Br Joachim Devlin
Br Joachim Devlin died in the community on 18 April, after a brief illness, half way through his 96th year. Following the Requiem Mass attended by some sixty personal and community friends on 28 April, he was buried in our community cemetery on a fine autumn afternoon. The scorching summer had left never a blade of grass, nor a weed. The cemetery was definitely not decked in Irish green. However, as our resident sun worshipper, he would have been happy to wear that.
Joachim was born on 2 November 1920, the eldest of the five children of John Devlin and his wife Catherine Reid. They lived at 18 Orchard Terrace, Phibsborough, an inner-city suburb of Dublin. He is survived by two siblings, Sister Eileen, a Daughter of Charity, and Tom, both of whom have visited Tarrawarra, Eileen more than once. Sean and Vince have died. Vince lived in Australia for many years and was a familiar and welcome presence here at the monastery. Tom’s son, Tony, and some of his family have also spent time with us. The seed-bed that was the Devlin family played a prime role in giving us the loving man of faith and prayer that he became.
Several days after his birth, he was baptised in his parish church of St Paul’s, Arran Quay on the north bank of the Liffey in Dublin. He was named Patrick Joseph, becoming, of course, Paddy. On completing the Leaving Certificate at school, he was employed as a clerk in the Dublin Rates Office. This led him, when wrestling with the question of a monastic vocation, to identify on the saint’s feast day with Matthew, apostle and tax collector!
Paddy recognised 1 February 1943 as the day of “the greatest grace of my life, received through my Mother [Mary]”. He gave no details of this grace. However, ten days later, on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, he joined the Legion of Mary, itself to be an important grace in his life. He became Vice-President of his Praesidium two years later, and President on the third anniversary of joining. He was basically a shy person. Aspects of Legion work, and his leadership role, put a lot of pressure on him. But he was committed, and devoted vast amounts of time to it over the seven years prior to becoming a monk. Frank Duff founded the Legion in 1921. Nearly half a century before the Second Vatican Council, Frank was way ahead of the pack in realizing that baptism was a call to every Christian to active involvement in the Church’s apostolate. The Legion was one of his many responses. Paddy heard the call to the Legion before it had much support from the hierarchy of Dublin or Ireland, and before it took off and became a global movement. His membership demanded faith, courage and generosity in abundance. Daily Mass and Communion in St Peter’s, Phibsborough, was the normal kick-start to Paddy Devlin’s day. The rosary, recited frequently with the family, visits to multiple Dublin churches, meditation, and other devotions, fleshed out his prayer-life. Reading of biographies of saints and books on the spiritual life nourished, directed and encouraged his inner life and journey. He confessed regularly and received some direction in that context. His conscience was admirably sensitive to failures in charity, and he would refrain for a day or two from receiving Communion, until he had received absolution, when he had been actively or passively involved in uncharitable conversations. Often enough he was probably too self-critical of his efforts.
“The lads” in the Legion were a healthy environment for him. One of his favourite recreations was hiking or bike riding in the countryside with one or other of them. Michael O’Neill was an important catalyst. On 6 March 1945, when the pair of them were walking home from a Legion meeting, they “had a long chat on our future. Michael suggested I might have a vocation. The first time I have ever thought of it seriously”. By the next day Paddy had named precisely the vocation that he was to follow: “I have a certain attraction to the Cistercian life particularly as a brother”. He knew it. That was the easy bit. Over the next four years he beat himself up regularly over his inaction: “I am leading an ordinary good life yet I feel terribly discontented. God help me to know what to do”. “Can’t summon up the courage to take the plunge”. Finally, he was on the bus to Mt St Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, to take the bull by the horns over a long week-end, 7-10 January 1950. His meetings with Fr Robert Sheeran, the vocation director, nearly ended in disaster as Robert was intent on directing him into a choir monk vocation. Paddy decided it was “all off”. Providentially, he ran into the abbot, Dom Camillus Claffey, before he took the bus back to Dublin. Camillus enquired how things had gone, listened to his discernment and the reason for his decision, and saved the day. He threw open the door to the brothers’ life. Paddy had almost become “the one that got away”.
Three months later, on Easter Sunday 9 April 1950, he entered Mt St Joseph. Paddy was clothed as a lay-brother novice on 15 October, and became Br Joachim. Fr Finbarr Linehan was his novice-master, and was later to apply St Paul’s words to him, as he did to Br Celsus – not to their faces, mind you, but to third parties: “You are my joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1). He made his first profession on the same date in 1952, and his final profession on 19 October 1955. During his years at Roscrea he learnt the cobbler’s trade, worked in the guesthouse, and enjoyed duties in the chook house.
He accompanied Dom Camillus to Australia in November 1958 when the latter came to raise Tarrawarra to abbey status. The community members had continued officially as members of Roscrea until that event. They then changed their Stability to Tarrawarra on 28 November. Joachim, who had been here just a few days, understandably asked Camillus: “What am I to do?” Camillus replied: “Change your Stability, of course! That is what I brought you for!”
Br Joachim had been shortlisted for Australia around the time of the foundation. Br Finbarr Salmon, who had been the cook during the community’s first three years, died in March 1958. Br Munchin Sheehy held the fort in the kitchen until Joachim arrived as the replacement. He cooked for the next 44 years! That really is stability! He continued cobbling in the years when shoes were designed to expect, not necessarily nine lives, but a few new soles before being discarded. His talents, earlier employed in the Dublin Rates Office, were put to use again when he was appointed bursar and bookkeeper at Tarrawarra. He could run his eyes down a column of figures and come up with the sum without blinking an eye-lid. He was barely visible behind the wheel of a car – his passport recorded him as five foot two, eyes of blue, as the song has it. But he managed to collect the mail and do the messages without others dialing 000 to report spotting a driverless car heading along the Maroondah Highway.
Dom Steele, in his homily on the back page of this Newsletter, speaks of some of Joachim’s lovely qualities. The previous issue also detailed aspects of his growing old gracefully. He was always a prayerful man. During his active working life he would manage to find time to spend in the hermitage or by the river. Whenever we visited him in his room in recent years, the odds were that he would be praying the rosary, reading an Office or the scriptures. But his visitor was also welcomed warmly. Gratitude was a constant in his life. To the end, his arthritic hands composed short “thank you” notes for any little kindness. Before he entered the monastery he read a book called Some Rare Virtues. In that context he was able to make a jotting, meant for his own eyes only, with regard to gratitude: “It seems to be the one virtue that comes to me naturally, thank God”. That probably short changes what it cost him. We thank God for his inspiring life and friendship.