Bishop Joseph J. Madera was called “the people’s bishop” because of his warmth and passion for mingling with worshippers.
After he was ordained as bishop of the Diocese of Fresno in 1980, serving until 1991, he lamented about how his new duties took him away from the daily, informal contact he once had with people as a parish priest. The bishop’s role could be lonely, he told a Fresno Bee reporter.
He was the first Hispanic to lead a California diocese since 1896, overseeing eight Central California counties with 348,300 Catholics, half of who were Hispanic. Bishop Madera, 89, was in failing health when he died Jan. 21.
“What was unique about Bishop Madera is that he came to be bishop in the United States of America from a Mexican background,” said Msgr. Raymond Dreiling, who served six years with Bishop Madera as chancellor.
Bishop Madera spoke Spanish, English, French and a little Italian, but English was difficult for him because it was not his first language. Sometimes his English phrasing was unconventional, but “I admired that he didn’t shrink away from that,” Dreiling said.
He was a pastor at heart. He wanted to be with people.
Msgr. Raymond Dreiling
“He was a pastor at heart. He wanted to be with people.”
Bishop Madera was born Nov. 27, 1927, in San Francisco but was raised in Mexico with his siblings. He entered the seminary at age 15 and studied for the priesthood at the House of Studies of the Missionaries of the Holy Ghost in Coyoacán, a neighborhood in Mexico City. Bishop Madera was ordained a priest on June 15, 1957.
He taught Latin and math, and was choir director for his seminary before he was assigned to a Mexican parish for three years. Then, his superiors sent him to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to fill a growing need for priests who understand Catholics of Mexican descent and those from other ethnic backgrounds, according to a Fresno Bee story from Feb. 24, 1980.
Bishop Madera would serve in Los Angeles for 15 years. He first came to the central San Joaquin Valley in 1976 as a pastor in Fowler. He was ordained bishop for the Diocese of Fresno in 1980.
As bishop, he expanded specialized ministries in family life and for youths, and reached out to the Hispanic population. He started an educational television station in Fresno that became Channel 49 (KNXT).
The television station was his special pursuit, Dreiling said. Bishop Madera came to the area with experience in radio and strongly believed in using the media to spread his message.
Under Bishop Madera, however, the diocese struggled with a deficit of more than $1 million that surfaced in 1989. He laid off 20 staff members, combined or closed ministries, ended the diocesan newspaper and commissioned a panel of business officials to figure out what to do with the television station. A papal audit was performed in 1990.
A year later, Bishop Madera accepted a post as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Service. At a news conference, he said he was happy to shed his administrative burdens and “glad to discover God’s will in this new way.”
The bishop retired in 2004 and lived at St. Martha’s Parish in Huntington Park since 2011.
Bishop Joseph J. Madera
Born: Nov. 27, 1927, in San Francisco
Died: Jan. 21, 2017, in Huntington Park
Occupation: Former bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, 1980 to 1991
Survivors: A sister, Carmen Madera
Fresno services: Monday, Recitation of the Holy Rosary, 7:30 p.m., followed by a vigil at 8 p.m., St. John’s Cathedral, 2814 Mariposa St., Fresno. Tuesday, Mass of Christian Burial, 1 p.m., St. Anthony of Padua Church, 5770 N. Maroa Ave., Fresno; committal and interment following mass, St. Peter’s Cemetery, 264 N. Blythe Ave., Fresno.