Donn Devine, the longtime Diocese of Wilmington archivist whose lengthy career included law, writing, planning director for the city of Wilmington and inspector general for the national guard, died May 5. He was 90.
Devine, a member of St. Ann’s Parish in Wilmington, served the diocese from 1989 until his retirement in 2016. His interest in history and genealogy was mixed with his previous work as a city planner, chemist, newspaper writer, management consultant and attorney.
The second diocesan archivist, Devine oversaw handwritten and typed parish sacramental and diocesan records. He supervised the microfilming of information, putting digital records online and the switching from microfilmed to scanned documents.
According to a 2016 article in The Dialog upon his retirement, he said he was interested in some diocesan material for reference purposes at about the same time the first archivist, John Prentzel, was trying to find a successor.
“I had the good fortune that the diocese sent me to a weeklong introductory course for religious archivists held in a large convent in Springfield, Mass.,” he told The Dialog. “Now they prefer the term archivists of religious collections, but most archivists then were retired religious. In class I was the only male. There were 18 nuns and a young woman who had gotten a job as the Salvation Army’s archivist.”
Services have been set for Friday, May 17. Calling hours begin at 9:30 a.m. at St. Joseph on the Brandywine followed by a Mass of Christian burial at 10:30 and interment at Cathedral Cemetery.
One of his major achievements was posting an index of baptism and marriage records from the diocese up through 1900. That is at lalley.com. He also had the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints – the Mormons – microfilm sacramental records with the permission of the late Bishop Robert E. Mulvee. Those are at the Delaware Family History Center.
Father Thomas Peterman, a retired priest of the diocese who lives in Wilmington, is ready to publish his book about Bishop John J. Monaghan, the third bishop of Wilmington. Devine had something to do with that, the priest said. “Donn Devine told me, if you do anything before you die, try to write a biography on Bishop Monaghan,’” Father Peterman said. Father Peterman said Devine was always cooperative and helpful during any of his projects, which includes a history of the diocese and short biographies of all of its priests. Devine told Father Peterman he always kept his books handy “for any phone calls.”
Devine also had the gift of gab, according to the priest. “He liked to converse. I would go in wanting to get deep into a book, and he would keep on talking.”
Susan Kirk Ryan, who took over for Devine, was grateful for his help during the transition.
“He was a wonderful mentor and made immense contributions to the diocesan heritage over many of his 90 years, including years long before he served as archivist,” she said.
After retiring, he remained active as a consultant and was a member of Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Last year, the board established the Donn Devine Award for Extraordinary Service to the Board for Certification of Genealogists, which recognizes that “the foundation of any great organization is rooted in service; it is the nurturing force which fuels all growth,” according to its website. The first winner will be announced this month.
In March, Devine was honored at an award luncheon co-hosted by the Delaware Genealogical Society and the Board for Certification of Genealogists. There, his election as a certified genealogist emeritus was announced.
Born in South Amboy, N.J., Devine graduated from Archmere Academy and the University of Delaware with a degree in chemistry. He worked as a chemist for a few years, then wrote and edited publications for Atlas Powder Co. in Wilmington. After earning his law degree in the first graduating class at Widener School of Law in 1975, he served as a planning director for the city of Wilmington.
He attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Management in the 1960s, and in the late 1970s, he became the deputy chief of staff for the 261st Theater Signal Command in the Army National Guard. He spent four years as the inspector general for the Delaware Army National Guard. He was a retired brigadier general with the state National Guard.
Devine was practicing law when he became the archivist, and he consulted with the city’s Law Department beginning in 2001. He was a special counsel with the state Division of Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Mental Health for a few years in the 1990s. He also lent his legal expertise to the Board for Certified Genealogists, and he was a mediator for Delaware Superior Court since 1998.
He was a member of many organizations and boards. In the church, he worked with the Catholic Interracial Council; the St. Mary’s-St. Patrick’s Parish Council; and the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists. Devine also was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He also wrote the fourth verse of the state song, “Our Delaware.”
Devine is survived by his wife, Betty, and their children, Martin and Mary Elizabeth, both of Wilmington, and four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first son, Edward, who died at 18 months.