Lancaster Seminary Remembers Professor Emeritus Paul Irion
February 10, 2021
Internationally Renowned Author on End-of-Life Ministry Dies at 98
Lancaster Theological Seminary Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology, the Rev. Dr. Paul E. Irion, who died Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, at the age of 98, was an early champion of hospice care and an internationally recognized author of numerous books and articles on death and dying.
A revered professor who taught for 28 years (1959-1987) at Lancaster Theological Seminary, Dr. Irion educated generations of clergy and pastoral counselors.
Dr. Irion was known at Lancaster Seminary for combining his love for students with his passions for social justice, end-of-life ministry, and pastoral ministry.
“He was a seminal thinker who contributed to the consolidation of pastoral theology when the young discipline was developing its own distinctive identity in seminary curricula,” said Lee C. Barrett, Ph.D., Professor of Systematic Theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Early in his career, Dr. Irion championed the hospice care movement, and, in 1980, he was instrumental in the founding of what was then known as Hospice of Lancaster County. Throughout his life, he remained active in promoting and interpreting the mission of hospice.
According to Professor Barrett, “Dr. Irion’s teaching at Lancaster Seminary emphasized the psychological and spiritual dimensions of death and dying, as did his numerous publications, including Hospice and Ministry. His work in this area is still frequently cited.”
A student of Dr. Irion’s, the Rev. Leonard S. Knighton, Lancaster Seminary Class of 1987, said, “His books on the funeral were invaluable and continue to have a place in my library. His influence and his creative dignity continue to inspire and guide us.”
In 2020, Dr. Irion celebrated the 75th anniversary of his ordination as a minister in the United Church of Christ.
Dr. Irion also was an ardent supporter of the civil rights movement. He marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1963 March on Washington 1963 and on the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights in 1965.
“Rev. Dr. Paul Irion modeled the grace of Christ in all areas of his life,” said the Rev. Kathryn L. Kuhn, Senior Pastor of Church of the Apostles, Lancaster. “A fierce advocate for justice and a soft-spoken man, he holds a place in my heart with his words of wisdom and encouragement.”
Dr. Irion’s expansive interests ranged far beyond the intersections of theology and pastoral care. He and his wife Mary Jean, a well-known poet and essayist who died in 2019, were leading participants in the New York-based Society for Arts, Religion, and Culture, an interdisciplinary think-tank inspired by the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich.
Loyde Hartley, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religion and Society, said that Dr. Irion left detailed instructions for his funeral which will conclude with a favorite prayer: “O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”
Dr. Irion died peacefully after a short illness under the compassionate watch of a granddaughter. Our prayers and sympathy are with Dr. Irion’s family during this time of loss. Arrangements are pending.