Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project keeps Vatican II pioneer’s spirit alive

Dearden Judy Holmes, director of the Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project, holds a binder of materials she and others have collected on the life of the former archbishop of Detroit (1958-80), who also played a key role in the Second Vatican Council. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — A group of laypeople in the archdiocese are working to preserve the legacy of a man whose imprint on the local and global Church is unquestionable.

Cardinal John F. Dearden served as archbishop of Detroit from 1958 to 1980, a time of dramatic social change in both the Church and southeast Michigan.

On Aug. 1, thirty years after Cardinal Dearden’s death, the John Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project will commemorate the cardinal’s life and service with a celebration of his legacy at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Clinton Township.

Judy Holmes, director of the project, is working to compile materials written by Cardinal Dearden and people who knew him about his impact on both the archdiocese and the Church universal.

“The goal of this project is to research and publish the highlights of Cardinal Dearden’s service in the Church, because it’s never been done,” Holmes told The Michigan Catholic. “What I hope to do is show his great leadership skills and highlight his style of dialogue and decision-making to carry out the mission of the Church.”

Holmes served under Cardinal Dearden from 1967-71, a time when great changes in the Church were taking place, including the greater involvement of laity in Church leadership positions, women having a greater role in heading up ministry projects, and the formation of parish councils to take burdens off of overtaxed pastors.

“Cardinal Dearden attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, and he wanted to bring the message of Vatican II to the archdiocese,” said Holmes, who served in the Institute for Continuing Education, which distributed educational materials for the then-eight-county archdiocese. “Cardinal Dearden was a big influence on the lay faithful educating themselves and taking an active role in Church leadership.”

Cardinal Dearden, who served as bishop of Pittsburgh before arriving in Detroit in 1958, was a graduate of the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. His knowledge of theology, philosophy and Latin made him a key player at the Second Vatican Council, where he helped lead the formation of the council’s writings on marriage and family, a sign of the respect Blessed Pope Paul VI had for Detroit’s archbishop.

“Cardinal Dearden was one of the most important figures at the council,” said retried Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who has assisted with the legacy project. “He was one of the few bishops of the council who spoke Latin and participated in the most important discussions at the council. Cardinal Dearden should be known for his leadership in the church, not only in Detroit, but the whole United States.”

After returning from the council, Cardinal Dearden sought to implement the reforms that followed from the council’s documents, such as Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, including the celebration of Mass in English and encouraging the active participation for the laity.

“I learned to admire him very much; he was a very understanding person,” Bishop Gumbleton said. “He was a person who had a deep love for the Church as the body of Christ and wanted to grow that sense of what the Church is. When you look at (the archdiocesan) Synod 69, the parish councils, the way he tackled social problems in the city, it was all about making a more open, loving Church.”

Mary Carry and her husband served on the first archdiocesan pastoral council and other advisory groups set up shortly after the Vatican II reforms.

Cd Dearden Cd. Dearden

“Cardinal Dearden was an incredible proponent of Vatican II and in particular, lay involvement,” said Carry, a member of St. John Fisher Chapel University Parish in Auburn Hills. “I was so impressed with Cardinal Dearden’s sense of listening and his ability to change his mind. If we brought up something, and he felt differently, we could talk and he would change his mind, which is very admirable for a Church leader. He was concerned with the laity and how to be in touch with the needs of the parish.”

Carry hopes the Aug. 1 memorial service will inspire people to take up the spirit of Vatican II with a renewed vigor, striving to be an open, loving band of disciples of Jesus Christ.

“Cardinal Dearden’s philosophy of openness was a lot of what Pope Francis is saying,” Carry said. “We need to keep that philosophy and hope for the Church, the involvement of the laypeople in particular. Not so much of a top-down Church, but a Church that listens.”

Though books have been written on Vatican II and its impact on the Church in the United States, Holmes notes there isn’t enough material on Cardinal Dearden’s impact on the council and how it shaped the Church’s role in society. She hopes to compile a book with Cardinal Dearden’s writing and commentaries from Church scholars and those who knew him completed by 2020.

Cardinal John Dearden memorial service

St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, 48115 Schoenherr Rd., Shelby Township, will host a remembrance service on the 30th anniversary of Cardinal Dearden’s death, Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. Members of the Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project, including Judy Holmes, former Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Tom Gumbleton, Cathy Haven, Nancy Driscoll and Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Don Hanchon will be among the presenters.