Friday 17 January 2020

Fr McDevitt's 50 years of service honoured

Fr Kevin at the anniversary celebration with his brothers and sisters. From left: Rosemary McLoughlin, Colm McDevitt, John McDevitt, Fr Kevin McDevitt, Fr Vincent McDevitt, Damien McDevitt and Patricia Gannon
Fr Kevin at the anniversary celebration with his brothers and sisters. From left: Rosemary McLoughlin, Colm McDevitt, John McDevitt, Fr Kevin McDevitt, Fr Vincent McDevitt, Damien McDevitt and Patricia Gannon

Simon Bourke

The work of a priest who counts Johnny Rotten and Jimmy Johnstone among his friends has been celebrated at Blackwater Community Centre.

Parish Priest Fr Kevin McDevitt was ordained 50 years ago and to mark the occasion a special ceremony was held in his honour at the centre.

Joined by family and friends, some of whom had travelled over from his former parishes in London, Fr Kevin marked his half-century of service with Mass and then an intimate party featuring music from Aisling and Kate Feeney.

Originally from Greysteel in Derry, Fr Kevin was ordained in Clonliffe College in Drumcondra and then taught at Dundrum Tech for four years.

During that time he spent his summers ministering in New York, and those hot months in the Big Apple were just some of the highlights in a long and varied vocation.

'I spent 40 years in London, and while I was there I was the representative for the Diocese of Missions which meant I went to India for three weeks. It was an area in Middle India, right by the Bay of Bengal. I was among the poor, seeing how they lived, how the money was being used.'

Fr Kevin also worked in San Antonio, Texas for four months but it was in North London that he rubbed shoulders with members of the most notorious rock band in the world.

'I was in North London in the 1970s, in Finsbury Park, Holloway Road, Hemel Hempsted, working with the Irish community there of which there were many, 'Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols lived in the parish, I would have known Johnny best; we had a youth club in Finsbury and he came down there a lot.

'There were some great people in that parish in the 70s, I was chaplain to some hospitals, and there were a lot of Irish nurses there at the time, they were tremendous. We had 30-40 nationalities in the area and when I came home to Ireland my dad asked me, "How did you find the English?", I told him, "I didn't find any,"' Fr Kevin laughs.

A keen soccer fan Fr Kevin and his colleagues set up a club while serving at Holloway Road, and it was one which attracted a future Premier League footballer.

'We started up a team at for young people, they were all Queens Park Rangers' fans and we had the Gallen brothers, Kevin, Joe and Steve, they were there.

'Kevin (who went on to play 400 times for QPR) almost crippled me one day; he was small and I was tall and when I went in to tackle him he turned me and I just kept going, I almost turned my ankle trying to get the ball from him.'

This obsession with the beautiful game extended to his time in Scotland where one of the Father's regulars was a former footballer who ranks among the best to ever wear the famous hooped shirt of Glasgow Celtic.

'Jimmy Johnstone was in my parish, I got to know him quite well while I was in Scotland, that was probably the most interesting place I served,' Fr Kevin says.

Now 76 the priest continues to work in Blackwater, filling in for colleagues, travelling to London to serve in one of his former parishes when his presence is required.

'I'm a bit retired, I cover here when the Parish Priest is away. I'm still fit, I do DIY in the Church, maintenance work, it's easier than calling someone in.'

Sharing one last anecdote Fr Kevin recalls a run-in with a notorious criminal, one whose name he preferred not to mention.

'I used to do youth work, one night I was running a disco and a chap came and wanted to get in, he was scuttered. I told him this was for people who couldn't go the pubs and he wasn't welcome

'He said he'd be back in 3 minutes. When he returned he took off his jacket, picked up my glasses, smashed them and punched me in the face. Well, the Lord says "To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also," so I grabbed him and put him down.'

The irked assailant returned at a later date to break some windowns in the Parish Hall, a crime which led to him being arrested and Fr Kevin receiving some none too idle threats.

'His family told me if anything happened to him they'd get me,' Fr Kevin recalls.

Ultimately, the Father chose to plead clemency on behalf of the accused, leading to a reduced sentence and a quieter life for the local priest.

'I went to visit him and all was well after,' Fr Kevin says.

Wexford People

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