Sister Mary Roger Madden celebrates turning 100 years old!
“She is one of our treasures in our community. She’s one of the very special people. She’s the one person who speaks the truth. She has a heart of gold and she’s my very best friend.”
During the month, Sister Mary Roger recently celebrated 80 years in the Congregation and also turned 100 years old, joining Sister Marceline Mattingly as the current Sisters of Providence who have reached the century mark.
Only days after reaching the milestone, Sister Mary Roger said she was feeling very well.
“Turning 100 is not much different than 99,” she said. “It’s about the same, but it is amazing. I never expected it. No one in my family has lived this long. My birthday was a wonderful day. I heard from a lot of people whom I had not heard from in a long time. I have such wonderful friends.”
Both Sister Jeanette Marie and Sister Janice Smith, who is also quite close to Sister Mary Roger, said one of her favorite things to do during the day is to get caught up in a book.
“She is an avid reader on very deep and intense topics, including spirituality, politics and culture,” Sister Janice said. “She has a great intellect and her personality matches that. She has a very firm and well-thought out opinions about our current world situations. She’s no lightweight, even at the great age of 100!”
“She’s very well versed in all kinds of things,” Sister Jeanette Marie added. “She knows what is going on. She listens to the news.”
Sister Jeanette Marie said Sister Mary Roger’s birthday, which took place on December 5, 2020, was quite special.
“She had such a wonderful birthday,” Sister Jeanette Marie said. “I did get over to see her for her birthday. I had a conversation with her outside of her window. I speak with her every Sunday on the phone, but she has lots and lots of friends. I’ll call her sometimes on a Sunday and the phone is busy. She is such a remarkable lady and I think we all know that.”
Sister Mary Roger was born in Decatur, Illinois. She entered the Congregation in 1940 from St. Patrick Parish in Decatur and professed perpetual vows in 1949.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in English and also has a master’s degree in English from Indiana University.
Her teaching ministry found her in very many different locations, beginning in Chicago in 1943. She has also taught in Hammond, Indianapolis, Peru, Richmond, Fort Wayne and Clarksville, all in Indiana; as well as Washington, D.C., and schools in California.
Sister Mary Roger also ministered as the Congregation’s historian for 10 years and is the author of “The Path Marked Out: History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Volume III,” which was released in 1991. The book covers the Congregation’s history from 1890 to 1926.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sister Mary Roger has spent a lot of time in her room at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, but those close to her said her demeanor is always upbeat.
“Sister Mary Roger is a very contemplative woman,” Sister Jeanette Marie said. “She has a beautiful prayer life. She can be alone with God for many hours and it does not disturb her at all. She could stay there all the time. She’s very at peace in God’s presence. I think it’s something she has longed for all her life. She’s very grateful about that.
“She has the quiet, but she’s not alone. She’s happy that she is very occupied with God.”
Sister Mary Roger said her love of reading stems from her childhood and evenings at home watching her father read everything in sight.
“He brought me books home to me,” Sister Mary Roger said. “I got a good start that way. I learned to read before I went to school. I used to sit on my father’s lap and he would read the comics to me. I learned to read because he read to me.”
Sister Mary Roger said her education is also what drew her to the Sisters of Providence, a Congregation with a rich history in teaching.
“I love to teach,” Sister Mary Roger said. “I remember as a child, I used to set up chairs on the lawn in the neighborhood and teach the kids. I have always loved teaching.
“I had three brothers and one of my brothers always said, ‘She always liked to tell everyone else what to do.’”
One of her other brothers, David Joseph Madden, was a television actor made famous for his role as Reuben Kincaid in “The Partridge Family” from 1970-74. He also appeared in “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” “Bewitched,” and “Happy Days.” His final acting role was in 1998, when he appeared in an episode of “Sabrina The Teenage Witch.”
And from time to time, David would visit Sister Mary Roger at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Mary Roger said on one particular visit, she accompanied David to one of the Terre Haute television stations for an on-air interview.
“He used to come about once a year,” Sister Mary Roger said. “And he was very interested in photography. He took a lot of pictures.”
“She is very close to her family,” Sister Jeanette Marie added. “Sometimes, she would tell me stories about when they were young. They moved around quite a bit because of their father’s business. They lived in Canada for a while.”
Even though she is now 100 years old, Sister Mary Roger is not one to rest on her laurels. In fact, Sister Jeanette Marie said, she continues to write poetry and shares it with the Congregation.
“She composes something for all the sisters who are at Mother Theodore Hall,” Sister Jeanette Marie said. “She calls over to our printery and asks for some kind of design for cards she sends to the other sisters with her poems on them. Her mind is very active.”
Because of her love of teaching, Sister Mary Roger said her advice for any youngster is to maintain an avid interest in reading and never let go of the thirst of more knowledge.
“I see every experience as unique,” she said. “Don’t worry about young children reading as long as they keep reading. You just have to read, read, and read more before you come to understanding our language.”