James John Divita, 85, passed away peacefully in Indianapolis on April 15, 2023, while surrounded by family. A longtime history professor at Marian College (now Marian University), he was considered the preeminent scholar of the Catholic community in Indianapolis and was devoted to his family.
Born on January 20, 1938, Jim was raised in Chicago and graduated high school from DePaul Academy. He earned a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University in 1959 and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1960. In 1961, he moved to Indianapolis to begin a 42-year career teaching European history at Marian College. His commitment to teaching was greatly inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call to “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Shortly after moving to Indianapolis, Jim met the love of his life, Mary Frances Beckmeyer. They were married on August 22, 1964, at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Mary’s hometown of Decatur, Indiana.
In 1972, Jim earned his PhD in history from the University of Chicago. Shortly thereafter, he received prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grants to conduct research at Vanderbilt University and Brown University. At Marian, Jim served as chair of the Department of History and Political Science for more than 20 years. As a professor, he was known for being a tough grader dedicated to the success of his students. His essay exams would prompt his students to “Organize your thoughts before writing.” He retired from Marian in 2003 and was named professor emeritus.
Jim’s research interest was Indiana’s ethnic and religious history, especially Italian and Catholic history. He wrote the histories of eight Catholic parishes in Indianapolis, prepared “Ethnic Settlement Patterns in Indianapolis” for the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, contributed chapters to the “Encyclopedia of Indianapolis” and to “Peopling Indiana: The Ethnic Experience,” and wrote many other journal, newspaper, and newsletter articles over the years.
Jim was a life member of the American Historical Association. He was active as both a member and leader of community organizations including the Italian Heritage Society of Indiana, Indiana Religious History Association, Indiana German Heritage Society, and the Indianapolis Literary Club. He also served for many years as a Eucharistic minister and lector at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church.
Jim enjoyed traveling. In summer 1962, he spent nine weeks traveling through 17 countries in western Europe and made several subsequent trips to Europe, including traveling over the years with his father-in-law Lawrence Beckmeyer or his children. Beginning in the 1970s, Jim would pack his family into the car for weeks-long summer road trips throughout the U.S. and Canada. In total, he visited all 48 contiguous states and 9 Canadian provinces.
Jim was preceded in death by his parents Charles Vincent Divita and Theresa (Rohde) Divita. Family was very important to him. He was proud to be the grandson of Sicilian immigrants on his father’s side and grandson of natives of Neustadt in West Prussia (modern-day Wejherowo, Poland) on his mother’s side.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary; his four children Lawrence Charles (Jill) Divita, Mary Theresa “Terri” (Dave Kitchen) Divita, Michael (Lori) Divita, and Anne (Chris) Divita Kopacz; and four grandchildren Mary Genna Divita, Juliana Divita, Caroline Kopacz, and Josephine Kopacz.
Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, 2023, at Flanner Buchanan – Speedway at 2950 N. High School Road, Indianapolis. A Funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 27 at St. Gabriel Catholic Church at 6000 W. 34th Street, Indianapolis. Burial will immediately follow at Calvary Cemetery at 435 W. Troy Ave., Indianapolis. To share a memory or condolence, please visit www.flannerbuchanan.com. Gifts in memory of Jim can be made to Marian University at www.marian.edu/_forms/give-to-marian.
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
4:00 - 8:00pm (Eastern time)
Flanner Buchanan - Speedway