Dearden, John Francis

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Second archbishop and sixth bishop of detroit, cardinal; b. Valley Falls, Rhode Island, Oct. 15, 1907; d. Detroit, Michigan, Aug. 1, 1988. John Dearden was the first of five children born to John S. and Agnes (Gregory) Dearden. After graduation from Cathedral Latin School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925, Dearden entered St. Mary's Seminary. He also studied theology at the North American College in Rome, Italy, and was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 8, 1932. He completed his doctorate in theology in 1934, and after serving as assistant pastor at St. Mary's Parish, Painesville, Ohio (193437), Dearden taught philosophy at St. Mary's Seminary (193744), being named rector there in 1944. His strictness in the position and subsequently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, earned him the sobriquet "Iron John."

Dearden was appointed titular bishop of Sarepta in 1945, and co-adjutor bishop of Pittsburgh cum jure successionis in 1948, and chose Servio in evangelio as his motto. Dearden succeeded to the See of Pittsburgh as its seventh bishop in 1950. Promoted to the Archdiocese of Detroit on Dec. 18, 1958, he was installed by Cardinal O'Hara of Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 1959.

Dearden attended all sessions of Vatican II. From 1962 through 1965 he was a member of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of the Vatican II Doctrinal Commission for Faith and Morals (the Theological Commission). Dearden worked on the chapter of Lumen Gentium dealing with the People of God, reported to the Council Fathers on the chapter on family life, Gaudium et Spes 4752, and helped promote the teaching that conjugal love and procreation are equally ends of marriage and that married couples have the duty to determine family size. He was also instrumental in avoiding language that would have prejudiced the discussion about birth control by the commission of Paul VI.

His fellow bishops chose him as the first president (196672) of the newly reorganized National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). Under his leadership, the NCCB made several innovations, including a due process procedure; creation of the United States Advisory Council, to allow clerical, religious, and lay collaboration; better relationships with other hierarchies; and the Campaign for Human Development. The bishops elected him to the 1967, 1969, 1971, 1974, and 1977 Synods of Bishops. Pope John Paul II appointed him to the 1985 synod.

His leadership in the Archdiocese of Detroit was also widely admired, as he sought to implement conciliar teaching on a pastoral level in Detroit. Dearden ascribed this change, which did not affect his shy and reticent demeanor, to the activity of the Holy Spirit.

The bishop's primary mode of renewal was education. As early as 1959 he had helped establish the Pius XII Center to train catechists. He summoned a diocesan synod in 1966 and established the Institute for Continuing Education, under lay leadership, to organize the parish, regional, and diocesan input of 80,000 participants. This institute also began what was to be one of the longest sustained adult education efforts in the church on the teachings of Vatican II. Dearden expressed his rationale in these words:

The people must be educated first so they are not offering recommendations for the future of the Archdiocese out of the bag of old theologies and misunderstandings they have carried for years. I know it will be slower, but the people will have a more profound grasp of what it means to be Church.

After the Synod of 1969, Dearden continued the educational thrust with "Church, World, and Kingdom," a program involving nearly 40,000 adults.

For Dearden, the heart of Vatican II was its teaching on the Church as the People of God. Since the new focus was on the persons who constitute the Church, authority had to be exercised pastorally. He saw herein a call for the laity to assume their proper role in the church, within "a new style of democratic administration," as one writer put it. Dearden thus promoted liturgical renewal, though he opposed those who would press the Church to "do something that is contrary to the mind of the Church." He instituted parish councils, diocesan subunits called vicariates, and a diocesan pastoral council, urging clergy and laity to collaborate and to reach consensus. He relied on a diocesan-wide commission to respond to the Michigan electoral ban on aid to parochial schools and closed one-fifth of the Catholic schools in 1969. Dearden organized the Michigan Catholic Conference for the Province of Detroit, which utilized lay talents to work with state government and agencies. His new pastoral style led him to be quite tolerant; as one Detroit priest put it: "Even some relative irresponsibility, especially if marked by sincerity, is at least tolerated." This allowed for creativity, but also some abuses in the liturgical and pastoral life, something he personally opposed but did not address.

Soon after his arrival in Detroit, Dearden spoke to the Detroit Economic Club on respect for the dignity of the human person, the foundation of his lifelong concern for social justice. He began Project Commitment to inform Detroit Catholics about the Church's social teachings. After the 1967 Detroit race riots, he addressed the Church's role in education and health care in the city and challenged all peoples to promote justice. His pledge of one million dollars of the annual archdiocesan appeal to urban grant projects earned him the enmity of many Catholics. These efforts, combined with his leadership in diocesan-wide education, led the American bishops to entrust to Dearden a primary role in organizing the Church's American Bicentennial celebration, which concluded with the call to action conference. He viewed as a success the conference's process of hearing many Catholics nationwide on justice issues, but he also recognized the limits of many untenable proposals and the domination of the process by special interest groups.

Dearden was created a cardinal on April 18, 1969, and assigned the titular church of St. Pius X near Monte Mario. He was appointed to the Sacred Congregations for the Discipline of the Sacraments and for Divine Worship and to the Secretariat for Non-Christians. A heart attack prevented his attendance at the 1977 synod, although he later participated in the two papal conclaves of 1978. In 1980, Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation due to poor health, and Dearden was named administrator until the installation of his successor, Edmund Szoka.

Dearden received numerous awards: Notre Dame honored him with the Laetare Medal (1982) for being an "outspoken advocate of increased recognition and development in lay ministries," and the Catholic University of America granted him an Honorary Doctorate of Laws (1983), for being "a man committed to the fullest measure of justice in our own time."

Dearden is buried in the Bishops' Plot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield, Michigan; his papers are equally divided between the Archives of the University of Notre Dame (his NCCB papers) and the Archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Bibliography: j. b. hehir, "Going Forward: The Leadership of Cardinal Dearden," Commonweal 115 (1988) 55354. j. wolford hughes, "In Memoriam. Cardinal John F. Dearden: Teacher," Living Light 25 (1989) 30816. e. kennedy, "Two for Detroit. I. Cardinal Dearden," The Critic 32 (1974) 4057.

[e. boyea]