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Requiescat: Donis Dean Patterson, retired bishop of Dallas, dies at 75


ENS Photo
Donis Dean Patterson, retired bishop of Dallas   (ENS Photo)

[Episcopal News Service]  Retired Bishop Donis Dean Patterson died February 3, 2006, at the age of 75. The cause was acute leukemia.

Patterson served as bishop of Dallas from 1983-1992, guiding the diocese through a reorganization after its western portion became the Diocese of Fort Worth and during the introduction of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate.

A total of 14 new congregations were founded in Dallas during his term as bishop. Patterson was noted for using small group ministries to encourage the growth of congregations and the diocese. He also helped establish the Corporation for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, which holds in trust the titles to all church properties and receives and administers funds for the use and benefit of the diocese and its institutions.

But Patterson's term as bishop also encompassed a time of increasing controversy in the church. He ordained the first woman priest in the diocese, the Rev. Gwen Langdoc Buehrens, in November 1985. The ordination sparked protests from traditionalists in the diocese, as did Patterson's request that all 64 congregations adopt the 1979 Book of Common Prayer by January 1, 1986. In August 1986, Patterson dissolved the relationship between the diocese and the Church of the Holy Communion in far North Dallas after the congregation's refusal to adopt the new Prayer Book. The congregation is now affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church. In 1989, Patterson also refused a request for Fort Worth Bishop Clarence Pope to celebrate the Eucharist and confirm at Holy Nativity Church in Plano, Texas, under an Episcopal Visitors Resolution designed for parishes objecting to the ministry of a female bishop.

In 1996, he also served on the Court for the Trial of a Bishop that considered presentment charges against Bishop Walter Righter, retired bishop of Iowa, on the grounds that Righter violated his ordination vows when he ordained an openly gay man to the diaconate during his term as assistant bishop of Newark. Patterson voted with the seven-to-one majority that there is "no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex." He joined Bishop Roger White of Milwaukee, though, in a separate opinion that such ordinations are nevertheless not permissible because not supported by scripture, the corporate decision of the church, or the Book of Common Prayer.

A bout with rheumatoid arthritis forced him into retirement in 1992.

Patterson was born on April 27, 1930 in Holmesville, Ohio. A 1948 graduate of Millersburg High School, Patterson received a B.S. in Agricultural Sciences at Ohio State University in 1952. He married the former JoAnne Nida on December 22,1951.

He was commissioned in the U.S. Army and served on active duty in the Korean conflict, then served another 23 years in the U.S. Army Reserve with the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, retiring as a colonel in 1990.

He earned a Bachelor of Sacred Theology at the Episcopal Theological School (now the Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1957 and a Masters of Divinity from ETS in 1972. He received honorary doctorates from Nashotah House in 1984 and the School of Theology at the University of the South in 1986.

He was rector of St. Andrew's Church in Washington Court House, Ohio, for 6 years before going to Florida as rector of St. Mark's, Venice, where he served from 1963 until 1970. He was rector of All Saints Church in Winter Park, Florida, from 1970-1983.

Patterson was chosen as the fifth bishop of Dallas in June 1983, filling the vacancy created when then-Bishop Donald Davies resigned to take over jurisdiction of the new Diocese of Fort Worth, and served until 1992. During retirement he served as assistant bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast (1992-1995), and as bishop-in-residence at St Luke's Cathedral in Orlando from 1996 until his death.

Patterson was a member of the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer; the Order of St. Luke; the Brotherhood of St. Andrew; and the Episcopal Society for Ministry to the Aging.

He received five George Washington medals for sermons from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and two Meritorious Service Medals from the US Army for service in the Chaplain Corps.

He also served as a trustee of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (ETSS) in Austin; St. Mark's School in Dallas; Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, the University of the South at Sewanee; the Episcopal School of Dallas; Gaston Episcopal Hospital of Dallas; and the Children's Medical Center of Dallas.

Patterson is survived by his wife, JoAnne; his mother, Louella; and son, Christopher. One son, Andrew, predeceased him.

A memorial requiem will be held at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, Florida at a date to be determined.