Société des Missions Africaines – Province d’Irlande

DEVINE Richard né le 14 août 1931
dans le diocèse d’Achonry (Irlande)
membre de la SMA le 2 juillet 1953
prêtre le 18 décembre 1856
décédé le 11 juin 2005

1957-1994 missionnaire au Nigeria, diocèse de Ondo
1957-1972, diocèse de Ondo
1972-1983, diocèse d’Ekiti
1983-1994, archidiocèse d’Abuja
1994-1996 diocèse d’Elphon, Irlande
1997-2000 Claregalway, animation missionnaire
2000-2005 Blackrock Road, Cork, retiré

décédé le 11 juin 2005 à Blackrock Road, Cork,
à l’âge de 73 ans

Father Richard Fitzstephen DEVINE (1931 - 2005)

Richard Devine was born at Keash, Ballymote, Co Sligo, in the diocese of Achonry, on 14th August 1931.
He died in St. Theresa’s nursing unit, SMA House, Blackrock Road, Cork, on 11th June 2005.

Richard (Rickie) Devine was the eldest of seven children - two sons and five daughters - born to Thomas and Mary Kate (nee Shields) who ran the post-office at Keash and also farmed at Cloonagh (Keash), Co Sligo. Rickie received his secondary education at Summerhill College, Sligo and at the Society’s St. Joseph’s College, Wilton, Cork, between 1945-1951. Having obtained his leaving certificate he was promoted to the novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. Two years later, in 1953, he entered the major seminary, at Dromantine, Newry, Co Down. Rickie was first received as a member of the Society on 2nd July 1953. He became a permanent member on 11th June 1956. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Eugene O’Doherty of Dromore diocese, in St. Colman’s cathedral, Newry, on 18th December 1956. He was one of group of eleven ordained on that day. Four other members of his class, too young to be ordained on that occasion, were ordained in the Dromantine college chapel on 7th April 1957.

After ordination Rickie returned to Dromantine for a further six months to complete his theological course. He was then appointed to the diocese of Ondo, in south-western Nigeria. Erected in 1950 under the leadership of Bishop Thomas Hughes, this jurisdiction had formerly formed part of the vicariate of the vast Bight of Benin confided to the Irish Province in 1930. In 1972 the northern part of the diocese was detached and erected as the diocese of Ekiti. Rickie was to work in Ondo diocese from 1957 and was to become one of the founding members of the Ekiti diocesean staff in 1972. In all, he was to minister in the Ondo-Ekiti area until 1983. He was then posted to a newly created mission in Abuja which was being developed in view of the decision to move Nigeria’s federal capital from Lagos to Abuja (the move took place in 1991). Rickie was to serve in Abuja until 1994 after which he took up an assignment in the diocese of Elphin. His last years of active ministry (1997-2001) were spent promoting the missions in the West of Ireland.

During his twenty-five years in the Ondo-Ekiti region Rickie gained a reputation as a physically and mentally strong confrere, with a sleeves-rolled-up approach to Africa and his mission. Development of the Church and improvement of the lives of the people were central to his missionary philosophy and he had the gifts and skills to achieve results. Galvanising communities, raising funds, drawing up plans, supervising construction – were all grist to his mill and his superiors made good use of his talents. Thus it was that he was responsible for building four hospitals, and numerous schools, pastoral centres and churches. Signal tokens of appreciation of his contribution came from the Africans themselves, for Rickie was made an honorary tribal chief on two occasions, conferred with the chieftaincy titles of Babasawe of Ilawe-Ekiti and Mayegun of Igogo-Ekiti.

It was hardly surprising that when the Nigerian Church needed to prepare for the transfer of Nigeria’s federal capital to Abuja, Rickie should have been given an important role. Cardinal Dominic Ekandem, appointed superior of the Mission ‘sui juris’ of Abuja in November 1981 sought him out for two major projects. First he was entrusted with the task of building a missionary seminary for Nigeria’s own national missionary Society (named after St. Patrick), which hitherto had been based in Iperu, near Lagos. Secondly he was given responsibility for building a mission in the local government area of Karshi, in Abuja. (Cardinal Ekandem, it must be said, already had Sligo connections. As a seminarian his education had been sponsored by a Sligo woman and many years later Rickie had brought him to Sligo where he was created a Freeman of the City.) Rickie relished these commissions setting about work with typical energy and creativeness. During his eleven years in Abuja archdiocese he constructed not only the National Missionary Seminary, Gwagwalada, but also St. Joseph’s Church, Gwagwa, St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Karmo, Pope John Paul the Second Catholic Centre, Maitama (1988), the Handmaid Primary/Nursing School, Garki, and the Fathers House in Karshi. Abuja itself was to become a full diocese in 1989 and was erected as an archdiocese in 1994.

In January 1990 Rickie was hospitalised in Ireland – he had suffered several severe bouts of malaria. In the aftermath of his illness he determined to leave Nigeria and seek a pastoral post in rural Ireland. In the event he was to return to Nigeria working there until August 1993 when he was again invalided home. He returned once more in December 1993 finally admitting that his health was unequal to the task in April of the following year. Although the flesh was weak Rickie’s heart remained in Africa and, in subsequent years, he made a number of bids to return there. In January 1995 he went to Nigeria for a ‘visit’ (testing himself against a possible return) and in October 1999 he visited Nairobi (where his cousin Padraig Devine was Regional Superior) to see whether he might be able to work in its more congenial climate. He made a further bid to return to Africa as late as the year 2001. But there would be no long-term return and in June 1994 he agreed to take up a pastoral appointment in Ireland.

Bishop Christy Jones of Elphin diocese posted him to the parish of Dangan. Here he did splendid work in renovating two churches and a parish house, in reducing the parish hall debt, and in extending a cemetery. However Rickie’s outspoken style of preaching did not always win favour and within two years he left Elphin diocese to join the SMA promotion team in the West of Ireland. Living in Claregalway he collected Mission Boxes in Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal. Finding Claregalway a somewhat lonely place – for a man of his gregarious temperament and, sometimes, strong views – he eventually sought to live in the larger SMA community at Blackrock Road, Cork. Here, still harbouring hopes of getting back to work, he resisted for a year the suggestion that he should formally retire. However the onset of diabetes and its complications eventually led him to agree in September 2001.

When a student in Dromantine Rickie was described by his superiors as ‘a little fanatical over games’, and indeed his love of sport - of all codes - was to stay with him throughout his life. His brother Tom recounted that when they were young he and Rickie would cycle long distances, sometimes over thirty miles, to attend athletic meetings at which Rickie – a tall, well-built young man - would win all the four sprint races of the day (100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards). Before entering the seminary Rickie played football for Sligo and also won the Connacht Athletics Championship over 100 yards and 200 yards. In addition, throughout his life he took a keen interest in boxing. When Rickie was posted to Nigeria his interest in sport expressed itself in many ways. He founded football teams and boxing clubs and, in the process helped to launch many sporting careers. Among the latter was a Nigerian named Ojo who he brought to play for Sligo Rovers. On the administrative level, he served for a period as Chairman of the Football Association in Owo and as a member of the Boxing Executive of the Western Region.

Rickie had a great sense of family and tribe, taking particular pride in the Devine contribution to the Church, going back over many centuries. In this latter respect his own generation had not been found wanting. Both his first cousins, Tom Devine and C. McGown joined the Passionist Order. He also had four first cousins who entered sisterhoods. Fr. Michael Devine, P.P. Geevagh was an uncle, while his cousin, Padraig, joined the SMA At one stage, in 1996, when he was recovering from serious illness and was contemplating a return to the active ministry, he mentioned the possibility of parish work in Ballyfarnan, Co Longford, not least for the reason that it was ‘the ancestral home of the Devines’. He took particular pride in the ordination of his cousin Padraig to the Society in 1988, speaking eloquently of the family’s illustrious ecclesiastical contribution at the ordination breakfast. He also had a great affection for his home parish of Keash. When in Africa he liked to talk with pride about the various doings of the characters of the area. He was a man of keen wit, well able to tell a story, and capable of rapier-like repartee in arguments.

During his final years, as his health deteriorated, Rickie enjoyed several visits from his family. He died in the presence of his brother Thomas and wife Bernadette and his sister Georgina, as well as the St. Theresa’s nursing staff and his confreres. After Mass in Blackrock Road on Monday 13th June his remains were removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Keash, Co Sligo, where, on the following day, his funeral Mass took place.

He is buried in Knockbrack Cemetery, Keash, Co Sligo.