Rev. James Dunning, 58, Began Forum To Teach Christian Initiates

The Rev. James B. Dunning's vision could get him into hot water with parishioners and colleagues who didn't see things his way.

But eventually those people, and the Catholic Church itself, acknowledged that some of his ideas had merit. Sometimes, a great deal of merit - as in his opposition to the Vietnam War or in his views on revamping the Christian initiation ministry.

"A woman who knew him recently told me, `He said hard things, but they were the right things,' " said the Rev. Roger O'Brien of St. Luke Catholic Church in Shoreline.

Father Dunning's sister Mary Lou Callero of Kirkland said, "He always made you think."

Father Dunning, a priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle from 1963 to 1981, died of heart failure Sept. 16 at his Washington, D.C., home. He was 58.

"He was a highly energetic person and a man of vision," O'Brien said. "He could alienate people and institutions. But he had a brilliant mind and an enormous sense of humor. He communicated a passion for the Christian life."

O'Brien said his colleague didn't stir things up just to stir them up. He wasn't a rebel, and wouldn't stand out in a crowd.

But he was charismatic in public speaking because of the depth and intensity of his beliefs.

Born and reared in Arlington, Snohomish County, Father Dunning early had a "priestly bent," said his brother-in-law Gary Callero, of Kirkland. In high school he played piano, was active in drama and enjoyed close ties with his church.

"He was very introspective, concerned for others," Callero said. "In college, writing notes home, he showed an insight for humanity."

Father Dunning attended St. Thomas Seminary, and earned a doctorate in religion and religious education at the Catholic University of America.

He served as associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Seattle and chaplain at Blanchet High School before joining the faculty of St. Mary's Seminary College in Baltimore, Md.

From 1973 to 1979 he taught theology at St. Thomas Seminary and directed the continuing education of priests for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Since 1981, Father Dunning had been identified with the Christian initiation ministry, particularly the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, which he helped found, and served until his death. It dealt with educating initiates in the mores and structure of the church. He also wrote widely, including his 1993 book, "Echoing God's Word: Formation for Catechists and Homilists in a Catechumenal Church."

His love was being with people in seminars he led or participated in, whether in North America, Europe, Africa, or the Far East.

"Jim was out in front of an awful lot of things," said his brother-in-law. "The whole Catechumenal thing was an outgrowth of Vatican II, on the New Rite of Initiation in the church. People here hadn't gotten around to addressing it."

His other survivors include a niece and two nephews.

The celebration of the Order of Christian Burial will be at 1 p.m. tomorrow at St. John the Evangelist Church, 121 N. 80th St., Seattle.

Remembrances may be made to the James B. Dunning Memorial Fund, The North American Forum on the Catechumenate, 7115 Leesburg Pike, Suite 308, Falls Church, VA, 22043-2301.