This past Sunday we observed the Third Sunday of Advent and as we would typically expect on these days preceding Christmas we had a beautiful reading for the Prophet Isaiah. His words relate a dream of the day when the Israelites will be returning “home” to Jerusalem after being exiled in Babylon. The prophet imagines that the desert and parched lands will exult and rejoice in joyful song and will bloom in abundant flowers. Then, the prophet writes, “They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.”
Very early on Sunday morning, about 4 a.m., my good friend Earl Madary died. His death was very peaceful, with his wife Marci sitting beside him. She had dozed off to sleep while keeping vigil and when she awoke he was no longer with us. Earl had been battling cancer for over a year. He was doing very well, tolerating very significant chemotherapy. Just this past September, at the Place of Grace fundraising dinner, he soaringly sang in his operatic-quality tenor voice, “O Sole Mio,” as a kind of tribute to the late Luciano Pavarotti. Then, late this past fall, the cancer revived very aggressively and he quickly declined. This past Friday and Saturday he rapidly grew weaker and finally he just stopped breathing.
Earl was devoted to his family. Marci was the love of his life and he of hers. He adored his children who called him Papa; Rachel, his firstborn, and Joseph, who is proudly named in honor of Earl’s grandfather, Joseph, who died at Dachau for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler.
Dr. Madary was the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Viterbo University and was a favorite professor among the students – he had received honors such as “Teacher of the Year” and was a recipient of their “Spirit of St. Francis” award. He was sought after as a speaker for many seminars and events; he had the unique ability to weave story and music into his presentations. He was an ambassador for Viterbo.
For many years Earl taught Scripture in the Diocesan School of Biblical Studies. His scholarship and expertise in music, liturgical studies, Scripture, and Catholic social teaching was extraordinary. Earl didn’t just teach good values and principles, he lived them. In particular he embraced the social teachings of the Church along with a sense of St. Francis of Assisi. I would cite the social principles of solidarity and care of God’s creation as “Earlesque.”
Earl was one of the founders of the Place of Grace Catholic Worker House, as he believed we needed to stand with those who were broken, lonely, poor, or estranged. He recognized that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, whoever and wherever they may be. His presence at the Place of Grace filled the house with joy. When he cooked he’d play classical music on the kitchen radio and occasionally he’d break into some Italian aria with his magnificent voice. Earl was always patient, kind; he never put on airs, and would be flattered if someone new came into the house and would think he was just another guest. He and Marci took charge of our little house newspaper, and would remind us, give us the courage to sometimes question society, why people are poor. He knew that at the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.
One of Earl’s favorite activities was canoeing. It didn’t matter where or when, typically from May to September there was a canoe tied to the top of his car. Frequently, if he only had an hour or two, he’d put into the La Crosse River by the radio towers on Gillette Street and slowly canoe down to the Mississippi. He knew every rut, rill and ripple and also knew that it all belonged to God and it had all been put here for our benefit, pleasure, and most importantly, for our care. He believed we are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship to all of God’s creation. Earl taught that message, establishing a course in the Spirituality of the Environment at Viterbo. Like St. Francis, Earl was one with nature and God.
Earl was very peaceful and serene in death. His eyes were open, shining brightly, and his lips were slightly parted with a hint of a smile. His countenance was like he was gazing upward with a joyful look. Many who called at his home for a visit on Sunday remarked that you could imagine it was almost as though he was seeing a vision. The prophet said, “They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of God.”
Late last summer there was some talk that Earl would like to visit the Holy Land during the semester break. Earl loved liturgy, worship – the life, rhythm, and prayer of the Church. He was an expert liturgist. The fall semester at Viterbo had ended. He had approved the grades for his students. Graduation was held on Saturday but Earl did not attend – he was getting ready.
Then, early Sunday morning, during the Vigil Hours or Matins of the Third Sunday of Advent, the day we traditionally call Gaudete or Rejoicing Sunday—for the coming of the Lord is near—amid abundant flowers and the splendor of all creation, Earl went home to the new and eternal Jerusalem.