Died 21 November 2013
Jesuit Father John F. Devane died Nov. 21, 2013. He was born in Newton, Mass., on Dec. 31, 1921. His parents were Irish immigrants; his father was Mark Devane from Galway and his mother Bridget Shea from Kerry. Fr. Devane was the oldest of three; he had a sister Mary and a brother Mark. He grew up in St. Bernard’s Parish and attended the parish school there and the high school at St. Mary’s in Waltham, an apostolate of the Christian Brothers. While Fr. Devane had no contact with Jesuits before entering, he said that the seed was planted by his fourth grade teacher, Sister Anne Marie (Duffy), who used to talk about her Jesuit brother.
When he applied to the Jesuits in the fall of 1938, Fr. Devane was first told to go to Boston College as he had not taken any Greek in high school. But he would be taking the science program there, which involved no Greek classes. In late spring, on the morning after his senior prom, he received a letter from the provincial’s office saying that provisions were being made to teach beginning Greek in the novitiate, so he entered Shadowbrook on Aug.14, 1939, at the beginning of World War II.
He arrived at Weston four years later, in June 1943, where he studied philosophy and math with Tom Barry, Tom Quigley and the legendary Henry “Chilly” Brook. In 1946 he was ready to teach math and physics as a regent at the College of the Holy Cross. Many of his students were soldiers, who had returned from the War. Fr. Devane remembered bending the rules and letting Bob Cousy and his teammates use the faculty elevator after a basketball game as the players lived on the top floor. During the summers of regency, Fr. Devane studied physics at Fordham and continued there in the academic year 1949-1950 to complete his master’s degree. His area of study was microseisms, that is, the recording of very small ground motions.
He returned to Weston in 1949 to begin his theological studies, but also worked at the then new seismology observatory that Boston College had opened on the Weston property. He was ordained a priest on June 21, 1952, by Archbishop Richard J. Cushing. He did tertianship at Pomfret, Conn. In 1954 he began doctoral studies in geophysics at the University of California in Berkeley. Fr. Devane lived at a multi-ethnic parish in nearby Richmond. His involvement there, especially with the Hispanic parishioners, slowed down his studies and presaged a modest but lifelong tension between academic study and pastoral ministry.
In 1958 his provincial pulled him out of studies to teach math and physics at Fairfield University. When he discovered that the father of one of his students owned a large chicken farm near Hartford, he designed an experiment to detect the first heartbeat in a chicken egg. After five years at Fairfield he was assigned to Weston College where he had three jobs. He taught graduate courses in geophysics at Boston College; he taught physics and scientific questions to the philosophers; and, when he became Chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at BC, he had the responsibility of overseeing the seismological observatory at Weston when Fr. Daniel Linehan was away, making sure its contracts with the Air Force were fulfilled.
Fr. Devane returned to doctoral studies in 1968 at Penn State University. His area of interest changed from seismic analysis to the harmonic analysis of magnetic storms. His thesis was entitled “The Electrical Conductvity of the Earth.” In 1972 he returned to Boston College where, until 1988, he did exacting research in his growing field and taught geology and geophysics to several generations of students, many of whom had distinguished careers in the oil industry and in government. His passion for parish ministry never entirely left him and he continued to do supply work during his teaching years. In 2003 he moved to Campion Center.
In his last years, he kept reflecting on some of the “mysteries” in his life. One of them was scientific, the unexplained behavior of the earth’s thermal core. Another was more personal, why God had “pulled him out of the crowd” and called him to Shadowbrook and the life he had lived as a Jesuit.
In addition to his many Jesuit brothers, Fr. Devane is survived by his brother Mark E. Devane of Natick and his sister Mary J. Devane of Framingham.