Cheverus profiles: Gloria Jean Madruga of Our Lady of Good Voyage Parish, Gloucester

GLOUCESTER -- "Wash your hands and say your prayers, 'cuz Jesus and germs are everywhere."

These words are written beside the sacrarium, or holy sink, of Our Lady of Good Voyage Parish in Gloucester. Multiple times each week, parishioner Gloria Jean Madruga stands over the sink, cleaning the sacred vessels. It is just one of her many duties as a volunteer. Before Mass, she comes in to light the candles and lead the faithful in praying the rosary. She always loves hearing more and more voices as people enter the church.

After Mass, she helps out with adoration, confessions, and benediction. She makes sure that the Book of the Gospels is turned to the right page, refreshes the water and wine, and ensures there are enough eucharistic hosts for the next day. Then, she goes to "turn off Jesus," referring to the lights around a life-sized and very realistic statue of Christ carrying his cross.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Madruga, 83, told The Pilot in a Jan. 27 interview. "It's real hair."

She isn't sure where the hair came from.

Madruga is the treasurer of the parish's Our Lady's Guild and is a member of the Parish Finance Committee. She also serves as a lector, a visitor to the sick, and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

"It's wonderful," she said, "because you know you're going to meet somebody very nice and special. Because you know they love Jesus and they want Jesus, so their heart is the same as your heart."

For her decades of volunteering for Our Lady of Good Voyage, Madruga was one of 151 people who received Cheverus Awards in 2023. The annual archdiocesan awards honor those who have dedicated their lives to serving the Catholic Church in Boston. Father Jim Achadinha, pastor of the Catholic Community of Gloucester and Rockport, nominated Madruga for the award.

"She has always been filled with joy at serving Jesus," Father Achadinha told The Pilot in a Jan. 28 interview. "Jean always responds with enthusiasm when asked to help. Along with the other great volunteers, she has been a true beating heart of the parish."

She likes to sing while she does her volunteer work, and she and Father Achadinha sometimes sing together. (They're both altos, Madruga said, so their voices compliment each other nicely.) When she is working alone, she will sing a hymn or a song honoring the Blessed Mother.

Madruga has been a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Voyage for 20 years, since the closure of St. Peter Parish in East Gloucester. She said that serving the church has been the greatest honor of her life, outside of her husband and children.

"I feel like I'm just a little child of God's," she said, "and to be able to do all this is a pleasure and an honor. It makes me very happy."

Madruga believes that through her family, God has made up for the love she lacked as a child. She spent her earliest years in a series of abusive foster homes in Utah and throughout New England.

"That's the only life I knew prior to coming here," she said, "so I didn't know I was being abused."

She remembers her and her foster siblings being made to sit on the stairs to eat dinner, which was always a bowl of cereal. From the steps, they could look in at the family gathered around the dinner table, eating steak and corn.

"I could smell all the good food," she recalled. "We just thought that's the way life was for us. We didn't know any better."

She came to Gloucester, discovered the Catholic Church, and was baptized at age seven. Her biological sister and David, her foster brother she once ate cereal on the steps with, grew up alongside her and her foster family.

"The beginning of my life, there was no love," she said, "but I didn't know what love was. I sort of grew into it. It was very, very hard. But I feel now like I have truly been gifted."

Service has always been a part of Madruga's life, inside and outside the church. She has held many jobs, but the one she is proudest of is spending 25 years as a bus driver for children with special needs. In order to make two 15-year-old boys on the bus "feel good about themselves," she let them watch over the younger kids.

"I built up a wonderful relationship with these two," she said.

One day, after the boys exited the bus, a teacher boarded and told her: "These kids can hurt you.

"No," she said, "they love me."

"They can kill you."

The boys didn't ride the bus after that. Later, one of them did kill someone.

"My heart went out to him as much as the person that he killed," Madruga said. "And I couldn't help it. And I think it's often the way you treat people, that's what it boils down to. If you are kind and nice, I think people want that, they desire that. When I heard that, I just could not judge him. My heart felt bad for him."

When she received the Cheverus Award, she thought to herself, "Why me?" As she walked up to the altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston to receive the award from Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, she was nervous, just like she is when she is about to read from Scripture as a lector. Before she reads, she prays: "Jesus, please be with me. Let me get this message to the parishioners. And let me do it for your glory and not for mine."

"I know Jesus is right up there with me because I've asked him to come up with me," she said. "So everything calms down. And that's exactly what happened that day I went into the cathedral."

She was delighted to kiss Cardinal O'Malley's ring and get her picture taken with him. The ceremony, which featured her favorite hymns and the Liturgy of the Hours, felt like it was made just for her.

"To hear my name, Gloria Jean Madruga, being said to Cardinal O'Malley, my heart was pounding," she said. "And he just gives me -- and every one of us -- he gave us this big smile. And he presented us with the award; he put it over our heads, and it was wonderful."