Today is the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s father’s death. Hugh Doyle died on this day in 1924, just three months short of his 92nd birthday.
Hugh Doyle seems to have been a remarkable man. He was Chief Clerk of the Bankruptcy Court in Dublin, and retired at the age of 90, having served for 73 years! (Yes, those figures are correct; they are not typos…). He was a devout man – he prayed every morning before going to work, he lead the rest of the family and servants in their devotions, and after breakfast he would appoint one or other of the children to read aloud to the household from the Imitation of Christ or from Challoner’s Meditations. He was also renowned for his service to the poor, and was active in the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Fr Doyle clearly had a close relationship with his father. It is due to this relationship that we know so much about his experiences in the war as he wrote many letters home to his father. He clearly missed his father and wanted to reassure him that all was well.
One of the striking characteristics of his letters to his father was their remarkable cheerfulness. Fr Doyle was often surrounded by death and squalor, yet he still found time to write home to his father. He describes in some of his letters the conditions in which he wrote – sometimes up to his knees in water, sometimes standing up as there was nowhere to sit, or sometimes even sitting on unexploded shells! This dedication in writing to his father, to reassure him and put him at ease, illustrates Fr Doyle’s own virtue and concern for others, as well as his filial love.
One of the great things about “Worshipper and Worshipped”, the new biography of Fr Doyle’s war service (see here), is that it includes practically the complete war correspondence from Fr Doyle to his father. We can see in these letters just how tender their relationship was – Fr Doyle often signs off with many expressions of respect, affection and love.
There is one further charming story about Hugh Doyle. One night in 1922 (he would have been 89 or 90) he was disturbed by a burglar who made him get up and open all of the drawers. As he was ransacking the drawers he came across a photo of Fr Doyle who had been dead for 5 years at this stage. The burglar became excited and asked who it was. Fr Doyle said that it was his son who had given his life for the soldiers in Flanders. The robber responded by saying “That was a holy priest, he saved many souls”. He then took the card, kissed it, put it in his pocket, and left the house!
Let us remember the repose of the soul of Mr Hugh Doyle in our prayers today.