Thoughts for May 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

I am continuing to work through the rather large pile of corrections that sit before me. However, in an attempt to get back to normal, here are Fr Doyle’s reflections on the incidents that happened on this day in 1917. Once again, his balance and good humour are remarkable. 

The enemy for once did me a good turn. I had arranged to hear the men’s confessions shortly before he opened fire, and a couple of well directed shells helped my work immensely by putting the fear of God into the hearts of a few careless boys who might not have troubled about coming near me otherwise. I wonder were the Sacraments ever administered under stranger circumstances? Picture my little dug-out (none too big at any time) packed with men who had dashed in for shelter from the splinters and shrapnel coming down like hail. In one corner is kneeling a poor fellow recently joined — who has not ‘knelt to the priest’ as the men quaintly say, for many a day — trying to make his Confession. I make short work of that, for a shower of clay and stones falling at the door is a gentle hint that the ‘crumps’ are getting uncomfortably near, and I want to give him Absolution in case an unwelcome visitor should walk in. Then, while the ground outside rocks and seems to split with the crash of the shells, I give them all Holy Communion, say a short prayer, and perform the wonderful feat of packing a few more men into our sardine tin of a house. . 

As soon as I got the chance, I slipped round to see how many casualties there were, for I thought not a mouse could survive the bombardment. Thank God, no one was killed or even badly hit, and the firing having ceased, we could breathe again. I was walking up the trench from the dressing station when I suddenly heard the scream of another shell. … It was then I realized my good fortune. There are two ways to my dug-out, and naturally I choose the shorter. This time, without any special reason, I went by the longer way; and it was well I did, for the shell pitched in the other trench, and probably would have caught me nicely as I went by. But instead of that it wreaked its vengeance on my unfortunate orderly, who was close by in his dug-out, sending him spinning on his head but other wise not injuring him I found another string of men awaiting my return in order to get Confession and Holy Communion. In fact I had quite a busy evening, thanks once more to Fritz’s High Explosive, which has a wonderful persuasive effect of its own. I am wondering how many pounds of high explosive I shall require when giving my next retreat!

One thought on “Thoughts for May 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. Sixty years ago today US Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun died alone in a miserable Communist POW camp in North Korea. He was known as the “Good Thief” because he was known to “procure” extra food for his fellow prisoners who were starving. He was a diocesan priest from Pilsen, Kansas who volunteered for military service in both WWII and the Korean War. Like Father Doyle, he was fearless on the battlefield. He once had his pipe shot out of his mouth by a sniper and survived a very near miss from an enemy tank cannon that literally blew the steel helmet off of his head. But like Father Doyle, nothing could deter him from administering the Last Rites, rescuing the wounded under fire and conducting Mass under the most difficult wartime conditions. Fr. Kapaun volunteered to stay behind with wounded soldiers and fearlessly protected a wounded fellow soldier who was about to be shot. He carried this wounded soldier on his back for over 30 miles on a forced march in the middle of a bitter Korean winter with little food and water, inadequate clothing, while under the supervision of brutal guards who would shoot anyone who fell behind. Unlike Father Doyle, he received a degree of recognition. He is designated a Servant of God; hopefully he will be a saint in our lifetime. He also has been nominated for the US Congressional Medal of Honor which has been approved by the US Secretary of Defense, but yet to be awarded. Unfortunately, Fr. Doyle is stalled in the sainthood process and few doubt that he should have been awarded the Victoria Cross for his incredible bravery under fire. Fr. Kapaun was loved by Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and even Moslem fellow prisoners and soldiers (in an earlier post we learned that Fr. Doyle was made an honorary “Orangeman” for his service to Protestant soldiers). I have a great admiration for Army chaplains. I find great similarities in both the priestly and military lives of both Father Emil Kapaun and Father Willie Doyle in their courageous and selfless service to God, country, and their fellow man. God bless their memory.

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