Drew Mourns the Loss of the Rev. Dr. James Pain T'54,'55
It is with great sadness that Drew University reports the passing of the Rev. Dr. James Pain T’54,’55 on July 9, 2022, at the age of 92.
The Rev. Dr. Pain was a fixture at Drew for more than six decades, during which he held roles of a student, chaplain, professor, and dean.
Pain originally moved east from his hometown of Los Angeles in 1951 to study at Drew Theological School. Thus began a connection to Drew that lasted the next 65 years.
After earning two degrees from the Theological School, Pain went on to serve as the University chaplain, the Henry and Annie M. Pfeiffer Professor of Religion, and dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies.
His time leading the Caspersen School was a period of evolution for the school, and Pain responded by creating new programs and adapting curricula to meet the needs of the students.
“Changing attitudes require different outcomes, and students are specializing and preparing for careers,” he said in 2001, 10 years into his time as dean.
Pain retired from Drew in 2006. That year, the Caspersen School established the Dean Pain Prize in honor of his 15 years as dean of the school. It is awarded annually for the best interdisciplinary doctoral dissertation that is singularly distinguished by creative thought and prose style.
Pain was a beloved member of the Drew community, leading chapel services, class seminars, and conversations on everything from spirituality to the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, both of whom Pain met while studying for his PhD at Oxford University’s Keble College.
In a 2001 Drew Magazine cover story honoring his 50th year at Drew, Pain quipped, “I stayed so long, perhaps I am a monument to inertia.”
In his humility, Pain neglected to mention that ordinary people rarely make it to monument status.
If someone in Drew’s 150-plus year history is deserving of a monument, Pain feels like a natural choice to lead the list. For now, the stained glass windows dedicated to Pain and his passions in S.W. Bowne’s Great Hall will surely suffice.
If you would like to send a note or memory about the late Rev. Dr. Pain, you can do so here. Submissions will be posted below as they are received.
I met Dr. Pain at my Drew interview in 1990 and worked with him during my 29 year career as Professor of Russian. I was awed by his stories of his own education. At Oxford he met one of the heroes of twentieth century Russian literature, Anna Akhmatova. His courses on Orthodoxy and his scholarship on Russian theology benefited our students in the Russian program immensely. The importance of having this knowledge is even clearer today. We were unique in being able to have him teach as part of our program, as well as do all of his other Drew obligations. Always a kind and charming gentleman, I am grateful to have known him.
When I think of Dean James Pain, I think of the towering oaks of the Drew forest — their deep rootedness, their rough bark, their sprawling, beautiful canopies, the cool shade they provide, and the acorns that drop like rainfall in the autumn breezes. I don’t want to push the oak metaphors too far, but since Jim spent his entire professional life amid the University’s towering forest, I thought it fitting to begin there.
Jim retired awhile ago from the Deanship of the Caspersen School, and many of us who knew him as a cherished colleague haven’t seen him around campus in quite some time. Yet many of us Drew long haulers still recognize the influence he had on a generation of students and colleagues in religion and in the humanities, and cherish our memories of him.
Whenever I walk though Great Hall in S.W. Bowne, I think of Jim. That space worked its magic on Jim, and Jim returned the favor. True to its architect’s intention, Great Hall must have reminded Jim of his Oxford days, a vanishing (vanished?) world that exuded elegance and grace if also a bit of otherworldliness. There, Jim presided at countless Caspersen faculty meetings, never hot-under-the-collar, not even in a stuffy room that lacked air conditioning. Dean Pain held court, gaveling the meetings to order. And at the conclusion of business, he put gavel to block and with a wry smile announced ceremoniously, “‘Tis done!”
It was one of Jim’s many winsome quirks.
Dean Pain brought to Drew — and continued to nurture here — his commitments to scholarly integrity, the life of the mind, and a conviction that Christian leaders be sharp thinkers and people with capacious hearts. Jim, in gratitude for years of service to the University in the forest, we bid you this final farewell. The gavel hits the block one final time: ‘Tis done!
Rest in peace and in power, good and faithful servant. May you go from strength to strength.
James Pain was my faculty advisor in what was then the Graduate School (1983-1993) and chaired my dissertation committee. When I was weighing the possibility of graduate school in mid-1982, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Pain in Oxford, England. He and my husband, John Topolewski (T 1970, T 1975), were both delegates to the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, which met that year at Keble College of Oxford University, from which Dr. Pain had earned the D.Phil. degree. On a very hot August afternoon when no Institute activities were planned, Dr. Pain took a small group of us on a walking tour to the churchyard of St. Cross-Holywell in Oxford, to visit the grave of Charles Williams, a lay theologian-novelist-historian-poet-polymath in whose work I had become interested as an undergraduate at Wilkes College (now Wilkes University). Dr. Pain’s vast knowledge, particularly of someone as admittedly esoteric as Charles Williams, as well as his generosity in sharing that knowledge, truly impressed me. That afternoon’s walk led directly to my applying for admission to the Graduate School at Drew as soon as we returned home, and after enrolling in the fall semester of 1983, to asking that Dr. Pain be my faculty advisor.
For the two years I spent in classes, and then during the time needed to complete all of the requirements for the Ph.D., Dr. Pain was a trusted mentor and a constant source of new ideas to look for, fresh avenues of study to pursue, in a process that ultimately led to the completion and acceptance of my dissertation, “Under the Mercy: The Doctrine of the Atonement in the Novels and Theological Works of Charles Williams (1886-1945).”
The last time I saw Dr. Pain was in May of 2011, when I was one of the invited presenters for the symposium honoring his formal, full retirement from Drew. At that time, I spoke of our mutual friend, Charles Williams, and of Dr. Pain’s embodiment of the ideal of the pastor-scholar–an ideal which has shaped my professional life for more than forty years. When we had a moment to visit very briefly, at the conclusion of the day’s festivities, he was just a little sheepish about all the tributes spoken on his behalf. Looking back on that day, I now wish I had said more, to reflect in better words the truly enormous influence the gift of his mentoring has been in my personal and professional life.
James Pain was one of the finest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know. I shall miss him until it is my turn to join with him and the other saints in light, as Charles Williams would say, Under the Mercy, in the presence of the Omnipotence. I give thanks to God that Under the Mercy, I had the great good fortune to be his student, and to have his signature attest officially, on the document itself, to my having earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree while he was Dean.
I remember in the late ’90’s preparing a walking tour of Lower Manhattan for Drew students and professors. The electric lines were damaged, so their train got stuck. But Dr. Pain had showed up separately, so he basically got his own private tour. I distinctly remember his joy at visiting the John Street Methodist Church, oldest ME in America, with it’s lower hall full of dour Methodist portraits. He had never been there before.
Later, the John Street church was only a block from the World Trade Center, and served as a haven, along with St. Paul’s Chapel.
Dr. Pain graciously agreed to write a specifically tailored for me. As a PhD Hebrew Bible Student he agreed to write a Old Testament comp question relating to the Churches of Christ and the Old Testament. This was my only interaction with him, which is my only regret and loss. I found him helpful, compassionate, and someone that, had I the opportunity to associate more, I would have surely been blessed. Even at this many years away from 1985 I still think of him and miss him. He certainly made an great impact in the very short period of my life.
Dr Pain made possible the Oxford Semester do a few years in the 1970’s, and I was fortunate enough to participate – Michaelmas term 1973. There were just 6 of us – 4 religion majors, a history major, and myself (behavioral studies major). We entered into the life and rhythm of Ripon Hall (a liberal Anglican seminary), had tutorials with Dr. Nicholas Zernov (great Russian orthodox theologian), and Rusty Williams for Wesleyan studies, and could attend lectures at Christ Church, Lincoln College, and do research at the Bodleian library, as we worked on our individual projects – one historic and one contemporary issue. It was a marvelous opportunity! Oh how I wish I could access those resources today, and how grateful I am that the studies undertaken then have informed my personal and professional life for all these years. Thank you, Dr Pain, for your life and leadership.
Professor Pain played a critical role in my life. As a religion minor at Drew, I took most of his courses. He was an exemplary professor and one of the best teachers I have ever had. He was also my mentor and helped me get accepted to Oxford University where (as he did) I received my doctorate. He was a role model for me throughout my career as a college professor, a divinity school dean, and as the president of two liberal arts colleges. I will miss him dearly.
Thanks to Dr. Pain for introducing me to the thought of Martin Luther. Imagine my surprise, when, 27 years later the day after I was ordained a Pastor in the Lutheran Church, I found myself standing in the checkout line of the Fortress bookstore in Philadelphia, behind Dr. Pain!
Dr. Pain’s Comparative Religions class was a highlight, featuring several field trips to Manhattan, all fascinating, but none more so than the celebration of Russian Orthodox Easter.
I might not have made it through college were it not for Jim Pain and his wit, his willingness to adapt his courses to accommodate quirky, unsettled and unsettling students, the width and depth of his interests and knowledge.
Beyond that, he was the role model for my own teaching career. Throughout my years as an undergraduate and graduate student, I had three professors who inspired me, who tolerated me. Jim was one, Cratis Williams and Orlan Sawey at Appalachian State were the others. But it was Jim who gave me and a small group of my classmates the support and encouragement to trust our unorthodox minds and inclinations.
He was the reason we majored in religion as Drew undergraduates, rascally agnostics that we were, and some of us have continued to be into our mid 80s. He showed us the joys of a life that elevated the mind and celebrated the world.
Mentor, teacher, advisor, friend—-all of these in his quiet ,unassuming, and inescapable style. A steadying influence on a shakey, unclear trajectory as I transitioned from mechanical engineering to psychology to religion to theology, and finally clinical psychology.
His quiet yet timely and deliberate wisdom led to choices which were always clearly my own.
I am forever grateful for his presence in my life and know that I am amongst many over the years who have deeply benefited from knowing and being known by this Great Soul.
Dr. Pain was a favorite teacher of mine. I took a summer course on the Inklings, with an emphasis on Charles Williams, and a semester course on the Ante Nicene Fathers. I remember him reading the Epistle to Diognetus out loud to us. He brought out the warmth and depth of this work. He was a mentor, officially or unofficially, to many theology students in the 1990s when I was there. He is missed.
Dr. Pain listened to my idea for a dissertation which eventually became “Premonition and Prescience in the Holocaust Narratives”…He talked to me for awhile about a variety of things & I felt so honored! Me, talking to the Dean! Dr. Pain was gracious, fascinating to listen to and made a great impression on me. I was ever so grateful for that opportunity.
Dean Pain was a dear friend and advisor for my PhD. I think I may have been one of his last advisees. His classes were among my favorites at Drew. He was a scholar and a gentleman and I still use many of the things I learned from him in my own classes. Now that I am also a Dean of Concordia Seminary’s graduate school, I often think what would Dean Pain have done. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domini, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
With deep remembrance of James Pain as chaplain, professor, friend….an influencer.