By Effie Caldarola
The North Star Catholic
The Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau will welcome its newest priest when 33-year-old Madison Hayes is ordained at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe on August 6.
Although Hayes has family ties to Alaska, he didn’t grow up in the state. Originally from Merced, California, he spent 16 years as a youth in Germany, where his dad was stationed with the Air Force.
And although he’s worked in Alaska during the summers in his time in seminary, he’s returning to complete his fifth year of studies in Rome after ordination.
Clearly, Deacon Hayes has experienced the church at an international level for a great deal of his life. So why choose to be incardinated in Alaska?
“I do have roots in Alaska,” he said, and those roots go back to his maternal great-grandfather.
This forebear immigrated to Canada from Poland and served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Later, he moved to Valdez, Alaska, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. He settled in California, where he raised a family. Deacon Hayes’ parents met there and later married when his Air Force dad returned to California briefly while stationed in Korea. The deacon is one of five sons born to the couple.
Much later, Deacon Hayes had an experience in Valdez that solidified his commitment to Alaska. He was serving at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and discerning his call to the priesthood. He knew he loved Alaska, the people, the community spirit, and of course, the fishing.
So he and his brother, also serving at JBER at the time, were visiting Valdez and looked up Sunday Mass times at St. Francis Xavier Parish, the local church.
“But when we arrived, a man told us that this was the one Sunday of the month when a priest was unavailable.”
The original church where his great-grandfather had worshipped was destroyed by the 1964 earthquake, but the original altar is displayed in the new church, as well as original Stations of the Cross and eight stained glass windows. It was a touching moment for Deacon Hayes, who said he felt particularly “struck by the need for priests in Alaska.”
Deacon Hayes said he felt his “initial call to the priesthood when I was 16, on my Confirmation retreat.”
Coming from a family with a long military tradition, he also wanted to pursue a career in the armed forces. A priest suggested he speak with the Archbishop for Military Services. They recommended that he keep praying over his decision and go to college.
Deacon Hayes received a bachelor’s degree in business administration-communication from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2010, and enlisted in the Air Force in 2012 as an airborne mission systems specialist. He served at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson until 2015, when he joined the archdiocese as a seminarian.
“It was not until I was answering the call to serve in the military that my call to serve as a priest was reignited,” the deacon said. His vocation is co-sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Deacon Hayes has lived through some significant changes in the archdiocese since his formation began. Not only has he served under three archbishops, but the archdiocese he joined in 2015 as a seminarian has expanded to include the former Diocese of Juneau.
He was first assigned by then-Archbishop Roger Schwietz to study pre-theology at St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota, where he spent two years, from 2015-2017.
After that, Archbishop Paul Etienne sent him to Rome to attend the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) from 2017-2020. There, he received a graduate level degree in theology.
This past year, he studied at the Alphonsian Academy and will return to complete his studies, earning his STL licentiate in moral theology by the spring of 2022, if all goes according to plan.
Rome would be an exciting place to study for any seminarian, but the Covid pandemic added a twist.
“Last year, once a month, I went to Aviano Air Base,” he said.
That was near Venice, where the annual Carnival festivities were celebrating Mardi Gras, the period right before Lent.
Venice was experiencing one of the first major Covid outbreaks outside of Wuhan, “but when I returned to Rome, everyone was saying ‘it’s so far north, it won’t get down here.’” By the end of that week, however, most of Rome had shut down, and the situation’s gravity was being felt worldwide.
Deacon Hayes lived in the Pontifical North American College, where he received his formation. Through online classes, he was able to complete his university studies without missing any classes. The last semester was mainly in person.
Being in Rome also adds the excitement of being close to the pope. Deacon Hayes has met Pope Francis a few times and notes he is a “very joyful person” who enjoys a joke and “a good one-liner.”
The pope told the seminarian that he had been to Alaska – actually, a layover on a trip to the Far East – and Deacon Hayes said to him that the next time he should stop and he would take him fishing. He had the privilege, with two other seminarians, of serving as a deacon for the pope when he, in his position as Bishop of Rome, ordained new priests for his diocese.
Deacon Hayes said his summers in Alaska have balanced his time between serving in different parishes and his Air Force Reserve requirements through the Archdiocese for Military Services. Having previously visited most parishes in the former Archdiocese of Anchorage, he plans to visit the parishes in the former Diocese of Juneau this summer.
“I’m an Air Force Reserve officer (2nd Lieutenant) enrolled in the Chaplain Candidate Program,” he explained. “So this requires me to serve a certain number of days in the Air Force each year.”
Deacon Hayes said he loves the unique mission of the Church in Alaska.
“It’s a small Church. The Catholic family is very intimate, and they’ve always been very supportive of me.”
They’ve always been supportive of their priests, he said, and Alaskans are resilient people who should bounce back stronger following the isolation of Covid.
As for the divisiveness that plagues some of the American Church presently, Deacon Hayes said, “I understand that one of the tricks of the Evil One is to focus our attention on whatever will divide us.”
Instead, he said, we should focus on Jesus as the source of our union.
“Focus on him and on the Cross, and we’ll be in communion with our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Jesus gathered many people around him who were very different from each other and didn’t always get along. But he taught us to be forgiving and kind – that’s the good news.”
Citing Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (the Light of Faith), he quoted the pope: “The Christian can see with the eyes of Jesus.”
Deacon Hayes’ mother and father, Marc and Karen, will be in Anchorage for his ordination.