The Birth of the John Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project
Imagine a 21-year old college graduate landing an educational position in the most progressive, innovative archdiocese in the country—Detroit—just as the Church was exploring ways to understand and implement the vision of Vatican II. It was Archbishop John F. Dearden who was forging a collaborative, well-informed Church with the assistance of then-Jane Wolford, executive director of the Institute for Continuing Education (I.C.E.). It was working with Jane (the first woman in the country to be appointed to an executive archdiocesan position) and a team of eight other women and a clergy consultant, that I discovered what it meant to be a Catholic in light of Vatican II. It was a joyful epiphany. My responsibility for five years was to plan, promote and coordinate the adult education centers in the eight-county archdiocese on topics relevant to Catholics who wanted to know their faith and grow in their faith. Adult education was essential to John F. Dearden’s plan of renewal.
It was a blessing and an amazing privilege to work at I.C.E. because it was so expansive on so many levels to so many people. Not only did we offer eight-week classes, but we brought in the top theologians and thinkers in the world to the Detroit stage to the delight of thousands of people. People like Barnabas Ahern, Richard McBrien, Eugene Kennedy, Hans Kung, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Andrew Greeley, and Mother Teresa shared their insights with a hungry, appreciative audience.
In addition to these two exciting ventures, I.C.E. helped plan and implement the parish-based discussion groups, called Speak-Up sessions, to elicit the thoughts, concerns and suggestions of the 200,000 adults and young adults who gathered in homes, parishes, schools and convents. These suggestions were synthesized over a period of a year and presented to the Cardinal and his advisors. The result was Synod/69 which articulated policies, programs and services for the newly-organized Archdiocese of Detroit. A synod in itself was not new, but what was different was the engagement of the laity, religious and clergy in the process. Cardinal Dearden was committed to listening to his people and responding whenever possible.
I met the Cardinal on several occasions throughout my five years at ICE and since then. My respect and deep esteem for his leadership, courage and vision have grown exponentially. Through archdiocesan gatherings over the course of forty-five years, I have met many outstanding Catholics who helped shaped the Church of Detroit because they were given the opportunity to do so by Archbishop Dearden. He educated, enabled and empowered people to use their gifts and talents generously for the Kingdom of God.
I approached colleagues and friends of the Cardinal, Jane Wolford Hughes and Margaret Cronyn, editor of the Michigan Catholic, to write a book about him. That did not come to pass but it was a goal that I held close to my heart. It needed to be done.
I spent my professional career in the fields of continuing education, public relations, communications and marketing within religious institutions until my retirement in January 2008. One of the first books I wanted to read was John O’Malley’s monumental (and highly recommended) book, “What Happened at Vatican II.” Everyone was talking about it and I could not wait to see what he had to say about Cardinal Dearden. I was disappointed to see that his name was misspelled and that there were only a couple of references to him but I learned much about what a unique event the Second Ecumenical Council was in the history of Catholicism and the world.
How could there be so little reference to him in a book about Vatican II, I wondered? After all, Archbishop Dearden attended all four sessions, was a member of the Doctrinal Commission and chaired the important sub-committee on Marriage and Family. And, in 1984, when I heard his compelling day-long speech about Vatican II at the Orchard Lake Center for Pastoral Studies, I knew then that his experiences must be shared with a broader audience beyond the 200 assembled. His behind-the-scenes descriptions of all four sessions of the Vatican Council (1962-1965) would be fascinating and helpful to the general public, history professors and pastoral ministers who seek to understand and to continue today the rebirth of Church that Vatican II heralded.
Nearly twenty years after the Cardinal’s death on August 1, 1988, I decided that I would not wait for anyone else to write a book about this exemplary leader who embraced his role with such patience, fidelity and integrity. “I’ll do it!” I had experienced firsthand how his collegial, compassionate and courageous style of leadership ignited people’s enthusiasm for their new identity and responsibilities as the People of God. I saw how he faced the many challenges in our society and our Church during the 60s with racial tensions, riots and poverty tearing at the social fabric and with “changes in the Church” causing some confusion and resistance among Catholics.
That June night in 2008, I envisioned a book which would give ample evidence of the extraordinary service that this holy man of prayer brought to the Church Universal at Vatican II, at the U.S. National Conference of Bishops and its Call to Action Justice Conference in 1976. It would also give evidence of his great wisdom through his own words and through the words of others. It was difficult to contain my excitement. “I’ll do it!” Within two weeks, I had secured the agreement of over twenty people from various levels of responsibility in the Church, eager to contribute an essay about him. Since then, other people, writers and community leaders have signed on to the project and additional print and visual resources have surfaced. With the help of the Holy Spirit and dedicated, generous friends, I have spearheaded our combined energies to transcribe the Cardinal’s presentations about Vatican II, to research and compile resources and articles previously published about his life and legacy.
The research is done. Now these gems await final editing and a publisher who affirms that the voice and vision of Cardinal Dearden must be recorded in a comprehensive publication–for the first time!
I hope that this book will, among other things:
1) increase our appreciation of Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the magnificent gifts God has entrusted to us through the prism of Cardinal Dearden’s spirituality and actions;
2) enhance our understanding of recent Catholic history beginning with Vatican II; and
3) touch our hearts and minds as we continue our faith journey as the beloved People of God who are “prophets of a future not our own.” [The Cardinal’s complete reflection may be found elsewhere on this site.]
Know that this compendium of primary and secondary sources will be published and it will be wonderful! I ask for and appreciate your prayerful support.
— Judy M. Holmes, Director, John Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project