GREEN BAY — Jim Madigan recently received the Samuel Cardinal Stritch Spirit of Serra Award, Serra International’s highest honor. While Madigan downplays the individual recognition, he appreciates how such celebrations promote a common goal among people.
“(Awards) are important for all of us because they unite people in recognition of a worthy action or a worthy cause,” he said.
Fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life as a Serran has been a worthy action for Madigan for 54 years. He joined the Serra Club of Green Bay (East) in 1962. Madigan served as the local president, district governor and from 1975 to 1976 as international president. He is currently trustee emeritus.
Why are Serrans important?
“Because (the Catholic Church) is a eucharistic church. Without our priests there is no Eucharist,” explains Madigan. “Without the Eucharist, there is no Catholic Church. So in union with the Office for Priestly Vocations in Rome and with Serrans throughout the world, we pray daily for our priests and religious and for our young people in years ahead.”
Madigan was honored at the Serra International Convention held in St. Louis, June 30 to July 2. Outgoing Serra International President Tim O’Neill and Serra Executive Director John Liston presented Madigan the Spirit of Serra Award. He is only the second Serran ever to receive the honor. Madigan and his wife, Doris, began attending the international conventions more than 50 years ago.
“I’ve met people from all over the world — Nigeria, Mexico, Australia, many countries — all good friends,” he said. “There is a young fella, now in his late 30s or early 40s who is suffering from brain cancer. He is undergoing operations in Hong Kong. He is a past international president. We know him quite well and remember him in our prayers. We all share the same goal, the vital importance of having priests and encouraging them.”
Madigan is a member of Holy Cross Parish, Bay Settlement, but he often attends Mass in the summer months in Northern Door County where Fr. Dave Ruby is pastor of Stella Maris Parish.
“I see him just about every weekend,” he said. “I knew Fr. Dave when he was a seminarian, through the Serrans, and now he is celebrating 25 years as a priest.”
St. Patrick in Green Bay was Madigan’s home parish during his youth. Following graduation from West High School, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He then served with General George Patton in the U.S. Third Army in Germany and France during World War II. He and Doris were married in 1950. A year later, they founded FEECO International as an engineering and equipment manufacturer. Today, FEECO, located in east Green Bay, serves a variety of industries, including fertilizer and agriculture, mining and minerals, power/utility, paper and chemical processing.
In 1958, the couple started Preble Bank. The same year, they also helped build the first ecumenical center at UW-Green Bay.
“If I look at a situation, I look outside the box and, generally, if there is an approach that is going to be successful, that’s the one I take and move ahead,” said Madigan. “Gather good help to go with it. You can’t do it by yourself.
“(Doris) was involved in it all,” he added. “She died in 2009. We were married almost 60 years. That’s pretty good.”
Madigan has four children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His daughter, Cindy Bell, has followed in his footsteps. She joined the Serra Club of Green Bay in 1992 and has served in leadership positions, including at the international level.
Madigan has also served as lieutenant of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a lay institution that supports Christians in the Holy Land. He organized the North Central Lieutenancy which covers Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and parts of Kentucky.
Meeting priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes over the years has been a highlight for Madigan. He met St. John Paul II twice and wished the then-pontiff happy birthday in Polish.
“I had been on guard duty with a Polish prisoner of war. We liberated him,” he explained. “He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Polish, but we both spoke some German, so I was able to learn a little bit of Polish and was able to wish the Holy Father happy birthday. Another time I said I was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and he said, ‘Bishop (Aloysius) Wycislo.’ That was really neat.”
The Green Bay East Serra Club meets at noon the first and third Fridays of each month for Mass, lunch and a presentation. The Green Bay West Serra Club meets the second Friday morning of each month for Mass, a program, rolls and coffee. Madigan’s wish for the Serrans is a simple one.
“God has blessed us, but we need more people,” he said. “You can never be too large. Please join us.”