McDevitt, John W.
MCDEVITT, JOHN W.
Knights of Columbus executive and educator; b. Malden, Massachusetts, Dec. 27, 1906; d. New Haven, Connecticut, Dec. 6, 1994. John W. McDevitt was eleventh supreme knight of the knights of columbus, a position he held from February 1964 until he retired in January 1977. Having earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Boston College, between 1942 and 1961 McDevitt taught, served as principal at Malden High School in Malden, and was superintendent of schools in Waltham, Massachusetts. During this period, he chaired the Massachusetts State Board of Education and served on various school boards. Long active in the Knights of Columbus in Massachusetts, he joined the Knights' headquarters staff in New Haven in 1961 as deputy supreme knight and was elected supreme knight six years later following the death of Luke E. Hart.
As head of the Catholic fraternal society in an era of rapid social and ecclesiastical change and frequent controversy, McDevitt encouraged the Knights to abandon admissions practices sometimes used for racial discrimination, place more emphasis on family life, and cultivate improved relations with the U.S. bishops and the Holy See, while continuing to uphold doctrinal and moral orthodoxy and cultural conservatism. Under his leadership, the Knights donated the land for the new audience hall to the Vatican, began a continuing program of funding the uplink costs of satellite telecasts for major papal ceremonies in Rome several times a year, and extended collaboration and support to such U.S. Church entities as the John La Farge Institute, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, and the United States Catholic Conference's Task Force on Urban Problems. During McDevitt's tenure, membership in the Knights rose from approximately 1,150,000 to 1,250,000, and the organization's insurance program grew significantly. He was succeeded as supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus by Virgil C. Dechant.
Bibliography: c. j. kauffman, Faith and Fraternalism: The History of the Knights of Columbus, rev. ed. (New York 1992); "John W. McDevitt," Columbia (May 1983).