Every Sunday morning, sacristan Chris Devaney enters a dark and quiet St. Augustine Church. He prays, then starts down the east side of the church, visiting the Stations of the Cross before opening the doors. “St. Thérèse is back there, so I spend some time with her,” he said. He is sometimes joined by an early arriver, who shares in what Chris calls the “blessed time” before the first Mass.
The peace that Chris experiences now as a Catholic adult did not come easily to him. Rebellious, conflicted, often at odds with his devout family and the Catholic school he attended as a youth in Narberth, Pa., Chris fell away from the church as a teenager. It took twenty years and a fitful struggle for sobriety to find his way back. “When I had difficulties, I would turn to God” he observed about this period in his life. “Then I would turn back away. But God was always there. I used to think faithfulness meant me being faithful to God. But really it was God being faithful to me.”
The return of this lost sheep was aided by members of the church here, beginning with a scripture study group, Renew, which was active in the early 1990s. “I was looking for a sign and there was a membership card at the end of the pew,” he said. He found himself in a group of “really holy people,” where he was not sure he belonged. “But they were very accepting,” he said, and accompanied him to his first confession in 22 years. They also taught him about the joy of going to daily Mass. “My father did that and I never understood it,” he said, “but now I go to daily Mass.”
Another step in the journey back was being asked to be a Eucharistic minister. ”I was humble. I just wanted to go to church and be left alone,” he said. Unsure what to do, he confided his sense of unworthiness to Sister Elizabeth Mercer. This is what she said: “First, you have been called. So you just do it. Second, none of us are worthy.” Chris joined the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. In subsequent years Chris has said yes whenever a need arises. He is an altar server, served on the Parish Council, is the current head of the Communications Ministry, and took training to be a lector. He also was a delegate to the diocese’s Joy of the Gospel Convocation earlier this year. “I felt very aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit,” he said of the four-day experience, so much so that he has been engaging in informal evangelizing since his return.
Chris lends his hand to so many initiatives in the church in recognition of God’s guiding hand in his life. Of his 42-year career as a behavior support specialist in the field of developmental disabilities, he said, “God sent people with disabilities to me. I want to be in their company. They bring joy to my life.” Chris met his wife on his first job working with the developmentally disabled. Commitment to this cause has become a family tradition. Chris’s wife worked in a special services school for thirty years. His son runs a farm program for adults with disabilities. His daughter is a special education teacher.
For Chris, strength of faith lies in the mystery of the Eucharist, a mystery with especially powerful meaning for those who must abstain from wine. “I did not understand at first why I was able to take the cup at Communion,” he said. But he was set straight by Fr. Michael Rush. “This is not bread,” he reminded Chris. “This is not wine. These are the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” For Chris, participating fully and confidently in the Eucharist is “truly, a miracle.” Looking back at his spiritual journey, Chris points to the role of relationships in reactivating his Catholic faith. “I was pulled back into the Church through relationships with people who are devout, and they are my models. These are joyful people, people who are happy and dedicated to God and, I thought, I want to be that joyful too. We are joyful. The world is a good place to live because we have God in our hearts. So my relationships with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are directly related to the people who taught me that this is a beautiful thing.”