Sister Mary Roger Madden
A reading from the Gospel of John (20:19-21)
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Sister Mary Roger Madden referenced this Scripture passage from the Gospel of John regarding the resurrection on a page where she wrote this poem entitled, “A Little While.”
“Hold not to what is seen, cling no more to comfort.
Ephemeral as the morning midst
That hid my face from you
Here in this borrowed garden,
Ours for just this little while.
Go … Tell the others!”
Mary Roger’s whole life was a journey of “telling others.” Whether writing, speaking, or in prayer, the focus of her being was an attempt to articulate the faith she held so deeply in her mind and in her heart, wrote Providence Associate Cynthia Ann MacWhorter in her commentary – delivered by Sister Janice Smith – for Sister Mary Roger Madden, who passed away on Saturday, June 24, 2023, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 102-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for almost 83 years.
Sister Janice continued: In 1920, the ground was broken for our Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and in that same year, a baby was born on December 5 in Decatur, Illinois, the first-born child to Roger and Vernal Burleigh Madden. She was baptized Mary Francis. Soon to follow were three boys: John, Richard and David – now deceased – who would also join Mary Francis as siblings. All would repeatedly relocate due to their father’s job.
Mary Francis became a voracious reader at an early age. However, she was forced to assume adult-like responsibilities at the age of 13 when her father suddenly died, and her mother had to go to work to support the family.
Mary Francis was always interested in learning and loved school. She attended grade school in St. Mary, Richmond, and then high school in Decatur, Illinois. Still, during this time, Mary Francis continued to care for her brothers as well as working at various jobs prior to entering the novitiate of the Sisters of Providence in September of 1940. Now known as Sister Mary Roger, she professed her first vows on Aug. 15, 1943, and perpetual vows on Jan. 23, 1949.
Sister Mary Roger’s reverence for learning and for absorbing and imparting knowledge made her an ideal candidate for the teaching profession. She prepared for this ministry by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
For the next 18 years, Sister Mary Roger taught middle and junior high school student in Indiana and Illinois while studying for her master’s degree in English at Indiana University which she received in 1964. Her thesis topic was entitled, “Hawthorne’s Women.” This was written long before the term “Women’s Studies” was widely known or acknowledged.
Sister Mary Roger’s secondary teaching career of 18 years began at Immaculata High School in Washington, D.C., in 1961.
At this time, Sister Mary Roger was evolving into the kind of educator who revered learning and imparted knowledge with clarity and conviction. As a master teacher, she inspired younger educators to explore and create classrooms where connections could be made in younger minds for a better grasp of the universality of the human experience. She also inspired them to see how the impact of Christianity and the followers of Jesus Christ could change the world.
And as is true with all of us, Sister Mary Roger was far from perfect. For one thing, she drove too fast – and not only with a car! As she grew older and her mobility was limited, she was awarded the use of an “Amigo.” Still, her “heavy foot” persisted. That meant that the “life and limbs” of unsuspecting pedestrians were put at imminent risk! Finally, the maintenance crew permanently set her vehicle at “slow speed.”
And if that driving challenge were not enough, our Mary Roger also lacked a good sense of direction. Once on a trip to South Bend, which is in the north of Indiana, she was surprised to see a sign on the I-65 that read “Columbus, Indiana, 10 miles ahead,” which is about as far south as one can go in Indiana!
Many have commented in the days since her passing that her death marks the “end of an era.” As her close friend and former SP, Cynthia MacWhorter, writes, “for those sisters who experienced the 1960s, 70s and 80s as religious women, this statement rings true, due to the strong, talented women who have made their way through turbulent times and emerged even stronger, more committed, more prayerful and more dedicated to the ideas and ideals of this religious community.”
And if that weren’t enough, Sister Mary Roger is also the author of Volume III of the history of the Sisters of Providence, entitled “The Path Marked Out.” In addition, Sister Mary Roger was a major contributor to the revision of the SP Constitutions approved in 1994.
During her life in community, Sister Mary Roger was always articulate and presented her point of view with great conviction, backed by intelligence and knowledge. It might also be said that she was stubborn … OK, she was! And she was also impatient – to the very end.
Still, she was honest to the core and expressed her ideas and opinions from deeply held convictions, a thoroughly loving heart, and a spiritual heart second to none. Someone once described her as “the conscience of the community” – perhaps.
However, as she lay journeying on the way home to God, she was surrounded by love. The love of friends who knew her for the person she was – a religious woman whose life reflected Christ and the human condition, while always, always, speaking of Him, telling the “others” in her embrace of love, and of a life fully, totally and completely devoted to her Creator and her God!
Funeral services for Sister Mary Roger took place on Wednesday, July 5, and Thursday, July 6, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place from 2:30-4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, July 5. Mass of Christian burial took place at 11 a.m., on Thursday, July 6.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Mary Roger to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Mary Roger in the comment section below.
Sister Mary Roger Madden
In Illinois: Teacher, Our Lady of Mercy, Chicago (1943-45); Teacher, St. Agnes, Chicago (1950-52); Teacher, St. Leo, Chicago (1958-61); Teacher, Marywood, Evanston (1965-68).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, Immaculata (1961-64); Teacher, Immaculata Prep (1971-74).
In California: Teacher, St. Anthony, Gardena (1974-77); Adult English as a Second Language Tutor, Los Angeles (1977-78); Teacher, St. Joseph, Lakewood (1978-86).
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Joseph, Hammond (1945-48); Teacher, Holy Cross, Indianapolis (1949); Teacher, St. Charles, Peru (1949-50); Teacher, St. Mary, Richmond (1952-54); Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1955-58); Teacher, Our Lady of Providence, Clarksville (1964-65); Teacher, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (1968-69); House of Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1969-71); Congregation Historian, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1986-96); Pilgrimage Coordinator, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001-2007); Blessed Sacrament Chapel Coordinator, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2007-2016); Oral History, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2007-2010); Blessed Sacrament Chapel Assistant, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-17); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2017-2023).
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