Charity brings Faith and Hope

McDevitts leave legacy of estimated $30 million to the Syracuse Diocese

By Connie Berry
SUN editor

   Robert and Catherine McDevitt of Binghamton were known for their simplicity and they were known as a couple who were sincere and faithful Catholics. Now, in their recent passing, they will be known for their generosity. Robert McDevitt died in September, just a few months after his wife. The diocese announced Monday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the establishment of the Robert L. McDevitt, KSG, KCHS and Catherine H. McDevitt, LCHS Funds. The diocese received a bequest from the estate with the current estimated value of $30 million. Most of the funds are in form of IBM stock. The gift is restricted meaning that the funds will be used in a manner determined by the donors.

   The Binghamton couple were active in the community with Robert running the family business. He was owner of McDevitt Brothers Funeral Directors and served on the board of directors for Broome County Catholic Charities and Lourdes Hospital Foundation, Inc. Robert was installed with the Papal Honor as a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, and both he and Catherine were installed with the Papal Honors as a Knight and Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Robert’s mother Mary was secretary to A. Ward Ford, the first president of IBM. This connection with IBM is what precipitated Robert’s accumulation of the company’s stock.

   Information released by the Office of Communications for the diocese states that the donors restricted the gift to income only meaning that the diocese may only use the income from the gift and may not invade the principal. The bequest is specific. One area of funds calls for one-third of the yearly income to be distributed to the “purposes and objectives of the annual HOPE Appeal,” and the remaining two-thirds is designated for the education of seminarians and for the medical care and financial aid of bishops and priests of the diocese. This particular trust is equal to 80 percent of the final value of the total funds.

   The second area of funds designates that the income from these funds be spent in any or all of four areas: the annual HOPE Appeal, the medical care of bishops and priests who require medical and financial aid, Seton Catholic Central High School, and the McDevitt Residence for Retired Priests. This fund equals approximately 20 percent of the final value of the total funds.

    Lastly, there are also separate funds equaling three percent of the total estate funds created for the support of their former parishes — St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Patrick in Binghamton and St. James in Johnson City.

   Father Clifford Auth, chancellor for the diocese, stated that the diocese is in the process of working with the estate attorneys to clarify the bequest stipulations. “Presently we are being advised that it may be at least two years before the estate is finalized,” Father Auth wrote in a letter to the priests, deacons and departments of the diocese.

   Christopher (Kit) Parker, diocesan director of Stewardship and Development and director of the HOPE Appeal stated that estimates on the amount of the gift can only be made with uncertainty at this point. As Parker explained, “An initial estimate of the value of the gift is in the $30 million range so if you take a $30 million fund and invest it at four percent, your annual income would be $1.2 million which would then be divided between seven different designated areas within the diocese.” The bequest does allow two separate possibilities to help sustain the HOPE Appeal. There is support designated to be used for HOPE Appeal’s “purposes and objectives” and the other form of support goes to the annual HOPE Appeal.

   With that uncertain prediction in place, the HOPE Appeal could receive approximately $300,000 of that estimated $1.2 million. That amount is less than seven percent of the annual HOPE Appeal goal, Parker explained. It is far too early in the process to determine just which ministries of the HOPE Appeal would benefit. Because the full gift will not likely be realized for another two years, the funds do not have an impact on this year’s appeal. While the exact amount of the funds is not clear at present, one aspect of the bequest is crystal clear — the charitable and pious nature of the benefactors.

    Father John Donovan, pastor of St. James Church in Johnson City, considered the McDevitts friends as well as parishioners. His parish was designated in the couple’s will as well. He described Catherine McDevitt as the “consummate lady” and Robert as the “consummate gentleman” with a dry wit and a very sharp mind.

    The donation will give his parish a “cushion” Father Donovan said. “We’ll be able to do some things in ministry that we didn’t expect to be able to do,” he said. “We have an aging population and an aging campus so we will be able to address some needs we have. The needs in the community are great in the midst of this current recession and yet we’ve been blessed with something as nice as this.”

   Father Donovan pointed out that the number of food baskets made in his parish at Thanksgiving nearly doubled from last year to this most recent Thanksgiving season. The parish made up 417 baskets this year. Father Donovan mentioned in the parish bulletin that the number in need had risen. Last year parishioners donated $1,200 to help with the baskets. This year, he said, they donated $7,000. “People are seeing the need and understanding who we are as a church.”

   Within the next few years, St. James Parish will be able to address some of their parish needs and the greater needs of the community because of the kindness of the McDevitts. For Father Donovan the bequest is bittersweet. While he is happy the parish is receiving the gift, he is sad that the McDevitts are gone. “I enjoyed them very much. I miss them,” he said.

   Bishop James Moynihan also considered the McDevitts good friends. He dined with the couple often and said he enjoyed the trips down to Binghamton and the dinners they shared. “They would always ask that we call on the trip back,” he remembered. “They were very devout, very religious as a couple. They went to morning Mass and they said the rosary together at night.”

   Bishop Moynihan was not surprised when Robert passed away just a few months after Catherine.

  “That was inevitable. They were very much together,” he said. “And they really gave their whole lives to the church.”

   The couple left Le Moyne College a major fund approximated at $50 million. Robert’s brother was a Jesuit priest who taught at Le Moyne.

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