Msgr. Devlin, helped improve interfaith relations, dies

Msgr. Joseph W. Devlin, a priest known for his intellect, his strong opinions and his outreach to the Jewish community, died April 1.

Msgr. Devlin, 85, had a long career at LaSalle University, Philadelphia, where he was assistant professor of religion. While there he also presented on religious topics in India, Brazil and Spain.

He taught at Rutgers University before joining LaSalle full time in 1978. In a 2010 feature in the school’s Art and Sciences newsletter, he described his expertise in world religions as a “Religions ‘R Us.”

He retired in 2012.

Msgr. Devlin was not only knowledgeable as a classroom teacher and a preacher but also challenging, said Father Robert Gregorio, who often attended conventions of the Catholic Theological Society of America with him.

“His opinionated lectures would drive home the accomplishments of Vatican II and the reform it legitimated,” said Father Gregorio, retired pastor of Resurrection Parish, Marmora

Comparing his friend to St. Jerome. a “scholarly curmudgeon,” he said “controversy characterized his homilies.”

“He had a voracious appetite for reading and a personal library to prove it,” Father Gregorio said. “Conversation with him was predictably stimulating.”

And the priest scholar could be just as combative in other areas of life. “Up to a ripe old age he would play basketball with college students,” Father Gregorio said, “but they called his version of it football.”

A South Jersey native, Msgr. Devlin was ordained May 26, 1956. He served as parochial vicar at St. Joseph, Somers Point, 1956; St. Paul, Stone Harbor, 1957; St. Francis de Sales, Barrington, 1958; and Queen of Heaven, Cherry Hill, 1959.

He was in-residence at several local parishes in the l960s and 70s but since 1977 lived at Vianney Villa, Cherry Hill.

He taught briefly at Camden Catholic High School and Bishop Eustace Preparatory School, Pennsauken, in the late 1960s, and served on the Diocesan Liturgical Commission.

Locally he held seminars with rabbis on early Christianity, Judaism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

He held a master’s degree in Jewish studies from Seton Hall University, South Orange; another master’s in the history of American religion from Princeton; and a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Lateran University.

The character of the professor, priest and gadfly was summed up by one of Father Gregorio’s observations: “At restaurant dinners with friends, he would pick up the check — and invariably hand it to the younger man there. Yet he financed a scholarship which was awarded to needy students.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated April 8 at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral, Camden. Interment followed at Calvary Cemetery, Cherry Hill.

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