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Devitt, Matthew, 1854-1932, Jesuit priest
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Dates of existence
26 June 1854-04 July 1932
Born: 26 June 1854, Nenagh, County Tipperary
Entered: 11 May 1872, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 29 July 1887
Final vows: 03 February 1890
Died 04 July 1932, St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin
Part of the Milltown Park, Dublin community at the time of death
Early education at Clongowes Wood College SJ
by 1885 at Oña Spain (CAST) studying
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 7th Year No 3 1932
Milltown Park :
Father Devitt celebrated his 60 years in the Society, I2th May. The day before, Mr. Sologran, class beadle, read an address in Latin, offering him the congratulations of his class. The theologians gave him a spiritual bouquet of Masses, Communions, prayers. Forty-five visitors came to dinner, Archbishop Goodier SJ, Father Provincial, and Fathers from all the houses were there. Father Rector spoke first, recalling Father Devitt's long connection with Milltown, and his life's greatest work, the teaching of moral to almost all the priests of our province, and to many others. Father Provincial read a letter from Father General, who sent his congratulations, and applied 60 Masses “ut Deus uberrime benedicat eum”. He spoke of Father Devitt's gifts of head and heart, and of the debt of gratitude owed him by many within and without the Society for help and guidance. In a charming speech Father Michael Egan told of his early meetings with Father Devitt as Rector Clongowes, how his genial kindness won the love and respect of all. In the Society he found him beloved by his Community. As a theologian in Father Devitt's class he still remembers what Father Rector referred to as “the Saturday morning trepidation,” and still remembers the unfailing politeness which somehow failed (and fails) to calm it. Mr, Bustos, senior of the moral class, read a Latin poem in honour of the Jubilarian.
Father Devitt replied in a strong clear voice. He thanked those present and those who had written assuring him of their prayers and congratulations. It was hard not to feel deeply moved by the kindness shown him, “to resist sombre reflections as I gaze round and see the snow-flakes of time settling on the now venerable brows of those I taught.” He wished everyone the long life and happiness which he himself enjoyed and still enjoys, in the Society”.
Irish Province News 7th Year No 4 1932
Fr Matthew Devitt
On 6th July, with a prevailing sense of loss, the Irish Province consigned to their last resting place the remains of her steadfast loyal son, Father Matthew Devitt.
Born at Nenagh 26th June, 1854, and educated at Clongowes, Father Devitt began his noviceship at Milltown Park,11th May 1872. After a short juniorate he was sent to Clongowes, then to Tullabeg, and in 1880 began philosophy at Milltown. A year's teaching at Clongowes followed, after which he went to Oña for theology. He had as fellow students the twin-brothers John and James Murphy, and Father Luke Murphy still teaching vigorously, in his 77th year.
Father Devitt made his tertianship at Tronchiennes, and at its conclusion, 1889, was appointed V. Rector and Procurator at Belvedere. Next year he became Rector, held the position
for one year and was then transferred to Clongowes as its Rector. In this same year he was named Consultor of the Province From 1891 to 1900 he was Rector of Clongowes, Procurator most of the time. In 1900 he took possession of the Chair of Moral Theology at Milltown. Here, with the exception of one year, he remained almost to the day of his death in 1932. From 1908 to 1915 he taught Canon Law as well. The interruption was caused by the Rector of Clongowes, Father V. Byrne breaking down in health. In all he was one year V. Rector, ten years Rector, seventeen Consultor of the Province, twenty-three Consultor of the House, thirty-one Professor of Moral, and seven years Professor of Canon Law. This brief record shows in what confidence and esteem Father Devitt was held by his Superiors, And I think I may say with truth that every man in the Province who knew him will gladly admit that he was eminently worthy of every post he held, The judgment of his Superiors was ratified by a wider circle. Two Provincial Congregations chose him as delegate to the last two General Congregations, and he was sent (I do not know how often) to represent the Irish Province at the triennial Congregations of Procurators.
His success as a Professor of Moral Theology has to be determined on a franchise indefinitely extended. If we except a few veteran Fathers, nearly all the priests of the Irish Province
learned their Moral from Father Devitt. And not only these. To collect all the votes one would have to visit Australia America, and almost every Jesuit Province in Europe, If any one could make such a tour and collect the votes of all who studied Moral under him I am sure the report would be “Omne tulit punctum”, and there would not be a dissentient voter.
His lectures were not at all spectacular, but he impressed on the minds of the scholastics the great moral principles, how far they could be applied in the solution of cases, and where
they fell short of application. He got a scholastic to repeat the work of the week every Saturday. According to the testimony of all who know, the repetition was so searching as to be a test of nerve and brain, Not that Father Devitt would lose his temper or indulge in peevish comment. He was above all that. It was his silences, whenever a scholastic dried up in theological narrative, that were so disconcerting. During the longest pause Father Devitt spoke no articulate words at all, but only the semi-articulate words peculiar to him eked
out, with an occasional pinch of snuff. Worst of all, he would end the longest silence with “Nunc, quid ad questionem?” - A query little calculated to restore tranquility. And yet the
scholastics never resented the protracted probing. They realised that Father Devitt was utterly incapable of anything unworthy, and that the probing was simply the manifestation
of his resolve that the Moral must be known.
If his lectures were not spectacular, they were solid to the last degree, and he seems to have been unsurpassed in the solving of difficulties. One who had been Father Devitt's Minister
when he was Rector of Clongowes, once said to the writer of these notes : “You never knew Father Devitt's reserved power until a big difficulty arose”. His pupils say precisely the same of him as professor of Moral Theology, that it was only in face of big theological difficulties that he showed his great grasp of principles, and their application to particular cases. The scholastics who passed under him had complete confidence in him both as a professor and as a man.
His reading was not limited by matters theological. He read widely. To the end of his life he used to read the ancient classics. Those capable of judging bear witness to his knowledge of archaeology and history, especially of post-Reformation Irish and English history.
Of Father Devitt's social side it is not easy to write accurately. He was a man of much reserve, and led a life very much apart. But, in a small way, it is possible to draw aside the curtain that sheltered him from publicity. For years he was a victim to arthritis, and went every summer to Lisdoonvarna to be treated for it. There he was a prime favourite with the visitors both priests and laymen , always accessible, always courteous, a man of abounding common sense, and well informed , one who, without ever thrusting himself forward or dominatingthe conversation, could talk well on whatever subject happened to come up for discussion.Even at such times he always kept up a certain reserve , but it was always the reserve proper to one of his calling and profession, and was free from the least touch of conscious superiority. In consequence all admired and respected him, and many of the annual visitors have said since his death “Lisdoonvarna will not be Lisdoonvarna without Father Devitt”.
He did not wear his religion on his sleeve, but he was, and was acknowledged to be, a deeply religious man , most punctual in the discharge of his religious duties , and, in his judgment every work which obedience marked out was a religious duty. His charity was something quite remarkable. He had wonderful and constant guard on his tongue. It is not merely that he was free from censorius, uncharitable comment. he had no time for more tittle-tattle. He had a genius for keeping inviolate the smallest secret committed to him.To this wonderfully prudent silence was due, in large measure, the confidence which all placed in him.
Father Devitt died in St, Vincent's Private Hospital on 4th July. After the Office and Requiem Mass, celebrated in St Francis Xavier Church, 6th July. He was buried in Glasnevin
May God give him eternal rest. The Irish Province mourns his loss, and yet, in reality, he is not lost to the Province. heaven he will remember the Province which he served so faithfully, and will plead with God for all its necessities. We owe the above appreciation to the kindness of Father Edward Masterson
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Matthew Devitt 1854-1932
On July 4th 1932 died Fr Matthew Devitt, the outstanding Moral Theologian of the Province, having held that chair at Milltown for 31 years. He was born in Nenagh in 1854.
In the Society his work was not confined to moral theology. He was also a great administrator and Superior. Hardly had he finished his tertianship in Drongen, when he became rector of Belvedere and then of Clongowes. Two Provincial Congregations chose him as Delegate to General Congregations, and he was several times rep[representative of the Irish province to the triennial Congregations of Procurators.
He was a full man, not a man of one book or one branch of knowledge. To the end of his life he used read the classics, he was well versed in archaeology and history, especially in Post-Reformation Irish and English History.
But first and foremost he was a deeply religious man, whose life was regulated in all the details by religious motive. His name and fame however, will rest on his ability as a moral theologian.
His death was felt as a loss by many an ecclesiastic throughout Ireland, and all of us who did our theology in Milltown in his time as Professor felt it a privilege to have so competent a master.
Nephew of General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny, GCB, GCVO (27 February 1840 – 26 December 1914), a British Army general who served in the Second Boer War.
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Devitt, Matthew, 1854-1932, Jesuit priest
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- County Tipperary » Nenagh
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Sandford Road » Milltown Park
- Spain » Castilla y León » Oña
- County Kildare » Clane » Clongowes Wood College SJ
- County Offaly (King's) » Ballycowan (Bar.) » Tullabeg » St Stanislaus College
- Belgium » Drongen
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Great Denmark Street » Belvedere College SJ
- County Clare » Lisdoonvarna
- County Dublin » Dublin City » Glasnevin » Glasnevin Cemetery
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