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Bishop's world of experience

Ordination: The Rev. Denis J. Madden has worked in the Middle East, Africa, India and parts of Eastern Europe.
By Matthew Hay Brown
Sun Staff

Originally published August 24, 2005

For nearly two decades, the Rev. Denis J. Madden has worked in some of the most difficult places on earth.

As Jerusalem director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and then as second-in-charge of the agency, the conflict-resolution specialist tiptoed through the minefield of political, religious and ethnic sensitivities that is the modern Middle East.

The experience should prove useful to him in his return to Baltimore.

Madden, 65, a licensed clinical psychologist and Benedictine priest, is to be ordained bishop today during Mass at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen. He will serve under Cardinal William H. Keeler as auxiliary bishop and urban vicar, overseeing 50 parishes in Baltimore as well as archdiocesan schools and hospitals.

As associate secretary general of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Madden traveled regularly to the Middle East, Africa, India and parts of Eastern Europe to coordinate support for clergy, assistance to the poor, and the upkeep of schools and clinics.

Now he turns his attention to the urban portion of a multicultural archdiocese, where about half of Catholics are black and the Hispanic population is growing. It also is a city with large Jewish and Protestant populations.

Maher Turjman says Madden is up to the challenge.

"He is a respectful person -- he listens well to people," said Turjman, who succeeded Madden in Jerusalem as regional director of the welfare association for Israel and Palestine. "He has worked with people of different faiths. He is someone who already has worked with immigrants. Whoever would work with him would enjoy him."

During an interview this week at the Catholic Center, Madden spoke of the value of building personal relationships to achieve common goals.

"There can be times when you have people in one country and they have their needs, and their needs are so great that they don't realize that there are other people with needs as well," he said. "It's just a human quality that we have.

"And yet, at the same time, when we would get different leaders and directors working together, people could harmonize. And there were times when, for example, the directors from our Middle Eastern offices, they said after the tsunami, [other countries] need more support now, we have to forgo [what we want]."

Not having studied in Rome or been a canon lawyer, Madden follows an unusual path to becoming bishop. He holds a master's degree in psychology from Columbia University and a doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. In addition to his international experience, he has worked as a marriage and family counselor and advised the archdiocese on issues of psychology and faith.

Friends speak of Madden's constant smile, his ease with others, his enduring optimism.

"I read Denis as a man who is very much at peace with himself," said Monsignor Michael Schleupner, pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Abingdon and a friend for more than 20 years. "Flowing out of that inner peace, he has a sense of humor, a joy, and positive feeling about life in general."

"One of the good things that I felt with him," Turjman said, "was that whenever things were really bad or difficult, he would start to make you feel better. At all times, he at least looks like a happy person, always smiling, very balanced. That makes a difference."

Madden, the first bishop appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, has been visiting Baltimore since May to reacquaint himself with the archdiocese. Raised in the Bronx, he lived here from 1973 to 1988, celebrating Mass at St. Gregory the Great in West Baltimore and teaching psychology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

He returns to an archdiocese in which a shrinking pool of priests is attempting to minister to a growing population of Catholics, and where the cost of operating schools is increasing while the ability of families to pay is decreasing. Both parishes and schools have been consolidated in recent years.

His most important job, he said, will be working with pastors and parishioners on "pastoral issues -- the real life of the church. Issues of worship, liturgy, the elderly, the care of the elderly, spiritual care, physical care, the youth," he said. "These are the kinds of issues I think are the most important."

The Rev. Damien Nalepa, pastor of St. Gregory the Great, has known Madden for more than 30 years. He says he was not surprised to learn his friend would become bishop, but was delighted to learn he was returning to Baltimore.

"He's going to bring with him a wealth of experience in dealing with nations in poverty, in dealing with peace resolution," Nalepa said. "He will bring a great sense of pastoral concern for the people and the clergy of the archdiocese. He's very down-to-earth, and he relates especially well to all people. Those qualities are going to make him a very human, a very real person."

Looking forward to the work, Madden says he is optimistic.

"It's amazing," he said. "When you go to visit parishes, I don't find a depressive attitude and I don't find a hopeless attitude. Quite the opposite. ... There's a real, rich vibrancy in the church, and I think we go with that. People are asking for things. They want Bible study, they want Scripture study, they want special prayer days. They seem to me to be more fully invested in the church."