A Day in the Life: Dr. James Madden

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By Therese Aaker, Features Editor
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Dr. James Madden teaching his Principles of Nature class. Madden is an associate professor of philosophy, and he and his wife Jennifer teach Natural Family Planning to engaged couples. Photo by Laddie DeGrand.

Ask Dr. James Madden about himself, and he tells you about his wife, Jennifer, and their family.

Madden says at the end of the day, he hopes everything he does connects for the good of the seven people at his house.

“I owe it all to her,” Madden said. “First and foremost, I am Jennifer Madden’s husband and [my kids’] dad.”

Everything he does is for his family.

He views his teaching at Benedictine College as a means of serving them.

“I am very cognizant of the fact that everything I achieve up here is a gift to me from my wife,” Madden continued. “She could have easily done this as I do. We don’t see my project and her project with educating our kids as distinct — she has as much stake in [teaching here] as I do.”

Finding a home in BC

Born in Wisconsin, Madden grew up in a town even smaller than Atchison with a population of 2,801. He lived there until he finished his undergraduate in philosophy at St. Norbert College and then completed his master’s at Kent State University.

While completing his doctorate at Purdue University, Madden met Jennifer and they married in 2001. He finished his doctorate in 2002, just two weeks before his first son was born. After teaching at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Madden knew he wanted to be elsewhere.

Benedictine College was the last place he applied.

“I remember thinking, I wish I had actually prepared more for this interview, because [Benedictine College] is so different,” Madden said.

“Students here are much more receptive,” he added. “I didn’t even think I liked teaching until I got here.”

After being offered a position as a teacher at BC and moving to Atchison, five more children were born in the years that followed. It was also in the last several years that Madden and his wife became involved in a crisis pregnancy center, later becoming certified as Natural Family Planning (NFP) teachers who hold classes for engaged couples on campus.

“We thought, given we’re teachers, we thought we could fill a need with the skills we have to do it,” Madden said.

Teaching truth, changing lives

Madden is a man of principle who puts his family first. When it comes to teaching philosophy, his hope is to impart a passion for the truth to students.

With Alexander Del Curto in particular, a junior political science major, Madden made a special impact.

At the time Del Curto took Madden’s philosophical psychology class, he was heavily into atheistic literature, which made him doubt his faith and was “poisoning his mind,” he said.

“After talking with Dr. Madden and reading the different materials he had given me, I couldn’t help but curse myself for spending time reading Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and the like,” Del Curto said. “Principally due to Dr. Madden, I finally began to emerge from the atheist fog I had been helplessly wandering around in for the past four years. And for that, I thank him.”

To put it simply, the relationship Madden built with Del Curto in his pursuit of truth changed Del Curto’s life.

“You don’t just teach the subject matter, you lead them to the faith. And he fully embodies that as a professor,” Del Curto said.

Elizabeth Hemann, senior math and philosophy major, has gotten to know Madden and his family better during her four years at BC and spends time babysitting his children once a week.

“He’s one of my favorite professors,” Hemann said. “He’s a very engaging teacher. Of all my professors, he challenges me the most to do my best and to do what I’m here for. He demands respect, but he also gives it.”

“He has a very strong personality and cares about [students] and challenges them. He’s a good man and a good teacher,” Hemann added.

Madden said that with his duty to teach course requirements, he also hopes that his students are moved by the problems discussed in class and that they “take on the project of becoming someone who’s concerned about what’s true.”

Madden has high expectations of his students, which is only because of their great potential. Many have risen to those expectations. As a result, Madden has fostered “organic” friendships with some students, even becoming a godparent to some of their children.

“I think the longer I go on with my career and compare it to other people, it’s clear I’m lucky in the students I have,” Madden said. “What I’m learning is I’m very privileged with the colleagues I have, people that are our friends and share a life with me. It makes me a better human being and teacher.”