A higher calling: At 90, priest continues life of service
CECIL, Pa. (AP) — The Rev. George T. DeVille fills the gold-plated container — called a pyx — with 15 consecrated Holy Communion hosts. He places it in his left jacket pocket.
DeVille climbs into his car.
After distributing Communion to members of St. Oscar Romero Parish inside Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Cecil during an 8 a.m. Mass, he still has work to do.
He is on his way to take Communion to residences of the faithful, some who are homebound, others recovering from surgeries or medical issues. Others aren’t yet comfortable returning to services because of the pandemic.
Most are in their late 80s and early 90s.
They await his arrival.
Praying with them as they receive the host is “an honor,” said DeVille, who has been a priest for 64 years. As a senior parochial vicar, he is the oldest priest still active in an assignment in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
DeVille was to serve noon Mass on Sunday — his 90th birthday — at Holy Rosary. Afterward, there was to be a celebration of his nine decades of life.
A calling realized
His calling to the priesthood came when he was a sophomore at Saint Vincent College near Latrobe. DeVille was at his McKeesport home on a school break and watched as a priest brought Communion to his grandmother, Mary “Mame” Worth.
“I saw how important a visit from the priest was to my grandmother, who was dying,” DeVille said. “He would visit almost every day. I saw how she reacted to him and how important it was for this priest coming to see my grandmother. When I saw that, that put me over the hill.”
He enrolled in Saint Vincent Seminary and then Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia.
DeVille was ordained May 25, 1957.
His first assignment was St. Rosalia Parish in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood, where he served from 1957 to 1963.
DeVille was invited to receive training in psychiatric chaplaincy at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. While there, he took classes in the evenings at nearby Catholic University. Returning to Pittsburgh, he was assigned to Woodville State Hospital in Carnegie from 1964 to 1992. He went on to serve at Mayview State Hospital in Bridgeville from 1992 to 2000.
He said there is a camaraderie among the staff in mental hospitals, and they “did things other people did not or could not.”
“The high point of my career as mental hospital chaplain came when two patients were having a serious argument,” he said. “One patient turned and said, ‘Ask Father DeVille.’ The other patient said, ‘He is crazier than we are.’ I knew that I had made it.”
During his time there, he was beaten badly, burned by a cigarette butt and “a woman crushed a chair with me sitting in it. I was wearing a new suit and thought, ‘She is going to tear my suit.’ She mopped the floor with me.”
It’s DeVille’s sense of humor that keeps him going. His personal email address begins with “fatherdevil” and he has several devil characters on his office desk.
“I enjoy helping people and being there when they need me,” said DeVille, who has served at Holy Rosary in Washington County since 2000. “I enjoy helping them spiritually and mentally and physically. I just enjoy this life.”
He said his mother, Mary Jane Worth DeVille, was right when she told him he did some woman a favor by being a priest.
“She had it right,” said DeVille who has two brothers and one sister.
More than a job
Watching DeVille with parishioners, one can easily see that this is his calling, that it’s in his blood. DeVille still celebrates Mass daily and one to three times on the weekend, depending on other priests’ schedules.
He arrives at early morning Mass by 7:30 a.m. to read Scriptures, go over the pronunciation of words and prepare his sermon.
“Father DeVille is humble, and his sermons are short and to the point,” said parishioner Bill Prost of North Strabane. “He cares about us.”
Judi and Mike Kondas of Cecil attend Mass regularly and said DeVille is always on the move. He also is a local historian. He knows so much about the area and shares those stories.
“He is a gem,” Judi Kondas said. “We love him.”
Rita Meyer of Peters, a sacristan for the parish, said they are “so lucky to have him.”
On his route to deliver Communion, DeVille knocks before entering. He begins to say hello as he opens the door, announcing his presence. The people he visits immediately smile. They move toward him, using a walker or cane or rolling forward in a wheelchair.
One woman got out of bed to walk to the kitchen for Communion.
“It is important for the priest to take Communion to the sick and to visit with them,” DeVille said. “It makes a difference.”
DeVille begins with a sign of the cross, then they say the “Our Father” prayer.
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb. Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
He offers the host as he says “the body of Christ.”
They pray quietly.
“Almighty God, we ask that your divine providence watch over us and protect us, and through the reception of this sacrament, may we gain eternal salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord, amen. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” DeVille said.
Ed Miller and his partner, Agnes Zucckero, waited by their front door for DeVille, who brings Miller magazines such as Scientific American and Air & Space.
“He is such a good guy,” Miller said. “He is a friendly face to see, and we appreciate everything he does.”
DeVille asks how they are doing. At each stop, he talks about a topic specific to that person — be it a specific health situation, family, sports and even the weather.
He remembers everything, from a step that is larger than the rest or the best entrance of the house to who the people are in pictures hanging on the wall.
Mable Lucciola got out of bed to receive Communion, with a smile on her face.
The expression from Dorothy Czartorski was priceless. Snuggled under a blanket in her recliner, she pulled her arms out from under it to bless herself.
“Pray for me, father,” Czartorski said. “He makes me so happy when I see him. It’s the best part of my day.”
DeVille has been taking Communion to Gloria D’Amico for more than 20 years. She and her daughter, Linda Romano, shared a few laughs with the priest.
“I have loved every time he is here with me,” D’Amico said. “It’s so wonderful he has kept coming to see me all these years.”
Janet Calabro said the conversations with DeVille are as much a highlight of her day as receiving Communion. He is easy to talk to, she said.
Rose Roman considers DeVille a good friend.
“If he didn’t bring me Communion, who would?” she said. “I truly appreciate it.”
“Everything I have done has made me the priest I am today,” DeVille said. “I will stay as long as I can. I always say, I don’t know if I am going to heaven or hell, but I do know I am leaving from Holy Rosary.”
The last stop for Communion was to John Miller and his wife, Phyllis. The North Strabane couple said how much they appreciate DeVille.
“I want people to see I am more than a priest,” DeVille said. “I can help them with so many other things. … It’s not only about the religious aspect. There are so many other aspects to a person’s life.”
Blessing to the community
DeVille is a blessing to the community, said Rev. Carmen D’Amico, pastor at St. Oscar Romero. “He is remarkable, so full of joy and energy. He is so approachable, and that is what makes him so comfortable to be around.”
D’Amico said DeVille cares about everyone and every aspect of their lives. He is like a father and grandfather figure to the people he serves.
“He treats everyone with dignity, no matter what their situation in life is,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico said in DeVille’s more than 60 years as a priest, he has most likely experienced every situation possible. He has performed CPR a number of times and has administered last rites at several fires, including one where three young boys died in Greenfield and for a priest who died in a fire in Oakdale. On another occasion, he was called to administer last rites to a young man in an industrial accident involving asphalt. The worker had fallen in a hopper and could not be be retrieved. A firefighter held DeVille upside down so he could get near to the man.
The several accessories on DeVille’s simple priestly wardrobe are significant. He wears a lapel pin as chaplain of the Knights of Columbus. Another pin denotes his 60 years as a priest. And a red pocket square represents a personal and spiritual devotion.
The adornment is an homage to the Rev. Walter A. Mahler, a Navy chaplain in World War II, who always wore a red pocket square. DeVille served as a caregiver to Mahler for the final two years of his life, tending to him at a seminary rather than letting him go to a nursing home — cooking his meals, getting him dressed, giving him medication. When Mahler was dying, DeVille offered him absolution. He chose the vestments for Mahler to wear after he died.
In those years, DeVille served Communion to Mahler several times a week.
Delivering the Eucharist is the core of his priestly mission. “When I am saying Mass and I hold the host up, I am holding God in my hands, God who created the universe, and that’s how I feel about it,” DeVille said. “I am taking Christ to these people. I try to be a reflection of Christ and try to bring Christ to these people.”
He snapped the lid closed on the pyx, and slipped the golden box back into his left jacket pocket.