Born: 26 June 1854, Nenagh, County Tipperary
Entered: 11 May 1872, Milltown Park, Dublin
Ordained: 29 July 1887
Final Vows: 03 February 1890, St Francis Xavier, Gardiner Street, Dublin
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.
◆ The Clongownian, 1933
Father Matthew Devitt SJ
Father Matthew Devitt SJ died on July 4th of last year of heart failure, after a short illness, at the age of seventy-eight. His health had given cause for anxiety for some years, but his vigorous constitution, aided by his calm courage, had brought him through several crises. Not mnany weeks before his death his brethren had assembled at Milltown Park to celebrate the completion of his sixtieth year in the Society, and though he was far from well he made a speech on that occasion which will remain long in the memory of those who heard it.
Matthew Devitt came to Clongowes in 1865, at the age of eleven. He left in 1869, taking with him, among other things, the elements of sound Classical scholarship and a great love for his old school. His love of the Classics and of Clongowes remained with him and grew stronger all his life. He began the study of medicine in Trinity College, but his true vocation was not long in asserting itself, and, in 1872, just before the end of his eighteenth year, he entered the novitiate of the Society at Milltown Park.
After the usual round of novitiate, humanities, philosophy, he was sent to Tullabeg as a master. Here his fine intellect and his strength and sincerity of character made themselves felt, and superiors marked him out for positions of responsibility. When he had finished his Theology in Spain and been ordained priest, he was made Rector of Belvedere in 1889, and of Clongowes in 1891.
The Clongownians of that period did not at first appreciate their new Rector at his full worth. He succeeded Father Conmee, a prince among men, all kindliness and courtesy and with an exquisite literary gift that made his conversation a delight even to schoolboys. Father Devitt seemed to us by comparison cold and hard, though from the beginning we respected his evident strength and his entire fairness. He was very far indeed from being as cold as we thought him to be. He was genuinely kind-hearted and sympathetic, but two things helped to mask his kindness. One was his shyness, the great shyness of a strong and self-contained character, an invincible reluctance to wear his heart on his sleeve. The other was his natural hatred of sentimentality, and his consequent distrust of emotion,
Not many years after leaving Clongowes as a boy, I returned there as a Jesuit, and was astonished to find that the Rector who had seemed so cold and unapproachable (like “an Englishman”, I had thought, though he was really the most Irish of men), was idolised by his community. They were not only quite at home with him in Clongowes, but were genuinely grieved whenever he was not able to go with them on vacation. Another surprise was to learn of the warm and constant friendship, interrupted only by death, between him and Father Conmee. These two men, poles apart to a superficial observer, were really kindred spirits. The qualities that won all hearts in Father Conmee were buried more deeply in his friend, and revealed only to his intimates - and to the poor, who all loved “poor Father Devitt”. Both were generous, hospitable, lovers of letters and of scholarship, sincerely and deeply religious. One could hardly imagine either of them doing an unkind thing or saying an un charitable thing. The artistic side of Father Conmee's nature was far more developed; the qualities that stood out in Father Devitt were strength and clearness of judgment, and a great and quiet courage. I have never known anybody who could make up his mind so quickly and with so sure a judgment, or who could be more confidently relied on to stand by his word in the face of difficulties of whatever sort. His reckless daring on horseback was almost legendary, and his moral and intellectual courage were no less remarkable, though they were tempered by a discretion which he left behind when he mounted a horse,
In 1900 he left Clongowes to become Professor of Moral Theology at Milltown Park, and he held this post, with an interval of two years, until he died. It was a position of great responsibility; from him the young priests of the Society imbibed the principles they were to use whenever their counsel was asked for in or out of the confessional. His fearlessness in facing a difficulty, his power of getting straight to the principles involved and following them to their logical conclusion, his sympathetic realisation of human nature, made him a peerless guide. He was con stantly being consulted by priests engaged in missionary or pastoral work, by his own past pupils as a matter of course, and by others also in large numbers. His promptitude in dealing with his large correspondence was wonderful. If one wrote to him, even about a technical point requiring the consultation of documents, one could generally count on an answer by return post, frequently a post card with six words that settled everything,
He returned to Clongowes in 1907 as Rector for the second time. He built the Chapel, a worthy memorial of him, His health was this time not good, and the government of the College weighed heavy upon him, so that he was glad to be allowed to return in 1908 to his congenial work in Milltown Park, and to remain at it till death claimed him last July.
He was a completely simple man, as unlike as possible to the Jesuit of legend. And yet he was a Jesuit through and through; he had the most intense love for the Society, he was saturated with its spirit, and he was intimately acquainted with it in all its workings. Over and over again he was sent to Rome as the chosen delegate of the Irish Province to headquarters, and he always carried with him the absolute confidence of his brethren.
His piety matched his character; it was simple, sincere, unsentimental, but charged with deep feeling. The penitents in the Magdalen Asylum at Donnybrook, good judges of reality in spiritual things, liked him best of all the priests who came to preach to them on Sundays. “What does he speak to you about?” asked someone who was rather surprised to hear this; for Father Devitt was not an orator, though he could speak with clearness and force. “About the love of God”, was the answer. God rest his good soul !