msgr devlin picture

Msgr. Devlin, in an oral history interview from 2008, reflects on his involvement with the Philadelphia Police Department​ as they joined forces to calm tensions in the inner city. Msgr. Devlin was later appointed Director of the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations.

Devlin: George Fencl, (Chief Inspector and head of the Police Department’s Civil Affairs Unit), would call me. And one time we were up there and I had to bring in Spanish priests you know. And they were good. They’d come out, you know and we decided that one way of calming the situation down was to have a rosary. We’d had a priest say a rosary in the vernacular in Spanish and then things would—and I still remember—one guy said, “All right, we know you’re a policeman because the kind of belt you’re wearing.” (laughter) I remember then a bottle going zoom—right past my ears. Things were getting panicky, you know. It was very quiet while everybody was saying the rosary. But then it started to stir up again and George Fencl comes up behind me and says, “Monsignor, you think you could say another rosary?” (laughter) 

Interviewer: Thank you for keeping the lid on that simmering violence in the neighborhood.

 Devlin: Yeah, we had, we developed a technique, with Monsignor Dowling and myself and a group, a particular cadre of priests, that you know, we could call on to do this anywhere. And we were in every area of the city. We were in North Philly, we were in the suburbs, we were in South Philly, you know, and all I had to do was call them and they’d be there. I remember a guy and he had his fists right up in my nose, like that. And he says, “You get back in your pulpit! You don’t belong out here. Arrrr arrrr.”  (laughter) And then finally when things settled down, he says, “Father, you want to come home and have dinner with me and my wife?” (laughter)