Today is the second day of the International Eucharistic Congress being held here in Dublin. The major theme for today is that of ecumenism and “Communion in One Baptism”.
Fr Doyle is, in fact, a significant ecumenical figure. It is not something that we have discussed on this blog before, but it seems that today is the day to do it.
It is a matter of historical fact that Fr Doyle was loved and esteemed by the Protestant soldiers in the war. He served all without distinction, and these Protestant soldiers appreciated it hugely. Let us read what one of them had to say on the matter. From a Belfast Presbyterian:
Father Doyle was a good deal among us. We couldn’t possibly agree with his religious opinions, but we simply worshipped him for other things. He didn’t know the meaning of fear…He was as ready to risk his life to take a drop of water to a wounded Ulsterman as to assist men of his own faith and regiment. If he risked his life in looking after Ulster Protestant soldiers once he did it a hundred times in the last few days. … The Ulstermen felt his loss more keenly than anybody…
The following is some testimony from Dr Buchanan, the Protestant medical doctor with whom Fr Doyle worked in the war for 15 months:
For fifteen months Fr. Doyle and I worked together out here, generally sharing the same dug-outs and billets, so we became fast friends, I acting as medical officer to his first Battalion. Often I envied him his coolness and courage in the face of danger: for this alone his men would have loved him, but he had other sterling qualities, which we all recognised only too well. He was beloved and respected, not only by those of his own Faith, but equally by Protestants, to which denomination I belong. To illustrate this — Poor Captain Eaton, before going into action last September, asked Fr. Doyle to do what was needful for him if anything happened to him, as he should feel happier if he had a friend to bury him. Capt. Eaton was one of many whom Fr. Doyle and I placed in their last resting place with a few simple prayers. For his broadmindedness we loved him. He seldom if ever preached, but he set us a shining example of a Christian life.
Significantly, Dr Buchanan’s relationship with Fr Doyle provides a startling insight into the latter’s virtue. One day, when the doctor was sick and there were no blankets to lie on in the damp dug-out, Fr Doyle lay face down on the ground and made the doctor lie on his back, so as to provide some comfort for his sick companion. We are really left silent in the face of such generosity…
Such testimonies could easily be multiplied if there was space in which to do so.
Some might think that Fr Doyle was loved by Protestants only because of how he helped them in the war. But it is clear from the reactions to O’Rahilly’s biography that many Protestant clergymen saw him as a true Christian hero worthy of praise and indeed emulation.
Rev. Rawlinson, speaking to an Anglican Church Congress in 1921 said:
I came across the biography of an obscure Jesuit, Fr William Doyle…The flame of his personal allegiance to his Saviour burned very brightly…What we want in the Church of England is more men and women of this type, more men and women who show their allegiance in this way. Nothing else will convert the world back again to Jesus Christ.
And from a homily preached in a Unitarian chapel we find the following:
In looking at his photograph I see the face of a man with a broad, high forehead, the sweetest, kindest smile, a face without guile, the soul of sincerity and kindness. He was born to puzzle the world, and we must place him in a niche among great men…The chief point that the life of Fr Doyle brings before us is that saints still live in the twentieth century. He was a true man of God.
There are other testimonies can we could produce, but time and space prevent it today.
In summary then, we can say that Fr Doyle truly lived Communion in One Baptism. He was loved and esteemed by the Protestants of his day. Perhaps it is time for the Catholics of today to rediscover Fr Doyle and to learn from his example.
REMINDER: I will be speaking about Fr Doyle tonight (June 11) at 8.15pm in the parish hall of St Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street. This is one of the official host churches on the Eucharistic Congress.