed to start his celebration of the Eucharist with a nod to The Creator’s scenic backdrop – followed by a weather report.  It usually went, “Well good evening my friends and welcome to God’s Backyard on this (beautiful and sunny/cloudy and threatening/rather humid) day…”

God I miss hearing that.  Just as much as I miss hearing “Now have a great day no matter what” at the end of Mass.

Father Richard Madden was quite an accomplished individual.  In addition to his achievements as a Carmelite, he was a pilot, scuba diver, renowned speaker, and author. And that’s the short list.  He was published in Time and wrote three books, one of which, Men in Sandals, became a best seller.  In fact, the success of Men in Sandals led to an invitation to appear on The Tonight Show back when it was hosted by Jack Paar, but he declined because, I believe, the Carmelites at the time frowned on any such individual recognition within their order.  That’s too bad, because it would have likely been a funny and enlightening interview.

Father Madden’s sense of humor was legendary in the community.  It was one of the reasons it wasn’t difficult to get my step-children to attend Mass at the Carmelite Monastery.  “A laugh and a lesson” is what they called it.  And he could be outrageously self-effacing even in the face of personal adversity such as when he lost a kidney and a lung to cancer. “None of my suits will fit right anymore,” he would say.

His homilies were simple and powerful.  His openness was genuine and sincere.  His smile was warm and engaging.  His compassion was real and limitless.   His soul was made of the stuff to which all souls should aspire.

For many of us here in Youngstown and quite literally other parts of the world, Father Madden’s mere presence enriched our lives beyond measure.  When he passed away on June 16th, 2012, the loss was unfathomable, like losing a beloved member of your family.  Indeed, for anyone who got to know Father Madden, he was an extension of our families.

So today I want to say, “Thank you, God, for giving us Father Richard Madden, OCD.”  To Father Madden I want to say, “Thank you for giving so much of yourself.”  You are deeply missed.

And one more thing.  Happy Fathers Day, Father!

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