Fr. Joseph Dearborn, inclusive language pioneer, passes away

Recently, someone sent me an obituary for Fr. Joseph Dearborn, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., who was once a colleague of mine at the Quixote Center. A couple years ago, Joe returned to Kansas and was quite ill. I just learned that he had died.

However, he deserves to be remembered for much more than the obituary in the Kansas City Star offered. He did pioneering work creating Inclusive Language Lectionaries and the Inclusive Bible.

It was an amazing and important work that took many years. Scholars went back to the original biblical languages to remain close to the meaning of the texts, even as they created a new, gender-inclusive translation.

The result was highly significant: a bible and lectionaries that made scripture truly available for women (like myself) who find it almost impossible to relate to an all-male depiction of God and human beings.

In contrast, the obituary from the Feb. 3 edition of the Kansas City Star says only this about Joe’s education and ministry:

Father Joe was born in Kansas City, KS and attended Bishop Ward High School and Benedictine College in Atchison, KS, after which he decided to pursue religious studies at Conception Seminary and was ordained a priest in 1957. Father Dearborn served as a parish priest until the late 1970s when he left active ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

There was no mention of the Quixote Center, Priests for Equality (a project of the Center which published the inclusive language series) or even his earlier work with Head Start. I don’t know who provided the Star with information, but it missed the monumental achievement of Joe’s life.

Language shapes how we think. That’s why gender inclusive language is vitally important in biblical readings and prayer. For that same reason, inclusive obituaries are also important.

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