Paul McDevitt lived a big life because he helped countless little people. He helped direct addicts to drug and alcohol treatment programs; he helped those organizations achieve their missions; and he gently kept at those in power to do more. Starting out in Dorchester’s Lower Mills, he put himself into the lives and memories of the thousands whom he helped.
We remember the Biblical story that Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan. A priest and Levite (Levites were people with religious duties) pass by an seriously injured man hurt in a robbery and don’t help him while the Good Samaritan tends to his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for his room and board.
Everyone sitting at Friday’s funeral knew that Paul McDevitt was the Good Samaritan, but Fr. Jack Butler made that belief come to life in a story he told in his homily:
He, Paul, and others were meeting over breakfast. Fr. Butler said he was hungry for the cheese omelette that he was going to order. But by then Paul had engaged the waitress in a conversation about herself, her neighborhood, and her family. She said she was tired. Paul gently asked why and she said she was worried about her son, who had a drug problem. While Fr. Butler fretted about when he would ever get his omelette, Paul continued to speak with the woman and offer ways he could help her and her son. Fr. Butler told us that Paul clearly was that Good Samaritan while he, self deprecatingly, said he had been a little like the indifferent priest in the Biblical story.
Fr. Butler told another story about a woman named Mary who was in prison on a long sentence. Paul kept in touch with her regularly to lift her spirits. When Paul fell deeply ill from cancer, his friends worried how Mary would cope when Paul died. They went to see her. Her reaction was, “Well, then, I’m all set since Paul will be right beside God so I really will have some pull then.”
Paul helped Mayor Marty Walsh decades ago when he was struggling with alcoholism. In return, the mayor said, “Paul McDevitt, you made a huge difference in my life, to be able to be in the position I am today.”
Paul helped the Paraclete Center, which offers after-school programs for kids from low income families in Southie. He helped Kathy Mainzer decades ago when she was trying to build the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. He helped me with strategy on a criminal justice bill just four months ago when he couldn’t speak with cancer of larynx. He wrote what he wanted to say on a tablet over breakfast at Mul’s in Southie.
Paul McDevitt supported homeless shelters and soup kitchens. He institutionalized his work on drug and alcohol and mental health assistance through the Modern Assistance Corporation that he ran with offices in Quincy. Guess where the Massachusetts Recovery Houses Coalition holds its meetings? Yes, right there. He served on numerous boards and chaired Project Bread, which runs the annual Walk for Hunger.
He made meals for the homeless and then served them. He helped unions and businesses set up programs for members with alcohol and drug programs.
One of Paul’s long-time friends and collaborators, Al Kaneb, talked about Paul in the Boston Globe’s obituary: “Paul, as you all know, has walked with so, so many who suffered from addiction, poverty, incarceration, and illness in this community. Paul connected with these people in stress and brought them to stability and peace. With Paul, this has been not been a part-time effort. This has been a full-time vocation.”
We know that the Good Samaritan Paul McDevitt will rest in peace. We thank him for all he did and we will try to do more as he would want us to do.
Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident and director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, with offices in Dorchester.