September 7, 2007

Seventh heaven: Seven children in one Catholic school adds to sense of family

Adding their own unusual flair to the school year, all seven children of Jim and Kitty Madden are attending St. Roch School in Indianapolis. From left, Kathryn, Kimberly and Anna take a knee for the team while, from left, Sam, Mike and Jack lift Joe to new heights.	(Submitted	photo)

Adding their own unusual flair to the school year, all seven children of Jim and Kitty Madden are attending St. Roch School in Indianapolis. From left, Kathryn, Kimberly and Anna take a knee for the team while, from left, Sam, Mike and Jack lift Joe to new heights. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

It was one of those moments that offer a glimpse into the heart of a family—a moment that the parents will never forget.

Jim and Kitty Madden had just finished dinner at a restaurant with their seven young children when the waitress announced that the cook had just made several fresh pies for dessert.

With the size of their family, the Maddens never order dessert at a restaurant because of the often-hefty additional expense. Still, the thought of having pie intrigued one of their children, Mike, so much that the boy asked the waitress how much a slice of pie cost. When she told him it was $1.50, Mike asked how much the entire pie cost.

“Six dollars,” the waitress told him.

“Mike reached into his pocket and pulled out enough money to buy the whole pie,” Jim Madden recalls. “We took the pie home, cut it up and we all enjoyed it. That just blew me away.”

Many people have the same reaction to another example of family-style sharing by the Maddens. On Aug. 15, the seven Madden children—ranging in age from 13 to 5—entered St. Roch School in Indianapolis to start an unforgettable school year together.

At 13, Sam heads for his eighth-grade classroom while 12-year-old Mike turns into the seventh-grade room. Eleven-year-old Jack greets his sixth-grade friends while 10-year-old Anna says hello to her friends in the fifth grade. Nine-year-old Kathryn settles behind her desk in third grade while 7-year-old Kimberly opens her desk in second grade. And last but not least, 5-year-old Joe walks into his kindergarten classroom.

“It’s pretty cool,” Sam says. “You can walk down the hall and say hi to them. It brightens up the day.”

Making a deal with God

Having seven children in one school is a rare occurrence in today’s world. It’s also a reflection of Jim and Kitty’s belief in Catholic education and their trust that God will provide for their family’s needs.

“I made a deal with the Lord,” Kitty says. “I told him, ‘Give me all the children you want me to have. Just make sure I have all I need to take care of them.’ ”

God apparently has, including a healthy sense of humor for the couple.

“People always ask, ‘What’s it like with seven children?’ ” Jim says. “I tell them, ‘Remember that birthday party when your kids were 6, and everyone is running around, yelling and screaming? It’s just like that except no one ever comes to pick up their kids.”

After he laughs, he adds, “Now, they’re starting to help each other. They help each other with homework, school projects and practicing sports. There’s always somebody to play with.”

Getting seven grade-school children ready for school each morning is part circus and all circle of love—well, mostly—in the Madden household.

Kitty starts the process the night before by making sure the children’s school uniforms are clean and ready. Every school morning, Jim and Kitty, who are both 48, wake up at 6:30 and begin heading through their two-story, five-bedroom home to rouse their children—a ritual that usually takes two wake-up calls for the boys.

After everyone is awake, Jim heads to the kitchen to start breakfast while Kitty takes orders for sandwiches. When the seven children come into the kitchen, they fill their lunch boxes with fruits and snacks. They also reach for the cereal boxes or the waffles and strudels that Jim keeps popping into the toaster.

Through it all, Kitty helps the girls with their hair, makes sure everyone’s book bag is ready and continually yells, “Do you have this? Do you need this?” to whichever child is on her mind at the moment.

Then at 7:45, all seven siblings hop into the family’s 12-passenger van so Jim can drive them to school, which begins at 8.

Yet even amid the hectic schedule, moments of humor and humanity emerge.

“Joe is getting used to kindergarten being every day,” his father says. “On the second day I woke him up, he said, ‘I just went to school yesterday.’ I told him it’s every day. He pulled the covers back over his head.”

On the way to school one morning, Joe turned to Mike and asked, “Are you going to miss Mom today?” Mike said, “No, are you?” Joe answered, “I’m in kindergarten. That’s what we do.”

Finding enough love and time

“I was going to travel the world and make all kinds of money,” Kitty says. “The kids kept coming. I’m having the best time of my life. Our kids are just a great group of people. I’m just hoping I don’t mess them up. Jim and I both grew up in big Catholic families. I’m one of 10 children. Jim is the youngest of six. I love big families. I think they’re great.”

Jim wasn’t so sure at first.

“When we had our oldest son, Sam, I loved him so much,” Jim recalls. “When Kitty was pregnant the second time, I told her, ‘There’s no way I’ll love our second child as much as I love our first child.’ She told me not to worry, that God will figure a way out. The bottom line is you love each child in a different way. No matter how many children you have, there’s enough love for all of them.”

At 9, Kathryn echoes a sentiment that’s shared by all the Madden children when they are asked about their parents: “They love and they care about me.”

The Maddens not only have enough love for their children, they seem to be working with a different concept of time.

While Jim works as a financial consultant, he also coaches football at St. Roch and helps lead the Cub Scouts at the parish.

While caring for a family of nine—including constantly filling a washer and two dryers that seem to run non-stop—Kitty still finds time to volunteer frequently at the school. She relieves the secretary, makes copies for the teachers, helps answer phones, brings food for teacher luncheons, and the list goes on.

“They are active in everything,” says Joseph Hansen, the principal at St. Roch. “They have that energy and balance and spirituality. Their faith comes before everything. They really are a model family. They’re such an inspiration.”

The Maddens defer, saying they get their inspiration from the school and the parish.

“Catholic education goes out of its way to make each child at the school feel special and unique,” Jim says. “It’s so important while you’re molding their character and their self-esteem at that time in their life.”

“The best part is that they’re told about Jesus, his love and his mercy,” Kitty says. “It’s mentioned every day in school. I love the small size of the classrooms, too. I think the students feel a sense of belonging, that they’re part of a bigger family.”

Making bonds and memories that last

Creating that sense of family begins at home for the Maddens in some special ways.

“Every year at tax season, I sort through all my receipts,” Jim says. “When I go through our personal receipts, I write down in a family log what happened to us that year—whether we bought furniture, took a trip or if anybody had a broken bone or needed stitches. It creates a family history that’s fun. We read the log together, and the kids can add anything special that happened to them that year. Then we go back and read the logs from previous years—just to remember and get a good chuckle.”

Kitty has also created a way for the children to remember and celebrate their childhood. She gives each of the children their own photo album, letting them fill it with whatever photos they want.

“It’s up to them,” Jim says. “They put in pictures of Easter, their birthdays, their special moments. When they look through it—which they do—it reinforces that they’re having a nice childhood. It’s a good reinforcement to let them know how much they’re loved.”

Kitty believes their family also gets reinforcement from God in special ways. She keeps asking God to provide everything she needs for her children—including the time she was pregnant with their sixth child, which meant their family would need a vehicle that could transport eight people.

“I told the Lord, ‘Please get me a new car,’ ” Kitty recalls. “Jim came home and said he had an attorney buddy who was the administrator of an estate. The estate had a Suburban that seated eight. Then we had Joe, and we needed a new van. We now have the 12-passenger van.”

It’s all part of the family lore, including how Jim and Kitty dated eight years before they married, how they live in the same home where Jim’s parents raised their family, and how their first child was born on their first anniversary.

All the stories, all the moments, add up to a way of life that the Maddens love.

“Family is everything to Jim and me,” Kitty says. “It’s a part of you. You have that same blood together. If one of your children is not there, you’re missing a part of yourself. Family is the core of everything, with Jesus and God in the middle.

“Nothing is more important.” †

Local site Links: