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Why the Paraclete Center in South Boston changed its name

Paul McDevitt is embraced by his wife, State Auditor Suzanne Bump, after she read a speech at The Paraclete Center.
Paul McDevitt is embraced by his wife, State Auditor Suzanne Bump, after she read a speech at The Paraclete Center. John Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

For most of his 74 years, Paul F. McDevitt has been a faithful servant to people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, to the hungry, and to the homeless.

The Dorchester-born McDevitt is well known in the city’s recovery community. A longtime recovering alcoholic, he is a founder of Modern Assistance Programs of Quincy, which provide addiction recovery and mental health services to private businesses.

And he has worked for years with people on the streets, in soup kitchens, and in homeless shelters.

But one of his causes — a special haven for children in South Boston — has long tugged perhaps hardest on his heart.

The Paraclete Center, an after-school education program for low-income children, has helped to educate thousands of youths since its founding nearly 20 years ago by a Catholic nun in the old St. Augustine convent on E Street.

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A longtime board member, McDevitt has shaped its mission, and raised money for the nonprofit, which relies solely on donations from individuals and businesses.

On Friday, McDevitt, who suffers from vocal cord cancer and can no longer speak, was honored at a ceremony during which the center was renamed McDevitt Hall, Home of The Paraclete Center.

“Our treasures are found where our hearts are,” said Joseph Harney, chairman of the Paraclete board, quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, speaking to more than 100 people seated under a tent outside the convent. “Clearly, our hearts are with our treasure, Paul McDevitt, now and forever.”

The new name was requested as part of an anonymous $460,000 gift from the Friends of Paul McDevitt. The money will be used to pay off the remaining mortgage on the property the Paraclete purchased in 2005 from the Archdiocese of Boston.

In a ceremony filled with Irish ballads and prayers, McDevitt sat with his wife, state auditor Suzanne Bump, surrounded by their children and grandchildren. He smiled easily and occasionally dabbed his cheek with a handkerchief.

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“Paul believes that everybody is entitled to be treated with dignity and that we have an obligation to help the poor and disenfranchised,” said Harney, who paused to contain his emotions. “And that we have responsibilities to one another.”

A devout Catholic, McDevitt has said that his service to others has been influenced by the Jesuits who taught him at Boston College High School and Boston College.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh praised McDevitt for “dedicating your entire life to people.”

Walsh credited McDevitt with helping him in his own recovery from alcohol addiction.

“Paul McDevitt, you made a huge difference in my life, to be able to be in the position I am in today,” said Walsh, noting he entered recovery 21 years ago. “I want to thank you for everything you have done.”

Another longtime friend, Al Kaneb, praised McDevitt for his commitment to society’s most vulnerable people.

“Paul, as you all know, has walked with so, so many, who suffered from addiction, poverty, incarceration, and illness in this community,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Paul connected with these people in stress and brought them to stability and peace. With Paul, this has not been a part-time effort. This has been a full-time vocation.”

McDevitt wrote remarks that were read by Bump, his wife of nearly 36 years.

“Long ago, I was taught that man is composed of three parts, physical, mental, and spiritual,” McDevitt wrote. “I was taught that we had to pay attention to, to nurture, all three parts.”

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His addiction to alcohol caused him to stop nurturing those parts, until he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, he wrote.

He expressed gratitude for a life “enriched by other people. Each one of you today, is that other person. And I hope that I have been that person for you.”

He finished with a prayer he wrote calling on people to “be open to seeing the beauty in each other . . . May we be companions to the lonely.”

And with that, McDevitt stood with the help of a cane, turned, and waved to his teary-eyed friends.


Kathy McCabe can be reached at Katherine.McCabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.