Type of entity
Authorized form of name
Devane, Richard, 1876-1951, Jesuit priest
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Other form(s) of name
- Dick Devane
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Dates of existence
06 July 1876-23 May 1951
Born: 06 July 1876, Limerick
Entered: 30 July 1918, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 1901, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, County Kildare, pre Entry
Final vows: 02 February 1929
Died: 23 May 1951, Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin
Ord pre entry; Early Education at Crescent College SJ, Mungret College and St Patrick’s College Maynooth
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Maurice Cronin
Devane, Richard (1876–1951), Jesuit priest, was born 6 July 1876 at 29 William Street, Limerick, the eldest of three sons and two daughters of Cornelius Devane, merchant, and his wife, Joanna McCormack. His two brothers, John Devane (qv) and James Devane (qv) were medical doctors. Richard was educated at the Christian Brothers’ Sacred Heart College, Limerick, until 1889, and attended Crescent College until he was 17. After this he went to study in Mungret, and then attended St Munchin's seminary until he was 19, finishing his studies in Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1901. He was attached to St Patrick's church, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, until 1904 when he returned to Limerick to a curacy at St Michael's and was also garrison chaplain for ten years. His parochial work included the direction of a conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul and temperance sodalities for men and women, as well as running a large club for girls. He kept in close touch with labour circles in Limerick on whose behalf he inaugurated a series of lectures on industrial subjects. He was active in rescue and vigilance work, launching a crusade against evil literature, in which connection he published articles in the Dublin Leader. He was responsible for the introduction of a licence to regulate cinema shows, adopted by Limerick Borough Council, and a member of the Limerick technical committee.
He entered the Society of Jesus at St Stanislaus College, Tullamore, on 30 July 1918, being professed two years later. His first appointment with the Society was to the newly founded retreat house for working men at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, where he became the first director in 1922. There he remained organising retreats until 1932 and again from 1945 until his death. From 1933 to 1944 he was director of the retreat house at Milltown Park, Dublin. He was known for his great interest in social legislation and for twenty-five years specialised in an apostolate in favour of the young and their moral protection by legislative means. He did much to further acts dealing with film censorship (1923), censorship of publications (1929), legal redress for mother and offspring in irregular unions (1930), and public dance halls (1935) as well as the criminal law amendment act of the same year. The children's act (1942) set the seal on his practical interest in the fate of children. He published in 1942 Challenge from youth, a fully documented study of modern youth movements in other countries in which he pleaded for a catholic youth movement in Ireland based on a sound Christian philosophy. In another important work, The failure of individualism (1948), he traced the progress of individualism in the religious, political, and economic life of Europe and pleaded for the restoration of the organic structure of society. For many years he was a contributor to the daily press and to various periodicals. His correspondence covered a wide range of subjects touching the welfare of his countrymen: cinema control, dance hall problems, censorship, the imported press, parish councils, adult education, civics, summertime, the retreat movement, national athletics, and national film institutes.
Devane died 23 May 1951 at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin.
Irish Jesuit Archives; Ir. Times, 24 May 1951
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/richard-devane-sj-keeping-the-faith/
Richard Devane SJ: Keeping the faith
If a screen writer were looking for one historic figure to stand in for all the Catholic clergymen who strove to ensure the social purity of the nascent Irish state in the early 20th century, Richard Devane SJ, subject of a new book from Messenger Publications, might be their man. Both as a diocesan priest and after he joined the Jesuits in 1938 at the age of 42, Devane worked tirelessly against what he saw as a rising tide of immorality assaulting the new Ireland. In the words of the book blurb for Richard Devane SJ: social commentator and advocate, 1876-1951 » by Martin Walsh, he was “a sometimes over-zealous gatekeeper of Irish culture and morals”.
Devane’s crusading began early in his priestly life. It appears to have been inspired by his first assignment after ordination in 1903, to Middlesborough, England, which had a burgeoning Irish immigrant population. Many of the Irish migrants worked in the growing number of iron foundries in the area, and they lived in considerable poverty. Devane’s experience there seems both to have instilled a strong nationalist sense in him and to have alerted him to the dangers of, in the words of Martin Walsh, “an altogether different set of English values, values that he would later see as running contrary to everything that he saw as pure about the Irish nation”. Cinemas, music halls, football games on Sunday, salacious newspapers, even more salacious books and ‘penny-dreadfuls’ – all of these and many other features of popular British culture horrified Devane. He made it his life’s task to keep this rot from his native land.
Back in Ireland Devane led many efforts to address what he saw as the single greatest threat to the state of morals in Ireland, namely the intemperance of both men and women. He had witnessed it in his native Limerick, where hard drinking in public was perhaps the natural effect of having 315 public houses in the city.
As well as his work with temperance societies, Devane fought to curb the proliferation of ‘evil literature’, to establish women’s sodalities, to get young women trained for lives of domestic service, to seek the regulation of cinemas so as to prevent the display of immoral films, and the like.
Devane also took a keen interest in the social conditions of the working classes, especially prompted by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. It appears to have been, for him, part of the bigger programme of preparing for a new Ireland after Home Rule.
In 1918, Fr Devane joined the Jesuits. For the remaining decades of his life he continued to spend his energies on addressing Catholic values and social problems in Ireland. He worked energetically to shut down prostitution in Dublin, and he tried to get the girls who worked in it to go to Magdalene Laundries. He was greatly exercised by the problem of unmarried motherhood in Ireland. To give him his due, he held that it was wrong that men were not held accountable for their actions in the same way as women were.
One surprising feature of Devane’s life is his role in the establishment of the Irish Film Institute. As he conceived it at the time, the IFI (or National Film Institute as it was known then) was designed to combat the ‘school of corruption’ in the motion picture industry, particularly through Hollywood’s depiction of extra- marital affairs, divorce and other American cultural phenomena from which the Irish people needed to be protected. The patron of the institute was Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid.
Devane was a man of his time. He provides us with a thick-lined portrait of a highly significant strain of Catholicism that was overt and powerful in Ireland in the decades after independence. It is a phenomenon that still needs to be studied closely, particularly given its traumatic impact on the Ireland of later generations. It is important, of course, to acknowledge the role of this Catholicism in creating shameful institutions and attitudes in Ireland, but one must see too that it was itself formed not just by attitudes within the Church but also by social, psychological, and cultural factors specific to Irish society at large. Martin Walsh’s book on Fr Devane SJ is helpful in this respect.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 26th Year No 3 1951
The Press notices on the death of Fr. Devane were generous in their tributes to his zealous endeavours throughout a long and varied priestly career. Indeed they synopsised the whole story of it so well that it will be sufficient to reproduce here the version found in the Irish Independent, May 24th, 1951 :
“DEATH OF A NOTED JESUIT”
Rev. Richard S. Devane, S.J., whose death has occurred at Rathfarnham Castle, was one of the best-known members of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, and played a notable part for many years in the sphere of social legislation,
Born in Limerick 75 years ago, he was son of the late Cornelius Devane, a well known merchant of that city. Educated at the Sacred Heart College, Limerick, and at Mungret, he passed to St. Munchin's Seminary and to St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1901.
For the next three years Father Devane worked on the English mission, being attached to St. Patrick's Church, Middlesborough. Returning to Limerick in 1904, he spent 14 years as curate at St. Michael's, in charge of a large working-class district. During the first ten years of this period, he was also garrison chaplain.
Father Devane kept in close touch with labour circles in the city, on whose behalf he inaugurated a series of lectures on industrial subjects. He was actively identified also with rescue and vigilance work : he launched a crusade against evil literature, and was responsible for the licence regulating cinema shows which was adopted by Limerick Borough Council. Along with these activities, he was a member of the Limerick Technical Committee.
In the summer of 1918 Father Devane entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus' College, Tullamore, and made his religious profession two years later. He was now to find more leisure and larger scope for his special talents. His first appointment was to the newly founded Retreat House for working men at Rathfarnham Castle, of which he became the first Director in 1922. Here he remained for ten years, and again from 1945 until his death, organising and conducting retreats and imparting to his hearers some of his own enthusiasm for the active apostolate and for social Catholicism. From 1933 to 1944 he was attached to the Retreat House at Milltown Park, Dublin in the same capacity.
Father Devane will, however, be chiefly remembered for his work in the sphere of social legislation. For over a quarter of a century he devoted his talents to a specialised apostolate in favour of the young, the promotion of legislation for their moral protection. He did much to place on the Statute Book of the Irish Free State Acts dealing with Censorship of Films (1923), Censorship of Publications (1929), Legal Redress for mother and offspring in irregular unions (1930), Public Dance Halls (1935), and the Criminal Law Amendment of the same year, an Act which dealt with many grave moral problems affecting the young.
The passing of the Children Bill of 1942, by which some provision was made for the education of the children of nomads set the seal on the practical interest which Father Devane had shown in the lot of gypsies and vagrants from the beginning of his priestly life.
The same year saw the publication of his book, “Challenge From Youth”, a fully documented study of modern youth movements in other countries, in which he pleaded for a Catholic Youth Movement in Ireland, based on a sound Christian philosophy. In another important work, “The Failure of Individualism”, published in 1948, he traced the progress of Individualism in the religious, political and economic life of Europe and pleaded for the restoration of the organic structure of society. ... For many years Father Devane was a constant contributor to the daily Press and to various periodicals. His active and facile pen covered a wide range of subjects touching the welfare of his countrymen - cinema control, dance hall problems, censorship, the imported Press, parish councils, adult education, civics, summer time, the retreat movement, national athletics, and national film institutes.
Fr. Richard's death was sudden indeed - he died in his sleep - but not unexpected either by himself or those about him. It was long knon that he suffered from high blood pressure and was liable to a fatal seizure at any moment. The least perturbed by this prospect was himself. His doctor brothers were both much more anxious. But they confessed inability to help in the matter, because the patient was immune from all those vices, major and minor, to which modern medicine men attribute hardening of the arteries and premature old age, There was no good in telling one who never drank anything to curtail his measure of wine, or in warning him to cut down his intake of nicotine when it was already a zero quantity. And so of the rest. The austerity cure was not applicable.
When they complained of this, a fellow Jesuit, who knew “Dick” well, hinted there was one “vice” they were overlooking, namely, his passion for the reforming of a world out of joint. If they could abate this a little, perhaps the fever in the blood might subside to what President Harding styled “normalcy” They answered that this was too much to hope for.
In truth if ever there was a born “Weltverbesserer” it was Fr. Richard. Not that he was a gloomy friar or a red-hot, hell and brimstone revivalist. He was really the happy warrior, for whom a crusade of some sort was a necessity of life. Some cynics hinted that he got quite a.”kick” from restricting the pleasures of others. But this was very unjust. He really only waged war on those basenesses in men and women which increased the misery of the community by multiplying social plagues of one kind or another. Perhaps his only error was that he thought legislation could do more for social amelioration than it can.
But he was right in resisting the false idea that because laws could not cleanse the heart within they were not be invoked at all to protect youth and innocence, oid age and poverty, the neglected and under privileged from the ravages of that satansim which we feel subtly at work under the decorous facade of modern civilised existence. And his knowledge of the problems he dealt with was acquired in the hard way of a personal apostolate. He came in contact with life under nearly all its aspects. And it is to his credit that this knowledge neither soured nor hardened him. Neither did it reduce him to listless despondency. His own morale was never shaken by consciousness of the odds against him in the fight for morality. He seemed to thrive on opposition. It merely stiffened his resolution.
His interests also were Catholic in the sense of universal. He was an integralist in the best meaning of the word. His faith was clear and simple. The Catholic way of life was the path of salvation, temporal and eternal, for individuals and nations alike. If that be bigotry, well he was a bigot - and being called one did not hurt at all. In fact his most salient characteristic was the meeting of criticism with natural and supernatural good humour. He made no bitter reply and bore no enmity. Hence that half serious and half humorous denigration which is such a feature of Irish life did not inhibit him in the least. Yet he was modest with all and began with an attempt to get others better qualified than himself to enter the breach. Only when they did not respond would he start out on his own. His “Failure of Individualism” Owed its origin to the failure of much more learned individuals to do a task he thought a need of the hour. Seeing the dons too disdainful of the red and pink intellectualism of which the most salient feature was its almost moronistic absence of intelligence (accompanied only too often by plain bad faith) he went about the job himself of tracing the process of the revolt against the faith in the sixteenth century through various stages of mental deliquescence, till it ended in the abandonment of reason by the very heirs of eighteenth century Rationalism and finally in the sheer Pyrrhonism of H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and the rest of the “forward-looking”, “progressive”, “creative”, “scientific” thinkers, whose logic lies in the use of question-begging epithets for themselves and their adversaries.
And he succeeded. Of course the dons were critical, and found fault. It was simply inevitable that in a book attempting to cover so much ground there would be scope for this. But by and large Fr. Richard's thesis was sound. The questions of detail which afforded matter for debate were neither numerous enough nor important enough to affect the solid value of the complete work,
Similarly his “Challenge from Youth”, though it did not come from a specialist in Pedagogy, as might seem suggested by the title, presented the reader with a whole mass of facts about Youth Movements, gleaned from official documents and out of the way sources, which showed the author as a very industrious maker up of briefs. He would have made a good chamber-lawyer.
But it was in working up a case for legal reform that he showed at his best (or worst, according to your point of view). It was here that his gadfly qualities came into play. Most men love the “quieta non movere” attitude to things that do not impinge upon their own consciousness. The Catholic spirit is supposed by non-Catholics to be eternally obsessed with a bitter zeal to impose itself upon the rest of mankind by guile, force, fraud and physical or moral intimidation. Whereas, in reality. three hundred million of the world's population let themselves be beaten, bullied, bruised and coerced into acceptation of a diminutio capitis, as it was called in Old Rome. The over-all picture of “Christian Civilisation” (the things we are invited to save from the Marxist Inferno) is of an agglomeration of nations, great and small, which no longer take the faith they profess seriously, and which resolutely resent the efforts of the Church of Christ to insist upon the creed as true or upon the Decalogue as binding. To do the former is “intolerance” (final word of anathema), to do the latter is impertinence by suggesting that the “Christian ethic” is the only “ethic”, or any longer binding on those who choose to abrogate it for themselves and their fellow traveller's. Fr. Devane had the audacity to think it is time we rose a little in wrath and called the bluuff of this organised lie.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Richard Devane 1876-1951
Fr Richard Devane played a notable part for many years in the sphere of social legislation in Ireland.
Born in Limerick in 1876, he was ordained for the Diocese of Limerick in 1901. Having laboured zealously for 17 years as a secular priest, 14 of them in Limerick city, where he was regarded by his fellow clergy as eminently “episcopabilis”, he entered the Society at Tullabeg in 1918.
As a Jesuit he was identified for years with the Retreat Movement in Rathfarnham Castle, where he displayed special gifts for the direction of youth, and was responsible for many vocations. His social legislation efforts resulted in the Censorship Act, Public Dance Halls and Criminal Amendment Acts. His published works, apart from numerous articles include “Challenge from Youth” and “The Failure of Individualism”.
The following extract from his obit sums up very well and pithily Fr Devane’s character :
“In truth if ever there was born a Weltvertbesserer it was father Richard. Not that he was a gloomy friar or a red-hot hell and brimstone revivalist. He was really a happy warrior, for whom a crusade of some sort was a necessity of life. Perhaps his only error was that he thought legislation could do more for social amelioration than it can”.
He died in his sleep on May 23rd 1951 at Rathfarnham Castle.
Functions, occupations and activities
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Devane, Richard, 1876-1951, Jesuit priest
Dates of relationship
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- County Limerick » Limerick City
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Rathfarnham » Rathfarnham Castle
- County Offaly (King's) » Ballycowan (Bar.) » Tullabeg » St Stanislaus College
- County Limerick » Limerick City » The Crescent » Sacred Heart College SJ, 1859-1974
- County Limerick » Mungret » Mungret College SJ, 1882-1974
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park
- County Limerick » Limerick City » William Street
- England » Yorkshire » Middlesbrough
- County Limerick » Limerick City » Denmark Street » St Michael's Catholic Church
- England » Durham (County) » Stockton-on-Tees » Thornaby » Westbury Street » St Patrick's Catholic Church (Thornaby)
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Temple Bar » Eustace Street » Irish Film Institute
- County Kildare » Maynooth » St Patrick's College (Maynooth)
- County Limerick » Limerick City » Corbally Road » St Munchin's College
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