A woman who was known as an icon of the pro-life movement in southwestern Ontario for over three decades and, with her husband and children, helped establish a number of local pro-life organizations throughout Ontario has passed away at the age of 76.
Mary Devlin died at the Stratford General Hospital on Nov. 6. As Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes describes it, she and husband John got involved in everything to do with the pro-life cause and did “a wonderful job.”
“Mary always had an ability to cut right through the bafflegab, get to the core of whatever the problem or challenge was and often come up with solutions,” he recalled. “When she couldn’t, she had a positive attitude towards it and you knew, in the end and in the Lord’s good time, it would be taken care of.”
Born in 1931 in Silver Centre, Ont., near Cobalt, Devlin graduated from Academie Ste. Marie and worked for Temiskaming Testing Laboratories. Marrying John in 1953, she moved to Stratford, where she worked with the Huron Perth Catholic District School Board as a secretary.
Over the years, she became known for her love of family, friends and the arts – she cherished singing, polkaing and painting, as well as gardening and decorating. Hughes well remembers her musical exploits at Campaign Life Coalition strategy meetings.
“I remember … Mary and I leaning on the piano, singing all sorts of songs,” he said. “There was lots of raucous laughter coming from where she was.” On one occasion, the two were at a retreat centre run by nuns and, after an evening of musical merriment, were informed by the Mother Superior that they wouldn’t be invited back.
It turned out that the other nuns at the centre, instead of sleeping as they should have been, were so fascinated with the music, they had gotten out of their beds and were hovering by their doorway listening and singing along to the strains of the tunes.
“She always very much had an upbeat attitude towards everything. I’m going to miss that,” said Hughes. “The whole atmosphere that Mary created was a loving atmosphere. She really believed in everything she was doing because she was faith-centred. She could reach out in love to anybody.”
Despite all her varied interests, it was Devlin’s dedication to the pro-life movement and the protection of society’s most vulnerable that were her passion and number one priority.
She was active in that respect at the local, regional and national levels. In fact, at one point, she, John and some of their children were heading up several local Ontario pro-life organizations all at the same time.
“She did (pro-life work) because she believed in love,” said Hughes. “She believed in and loved God so much that she wanted to do it … Pro-life was a natural outreach of her caring for people and wanting to help.”
Devlin’s son, John, said his mother recognized life as something to be enjoyed, not endured, and when she had doubts about whether her efforts were making a difference, she would look at a photo of a child she helped save from abortion.
“She was not a ‘great’ person. She was more than that,” said John. “She was a ‘good’ person.”
In tribute to her habit of carrying around a roll of masking tape like a bracent wherever she went in case there was an opportunity to put a pro-life poster or notice, a number of people at her funeral did the same.
Ever self-effacing, Devlin directed that there be on eulogies upon her passing, either at the church or the reception.
“She didn’t want any credit or extolling of her virtues to reach the ears of anybody,” said Hughes.
Nonetheless, the esteem in which she was held was evident in the church-full of people who came to her funeral at St. Joseph’s Parish in Stratford on Nov. 9.
Devlin is survived by her husband John, sister Rose (Claude) Lacroix of Sault Ste. Marie, Aunt Paulina, cousin Bill (Josie) Kepka of Toronto, her five children – Helen (Casey), Roseanne (John), Frances (Rick), David (Ellen), and Johnny (Laurie) – 18 grandchildren – Michael (Andrea), Melissa (Michael), Shawn, Angela, Kathryn, Sarah, Monica, Mary, Linda, John, Jessica, Adam, Christian, Amelia, Connor, Kearin, Maille, and Regan – and four great-grandchildren.
In keeping with her dedication to the pro-life cause, the family has asked that memorial donations be made to Stratford and District Right to Life, the House of Blessing or the charity of one’s choice.