Fr. Madden Register file photo

Fr. Madden was St. Michael’s College

  • March 3, 2013

TORONTO - Though some were due back in class in an hour or two and others were generations removed from their last lecture, everybody at Fr. Robert J. Madden’s funeral Feb. 20 was there as a student paying respect to a great teacher.

The 84-year-old Basilian priest, professor of English, director of alumni affairs for the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto died peacefully at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto Feb. 16, giving way to a brief struggle against cancer.

From the moment in 1947 the 19-year-old Fr. Madden professed vows, he grew to live out the Basilian motto: “Teach me goodness, knowledge and discipline.”

“The word is overused today, but he really was an icon for our congregation,” said Basilian superior general Fr. George Smith.

“He was a combination of teacher and pastor par excellence,” Smith said.

Fr. Thomas Rosica has similar memories of Fr. Madden.

“From the very first time I met him as a young Basilian, I was struck by his constant positive outlook, his love of people, of the Church, of our Basilian institutions. He was the University of St. Michael’s College,” wrote Rosica in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Fr. Madden was born in Detroit in 1928 and followed his brother John into the Basilians. Ordained in 1955, before he taught he was an outstanding student. He earned his Masters in English Literature at St. Michael’s the same year he was ordained. From there he went on to the University of London, England, to complete a PhD in 1963.

He taught at Assumption University in Windsor, Ont., and then St. Mark’s College of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, before settling in for his long run at St. Michael’s in Toronto. He was a chaplain at U of T’s Newman Cent re and for six years formed a future generation of Basilian priests as superior and rector of St. Basil’s College.

Every day was dedicated to creating an encounter with knowledge for his students.

“I wanted to create an atmosphere in the classroom where the students would know they were respected,” Fr. Madden told an interviewer in 1999. “As I would tell them, and this would be true, that many of them were more intellectually gifted than I was, but at that particular moment in our relationship I knew more than they did.”

On his retirement Fr. Madden became’s St. Michael’s director of alumni affairs and then the director emeritus of alumni affairs. Up until his hospitalization he was at work answering alumni mail and preparing the Bulletin newsletter.

The Basilian generation following Fr. Madden has looked to his example in deciding how they can contribute to the Church and society over the coming years, said Smith.

“This generation that is following Fr. Madden’s generation, because our numbers are fewer, we’re beginning to concentrate on how we might contribute to the formation of teachers as much as students,” Smith said. “That’s something that’s becoming more apparent to us.”

If the Basilians are successful in helping teachers become leaders in the Church, that will be the legacy of Fr. Madden, he said.

Fr. Madden’s Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Basil’s Church Feb. 20.


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