The inaugural celebration for the William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies was held on March 20, 1996, in the Department of Special Collections. The evening's events began with a lecture by Zygmunt Baranski of the University of Reading entitled "Dante's Library." After his presentation, a short ceremony was held in the foyer of the Hesburgh Library to unveil and bless the commemorative plaque for the Devers endowment. Following the unveiling of the plaque, University president Rev. Edward Malloy, CSC, offered a dedicatory Mass in the Rare Book Reading Room. Guests were subsequently invited to a reception and dinner in the library penthouse. In all, about 80 professors, administrators and friends of the library joined the Devers family for the festivities.
Baranski's lecture at the inauguration of the Devers Program was the first in a series of six he offered during the Spring semester to graduate and undergraduate students as part of a one-credit course titled "Dante's Intellectual Histories" held on Wednesdays between March 20 and April 24. Baranski was invited to Notre Dame to be the first Visiting Professor of Dante Studies through the Devers Program.
Also in the spring of 1996, the Devers Program and the College of Arts and Letters co-sponsored the visit of poet Robert Pinsky and graphic artist Michael Mazur to the University on March 6-8. In 1994, Pinsky published a contemporary verse translation of the Inferno which was illustrated with monotype prints by Mazur. An exhibition of Mazur's monotypes was on display at the Snite Museum of Art on the University campus from February 12 to March 26, 1996.
To complement the Mazur exhibition at the Snite Museum, a special book exhibit was mounted by Christian Dupont in the Department of Special Collections. Titled "Ways into the City of Woes: Illustrations of Dante's Inferno," the exhibit featured more than sixty illustrated editions of the Inferno from the University's historic John A. Zahm Dante collection.
Since its inauguration, the Devers Program in Dante Studies has served as a catalyst for a wide variety of programs in Italian studies, both at Notre Dame and in collaboration with other institutions.
The Devers Travel Grant for Notre Dame graduate students was announced for the first time in the September 1, 1996, issue of the Graduate Fellowship Newsletter (replaced in 2003 by the Graduate Fellowships Database). The Devers Research and Teaching Grant, intended to provide support for faculty engaged in research and/or teaching of Dante across the humanities was first announced in the September 1996 issue of Communique, a monthly newsletter distributed to College of Arts and Letters faculty by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at Notre Dame.
An annual Devers lecture series was launched during the Fall 1996 semester. The series has included a number of respected scholars in the field of Dante studies from the United States and Italy. Audiences of forty to fifty faculty, students and other friends of the Devers program gather regularly for these events to keep abreast of the latest scholarly research and enjoy a wine and cheese reception. Invited lecturers typically remain on campus for a day following their visit to meet with interested graduate and undergraduate students.
In October 1996, the Devers Program in Dante Studies was invited to participate in Progetto Italica, an initiative of Radio televisione italiana (RAI) to create a virtual campus of Italian culture on the Internet. In February 1997, the Devers Program organized a workgroup to produce a language teaching program using video material from the RAI.