Springfield resident and WWII veteran shares how his faith has guided him for a century, and the advice he has for all of us
June 6, 1944. Then 23-year-old Jasper Madonia joined 156,000 soldiers in one of the most heroic days in American military history — the Normandy landings, referred to as D-Day. The pivotal Battle of Normandy lasted from June to August and ultimately paved the way for the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany during World War II.
Fast forward to today, now 100-year-old Madonia, a Blessed Sacrament parishioner in Springfield, continues to count his blessings. He is number seven of 11 children, was baptized at St. Joseph Church in Springfield, has been a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament since 1950, an usher since 1960, was married to his wife, Rachel, for almost 75 years (she died in 2018), and has one son who is married with two children (one deceased).
Our Catholic faith has been Madonia’s foundation from day one. Whether it was during the violence of war; unexpected family tragedies; his 70 years as a humble employee and owner at Bridge Jewelry where he wore a shirt and tie every day and climbed the tiny staircase to work upstairs in a non-air-conditioned room; cooking and selling hot dogs at the annual Blessed Sacrament Garden Party; or greeting campers at gate 10 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in the spring, summer, and fall, his faith and love for God and Catholicism has been the center.
Catholic Times Editor Andrew Hansen sat down with Madonia on Jan. 11, his 100th birthday, when the Madonia family celebrated with a party at the Knights of Columbus on Springfield’s west side to talk war, family, life, and faith.
Q. You were part of the tens of thousands of men who stormed the beaches of Normandy. What do you remember about that day?
A. It was pretty scary. We landed on Utah Beach. Now Omaha Beach was a little different beach. Our company was in charge of ammunition. We didn’t go in until about 6 in the afternoon because we had to wait for it to clear up a little bit. Our infantry outfit did a good job working pretty fast. When we landed, we left our amphibious trucks there and someone else must have taken them after. But, we were sitting out there in the channel with ships galore, all over.
A. My faith must have done a good job because I am still here (laughs). We did pray because we were scared.
Q. The year prior to the mission, you married Rachel while at home on leave. You two were married for nearly 75 years, with her dying on Good Friday in 2018, just three months prior to your anniversary. What did you two do to make it nearly 75 years — what is your secret for a successful marriage?
A. Praying to God and praying together. Forgive and forget, because when you get married, you are going to have a lot of arguments but you have to forgive and forget them. I also never missed a Sunday Mass unless I was sick. Holy Days we’d make. Rachel and I — we were always together. We never went anywhere without each other.
Q. You visit the grave of your wife every day at Calvary Cemetery. Why?
A. I think it makes me feel better. I sit there and talk to her for a while. Sometimes I think she answers me and sometimes, well, she was a pretty quiet person (laughs). Maybe that’s another reason why we made it 75 years (laughs).
Q. You still drive, you are active in the community, and are active in your parish. What do you credit for keeping you independently going all these years?
A. Faith. Believing in God.
A. No. I was supposed to be on a lot of diets, but … (laughs). When I had open heart surgery in 1975, my heart stopped completely. A doctor then gave me the electric shock, and they brought me back. To this day, I don’t know who that doctor was as no one mentioned his name to me.
Q. What has been the most unique experience in your life?
A. Being in the Army, I guess. It was something different seeing the good things and bad things. I enlisted before I was drafted. My brother Joe was in the Pacific, my brother Tony was in Italy, and I was in France.
Q. What about our Catholic faith do you cherish the most?
A. The Mass and all the wonderful priests we’ve had. They were wonderful. And being at Blessed Sacrament all these years, I met a lot of them.
Q. For those who have fallen away from the faith, what is your advice?
A. I would say just return back home to God.
Q. Living 100 years has provided with you plenty of life experiences. What advice do you have for us?
A. Work hard and work every day. Treat people nice.