By Peter J. Purpura Sr.
Ordained in 1960, Father Jim Devine, 84, is celebrating his 58th year as a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn. His vocation can be traced back to the parish of his youth, St. Rose of Lima in Rockaway Beach, where the seeds of many priestly vocations were planted: Msgr. Conrad Dietz and Fathers Hermann Berger, Phillip Chieco, John Healy, Eugene Hicks, James Reilly and Sal D’Ana.
Following ordination, his first assignment was at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside, where he served nine years. He was asked to take over the CYO program, which was already flourishing, but grew considerably more under Father Devine’s leadership. The annual Awards Breakfast that he initiated grew to over 400 attendees. He remembers fondly the generosity of the parishioners who gave so much time to coaching and supporting the various sport programs and parish life.
He was appointed assistant director of the diocesan CYO in 1969. When then-director, Father Martin Bannan, moved on to become a vicar in 1971, Father Devine became diocesan director, a post he held for six years. He lived at Bishop Francis J. Mugavero’s Residence and assisted on weekends at Our Lady of the Skies Chapel at John F. Kennedy Airport. Father Joseph Fox was the Catholic airport chaplain at the time.
In 1978, Father Devine returned to his home parish as pastor and served there for 10 years. Having known most families from his youth, he refers to those years as “delightful.”
In 1988, Bishop Mugavero appointed Father Devine as full-time chaplain at Our Lady of the Skies Chapel. A history of the chapel and Father Devine’s chaplaincy there may be found on the website: jfkchapel.org.
Father Devine had worked at the chapel as a seminarian so he looked forward to the assignment.
Little did he know at the time how demanding the position would be. A few months after his arrival, he had the task of responding to the needs of those who lost loved ones on the Pan-Am Fight 103 that was due to land at Kennedy Airport but crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland.
On July 17, 1996, Father Devine was called upon to comfort the families of those on TWA Flight 800 that went down off Long Island. The New York Times detailed his role after the crash: “The Rev. James T. Devine wandered around the ballroom of the Ramada Plaza Hotel, on call for relatives of the crash victims. He had spent most of the last 48 hours there and said people had often rushed up to him to say ‘Father, I have a family that needs a priest.’”
An article in the New York Daily News on Feb. 15, 1997, details how Father Devine was also instrumental in making Mass and services available at LaGuardia Airport. As Lent began that year, ashes from JFK chapel were made available to LaGuardia employees and Masses were scheduled every Wednesday during Lent for employees and travelers.
Leading, Praying, Caring
In another New York Times article on Oct. 6, 2001, the services of Father Devine were detailed following the 9/11 attack: “Father Devine, weary from weeks of airport evacuations, grief counseling for airline employees, funerals and memorial services for Port Authority colleagues, prayed on, leading his nerve-racked congregation through a short and somber service.”
Besides celebrating Masses, his role as an airport chaplain included officiating at memorial services, special events and over 100 weddings each year.
Father Devine also served as president of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, 1993-99, during which time airport chaplains from around the world would assemble in Rome every two years for meetings and to share chapel ministry.
Following the death of Msgr. William Burke, Father Devine also became chaplain at the Rockaway Beach Knights of Columbus Council. Father Devine presided over many functions and events as he still does. He also served as grand marshal in Rockaway’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In 2001, while still chaplain at JFK, he moved to Our Lady of Perpetual Help rectory in S. Ozone Park, where he also served Masses.
He retired in 2005 and moved to the Bishop Mugavero Residence for Senior Priests at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston. He is one of a few healthy priests who take turns offering daily Mass for fellow senior priests. He assists priests who get around with walkers and when needed, drives them to a doctor’s office or pharmacy. On weekends, he continues to minister at St. Pancras parish, Glendale, offering Masses and hearing confession. And he frequently makes the trip to the Knights of Columbus for a function, wake or funeral Mass.
In recent years, he has headed to Florida from mid-January to mid-March, but not to sit in the sun. At Holy Family parish in Port St. Lucie, he takes weekday and weekend Mass assignments, and visits patients in the local hospital.
At Bishop Mugavero Residence, Father Devine praises the work of Deacon Matthew Oellinger, coordinator of senior priests services; Deacon Stanley Galazin, director of the complex, and also Jim Austin, who overseas food services. His praise also extends to dining room and kitchen staff, house staff and aides who care for the priests; and an in-house physician, full-time nurse and physical therapy program that help keep everyone going.
“Thanks to all who support the Lawler Foundation that has been so good to us,” he said.
Deacon Oellinger calls Father Devine, “the real deal, a priest you can be confident in; he will help, minister and guide. He is a blessing to the community here at Mugavero and I am grateful for his presence.”
Father Devine personifies a joyful senior priest; one who loves the Lord as he does his fellow man.
Editor’s note: Father Devine will be an honoree at this year’s Lawler Dinner, Nov. 17, at the Immaculate Conception Center. Msgr. Conrad Dietz will be honored posthumously. For tickets, call 718-965-7375 ext. 1628 or email email@example.com.