December 8, 2017

Priest’s vocation has ‘transcended’ health challenges over 50 years

In this photo from the 1977 yearbook of the former Latin School of Indianapolis, Father Joseph Mader is shown working as an instructor in the school that served as the archdiocese’s high school seminary. Father Mader was ordained 50 years ago on May 7, 1967. (Archive photo)

In this photo from the 1977 yearbook of the former Latin School of Indianapolis, Father Joseph Mader is shown working as an instructor in the school that served as the archdiocese’s high school seminary. Father Mader was ordained 50 years ago on May 7, 1967. (Archive photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Father Joseph Mader has coped with various health challenges since he was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis 50 years ago on May 7, 1967.

Those challenges forced him into early retirement 25 years ago. And since 1999, he has lived in Florida.

Nonetheless, Msgr. Mark Svarczkopf, who grew up down the street from his brother priest, says that Father Mader’s call to ordained ministry transcended his physical limitations.

“He knew that the priesthood was important to the people in the Church,” said Msgr. Svarczkopf, pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. “To have good priests was what the Church depended on. And so he was interested in remaining a priest, forming priests and that priests be well grounded in theology.”

Father Mader, who was unable to be interviewed for this article, spent 16 years seeking to form future priests at the Latin School of Indianapolis, the archdiocese’s high school seminary that closed in 1978, and at the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad.

He also served for nine years in parish ministry in central and southern Indiana, ministering as pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville from 1984‑88, and as associate pastor during other periods at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, St. Michael Parish in Cannelton, St. Paul Parish in Tell City and St. Pius V Parish in Troy.

Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, had Father Mader as his spiritual director at Saint Meinrad, describing him as “an intellectual” who was “mystical” in his approach to faith.

“He always kind of left things with an open-ended question or remark,” said Father O’Mara. “One of his favorite quotes I remember him saying was, ‘Never say never except about God and one or two other things.’ Then you’d say, ‘What are the other things?’ And he would just say again, ‘Never say never except about God and one or two other things.’

“He kind of liked to push your mind around a little bit.”

Father O’Mara said that Father Mader helped him as a young college seminarian to gain confidence that God had called him to the priesthood.

Father Mader also helped him through challenging times when his grandmother was struggling with depression, and said that she couldn’t take life one day at a time, but only one half hour at a time.

“I remember him getting up out of his chair, getting a little card and writing the fraction 1/2 on the card,” Father O’Mara recalled. “He said, ‘Hang that up in your room and remember that wisdom that your grandma taught you. Take it a half hour at a time, and don’t try to take on everything at the same time.’ ”

At the Latin School, Father Mader taught math to high school seminarians. Msgr. Svarczkopf, who was a faculty member at the Latin School with Father Mader, said that his friend in later years sometimes focused his mind on mathematics when his body began to fail him.

“He worked things out very logically and mathematically,” Msgr. Svarczkopf said. “He would work math problems to keep his brain going. He would have been a lot worse off if he had not used his math skills and worked very complicated math problems to keep his brain going.”

Father Mader was also interested in the intersection of faith and science.

“He would always talk about how the universe is expanding because God is limitless,” Msgr. Svarczkopf said. “And there’s no limit to how much we can get involved with God. You can never say, ‘Well, I’ve gotten about as holy as I can get.’ There’s always more, and the more will always be awesome and more than we’d ever thought.”

As much as Father Mader was drawn to mathematics and science, he didn’t dwell in abstractions from everyday life, said Father O’Mara, but instead gave of himself to the people he was called to serve.

“He didn’t put up any pretenses,” Father O’Mara said. “He was who he was and wasn’t interested in putting up pretenses for people. He was joyful. When he celebrated the Eucharist, he was joyful about it.

“He loved the priesthood. He loved his time at Saint Meinrad. He just liked wherever he was, whether that be working with people in a parish or wherever. He was there for you.”
 

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.)

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