On August 20 at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa, the Rev. Dr. Sir Thomas Devereaux a Michigan native who has served here all his priestly life, received recognition for 47 years of social ministry within diocese and the Bay Area.
The evening was hosted by EAH, a non-profit housing corporation based in Marin. Its aim is to bring about social change through the creation of affordable housing opportunities for people. Currently they are in 50 of California’s 58 counties and are in Hawaii, as well. They have put roughly 20,000 people into 9,000 housing units.
In her remarks to the roughly 35 attendees—who dined on mixed organic baby lettuce, grilled beef tenderloin roasted rainbow carrots, gourmet mushrooms, Point Reyes blue cheese mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake—EAH President Mary Murtagh noted that “housing is a vehicle to change people’s lives,” and that Father was a champion for that cause.
“You never turned down a challenge,” she told him in front of the gathering, calling him “a wonderful, unique person.”
She recalled how in the 1990s, he led a large group to a city council meeting. Because there were so many people there advocating for affordable housing and the poor, it “changed the balance of the discussion.” This didn’t happen in just one city but in front of many city and county government bodies.
Indeed EAH Vice President Al Bonnet told NCC in an e-mail, Father “testified on behalf of large citizen groups for the development of two affordable housing developments – Riverfield (18 townhouses) in Healdsburg and Sonoma-Creekside (43 townhouses) in Santa Rosa. Without this testimony, neither property would have likely been built.” Well-known community and Latino activist George Ortiz said Devereaux was “always reaching out, always opening doors.” Speaking directly to Father, he said, “You are a fighter for justice. You are a fighter for equality.”
Mayor of Eureka Frank Jager, a Catholic who was one of two people to discover the corpse of Fr. Eric Freed on New Year’s 2014, made the trip down from Humboldt County because the good Rev. Dr. Sir has the known his family since his ordination. In the early 1970s, Father served as parochial vicar at St. Bernard Church in Eureka under then-pastor Fr. Manuel J. Costa.
Jager recalled trips to Devereaux’s cabin with his family. Father had lost a leg (showing his sense of humor, he even had a funeral for it) and wears a prosthesis. During trips to their host’s getaway, Jager’s youngest brother and young nephews would frequently prank the priest by pilfering the prosthesis in the night. Then, when he woke up and realized what had happened, he would bellow, “Give me back my leg, you [kids]!”
On a more serious note, the mayor recounted how Fr. Devereaux got a half-way house for paroled men established against much opposition. He “resurrected” the Boys & Girls Club, and Jager called him an “adopted father” because after his own father died, this pastor of souls became a paternal figure and got his mom a job so she could support the family.
Another young man on whom the Padre made a huge impression on was Juan Chavez, MPH. Juan and his family came here 11 years ago from the state of Michoacán looking for a better life, settling in Cloverdale, which Father pastored until his retirement. At first their housing circumstances were desperate, just as they are for many immigrants, documented or no, illegal or no.
Once Fr. Devereaux learned of the family’s plight, he got them housing. As Juan grew, his friendship with the priest grew as well. It was he who convinced Chavez to attend college. He is now the first college graduate in the history of his extended family.
Juan said that if he had to choose “the perfect word to describe Father, it would be ‘altruism.’”
Devereaux has long fought for the poor and racial justice, dating back to the early 1960s in Detroit. He attended seminary at the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. It was there at the end of his studies that he received the shock of his life.
The Josephinum was at the time a missionary seminary, meaning that those who graduated from there and received ordination went off to serve in a mission diocese.
The way it worked was that the apostolic delegate (the Pope’s official representative—like an ambassador—to a nation with whom the Holy See does not have formal diplomatic ties) would send each ordinand a letter telling him where he was going.
During mail call, the soon-to-be Fr. Thomas Devereaux received a letter in which the bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska, told him he had been chosen for that diocese. For several days, he recalls, he prayed profusely for a change in plans.
It turns out he had nothing to worry about. It was all a prank, and the entire seminary up to the rector was in on it. Instead he was assigned to this diocese, where he has been ever since.
Always a lifelong learner, Devereaux received his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from St. Mary’s College in 1963 and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America in 1968. In 1973, the Pontifical College Josephinum conferred on him the degree of Master of Divinity. In 1985, he received a Doctorate of Ministry in ecumenical theology from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In 2007, he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in pastoral psychology from the Graduate Theological Foundation.
This man helped establish Catholic Charities in Humboldt, Del Norte, and northern Mendocino Counties. Thus it is not surprising that to this day, Father tirelessly sup-ports causes related to social justice, housing equality, and ecumenism.
If you would like to be a servant of Christ by serving the poor through helping EAH Housing in some way, visit www.eahhousing.org.
[Read the original NCC October 2015 article here.]