A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

James Russell Madan

The Reverend James Russell Madan M.A. (1841-1905) by Joan C. Gorham

Written in 1994 for Journal 24 of the Gloucestershire and North Avon Catholic History Society

James Russell Madan

James Russell Madan, the second son of the Reverend George Madan, M.A., was born on 20th October 1841 at Cam Vicarage, Gloucestershire. The baptism took place at Cam (now Upper Cam) on 5th December 1841. James entered Crewkerne Grammar School, Somerset, in January 1852, and left as Head of the School at Midsummer 1857. For a year of that time (1855) he was a day-boy at Bishop’s College, Clifton, his father then being Vicar of Saint Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. Crewkerne Grammar School was founded in 1499.

For more about Reverend George Madan see:

In August 1857 James went to Marlborough College, Wiltshire, and from there he won a scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford. He obtained a second in Classical Moderations and a third in Literae Humaniores (B.A. 1864; M.A. 1867). After taking Anglican Orders in 1865, and Priest in the following year, he became his father’s second Curate at Dursley, Gloucestershire.

Falconer Madan, the youngest of his four brothers, wrote of James: “His character may be described by a series of adjectives. He was religious-minded, impulsive, enthusiastic, cheerful, warm-hearted, well-intentioned, self-sacrificing, generous: but rather careless, imprudent, obstinate, venturesome, wilful. He made close friends, but no money.”

James Russell Madan at Warminster


In a letter of 26th July 1863 James declared that from the age of six until he was nineteen “no other thought was in my mind, except to go out as a missionary.” On 26th March 1867 he partially satisfied this desire by accepting the Principalship of the Warminster Mission House of Saint Boniface, founded in 1860 by the Reverend Sir James Erasmus Philipps, Bart., Vicar of Warminster. James threw himself with enthusiasm into the work but funds were small and the strictest economy had to be observed. As Principal he overworked himself in the effort to make the College pay its way. To quote Falconer Madan again: “He was at once Principal, Lecturer, Chaplain, Bursar, Steward and Housekeeper, as well as friend, adviser, and helper to each student; with an extensive correspondence, and much anxiety about finance.” James suffered from headaches. At this time the Anglican clergy and people of Warminster were under the High Church influence of the Reverend W. J. E. Bennett, Vicar of Frome. James, who was one of six curates in Warminster, was himself making a study of the various heresies in history.



A friend who had admired James wrote the following: “while a student at Oxford he was one day looking over the history of the Council of Chalcedon, and discovered something at variance with his previous belief; the precise point is unknown to the writer, but certain doubts of the soundness of his position arose in his mind, and his teachers failed to resolve them satisfactorily. The result was his reception into the Catholic Church and subsequent study for the priesthood.” James Madan resigned his post at Warminster in 1871 and was received into the Catholic Church by Bishop Clifford of Clifton on 24th December 1872 at the Clifton Pro-Cathedral.

A new start

The Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas Capel, D.D., founded a Catholic Public School in Kensington, London, and remained the Director. It was opened in 1873 and James Madan was appointed Head Master. The school, in Warwick Road, stood in six acres of land and gave instruction in Classics, Mathematics, Science and Modern Languages. Drill and Drawing were included and arrangements could be made for boys to board in the neighbourhood. While he was Head Master, James Madan was also studying for the priesthood under Monsignor Capel’s direction. On 26th May 1876 James received tonsure and the four minor orders from Bishop William Clifford in his private chapel in Clifton, Bristol. On 15th April 1877 Bishop Clifford ordained him sub-deacon, and finally, on 23rd September 1877, the Bishop ordained him to the Priesthood in the chapel at Prior Park, Bath. Father James Madan continued to be Head Master of the school in Kensington until 1879 when it was closed owing to bankruptcy.


Monsignor Capel

Father James Madan in America

In 1879 Father Madan was on sick leave, and, hoping that a visit to America and some open air life would build up his strength, he became chaplain to a community of nuns in the U.S.A. Later he made the acquaintance of Bishop Healy of Portland and was selected by him as pastor of the newly-erected Church of Saint Sylvia at Bar Harbour. Here, Father Madan made many friends before his return to England. He left New York on 24th September 1881.

A missionary vocation fulfilled


In September or October 1881 Father James Madan went to Saint Joseph’s Foreign Missionary College, Mill Hill, London, and, about a year later, he joined Saint Joseph’s Missionary Society. He was the founder and first editor of ‘Saint Joseph’s Foreign Missionary Advocate’ in 1883. During his time at Mill Hill Father Madan went on occasional visits to Dursley, Gloucestershire, where his father was still the Anglican Rector.

In 1886 Father Madan was appointed to the Society’s Mission in New Zealand. He and Father John Becker left England on 4th November, the first two Mill Hill missionaries to be sent to the Maori Mission of New Zealand. They were stationed at Matata, Bay of Plenty, on the North Island. Here, Father Madan laboured for years among the Maori, suffering privations that might well have sapped the vitality of a stronger man. In 1893 he was building a new church. In 1895 his health finally gave way, and he was obliged to return to England, where he was given less demanding work.

Back in England

We know that Father James Madan was at Clifton, Bristol, in 1897, and in the same year he went to Downton, near Salisbury, as Chaplain to the aged Countess Nelson. Here, he suffered from sciatica, which weakened him further. In 1902 he was at Prior Park, Bath, at this time a school with 110 boys. For the last year of his life Father Madan was bak at Mill Hill. Here, he died on 12th April 1905 from acute jaundice and general exhaustion. He was buried in the College cemetery at Mill Hill on 15th April. The following is a quotation from a letter which the Father Rector of the College received after Father Madan’s death: “He had no special gift of eloquence, but his simplicity, earnestness and apostolic zeal quickly won all hearts, and attracted to him numerous friends, many of whom were not of his own belief. He was a true priest, absolutely devoted to his calling, and entirely self-sacrificing.” This was how Father James Madan’s friends remembered him.


“Saint Joseph’s Foreign Missionary Advocate”, Summer quarter, 1905.

“The Madan Family”, by Falconer Madan, M.A., Hon. Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford.

Catholic Directory, various years.

Dictionary of National Biography (re Thomas John Capel)


With thanks to Father Mol, Archivist at Mill Hill, for supplying information from the College Archives, and to the Reverend Dr J. A. Harding, Clifton Diocesan Archivist.

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