Thoughts for the Feast of St Alphonsus Liguori from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue today with Fr Doyle’s narrative of events in the days leading up to his death. Today’s account is somewhat shorter than that of other days. Even if the events of this day are less dramatic than what is to come, we can still glimpse some of the suffering Fr Doyle and the men had to endure, as well as the cheerful spirit with which he accepted it.

Morning brought a leaden sky, more rain, and no breakfast! Our cook with the rations had got lost during the night, so there was nothing for it but to tighten one’s belt… But He Who feeds the birds of the air did not forget us, and by mid-day we were sitting down before a steaming tin of tea, bully beef and biscuits, a banquet fit to set before an emperor after nearly twenty-four hours fast. Not for a moment during the whole of the day did the merciless rain cease. The men, soaked to the skin and beyond it, were standing up to their knees in a river of mud and water, and like ourselves were unable to get any hot food till the afternoon. Our only consolation was that our trenches were not shelled and we had no casualties. Someone must have had compassion on our plight, for when night fell a new Brigade came in to relieve us, much to our surprise and joy. Back to the camp we had left the previous night, one of the hardest marches I ever put in, but cheered at the thought of a rest. Once again we got through Ypres without a shell, though they fell before and after our passing; good luck was on our side for once.

Today is also the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, prolific writer of esteemed spiritual works and Founder of the Redemptorists. St Alphonsus held the Jesuits in very high esteem, and declined to take over one of the Jesuit churches in Naples following the suppression of the Jesuits in the late 18th Century.

St Alphonsus played an important role in the life of Fr Doyle – if it were not for his writings Fr Doyle may not have become a Jesuit.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography. Note by the way that Clonliffe was the diocesan seminary for priests for the Dublin diocese.

In July, 1890, Willie paid a few days visit to St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore, the Novitiate of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, where his brother, Charlie, had entered ten months previously. One day during the visit the subject of Willie’s vocation came up for discussion. Charlie knew that Willie was going to be a priest. But was it a secular priest or a religious? “I hope soon to enter Clonliffe,” said Willie. ” Did you ever think of the religious life ? ” asked his brother. “Never!” was the emphatic reply. “I have always wanted to fill the gap left by Fred’s death, and to become a secular priest.” “But do you know anything about the religious state?” persisted the zealous novice. ” No, nothing,” said Willie; “but in any case I would never come to this hole of a place!” This led to an animated discussion concerning religious Orders in general and the Society of Jesus in particular. Willie was so far shaken as to accept a copy of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s work on the Religious State, with a promise to read it and to think over it. The sequel can be told in Willie’s own words:

“On Christmas Day I was alone in the drawing-room when Father came in and asked me if I had yet made up my mind as to my future career. I answered Yes that I intended to become a Jesuit. I remember how I played my joy and happiness into the piano after thus giving myself openly to Jesus.”

On 31st March, 1891, Willie entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Tullabeg.

For those who are interested, St Alphonsus’ book on the religious vocation can be found here:

St Alphonsus Vocation to the Religious State

St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church

Also, here are some comments from Carole Hope, a reader of the blog with a great expertise in Fr Doyle’s military career. Carole posted these comments on yesterday’s post, but I am placing them here so that more people can see them. Carole is giving a talk on Fr Doyle’s military career in Dublin in September. I will post more specific details in the coming days.

Readers might like a bit of background on the movements of Fr. Doyle leading up to this point in the story. Any readers who want to pinpoint his movements on a map should be able to identify all place names below – except the trench positions of Reserve Trench, Congreve Walk and The Vinery.

Following the Battle of Messines, Fr. Doyle and the men of the 16th (Irish) Division had spent around six weeks in Pas de Calais, France, well behind the Front Lines, moving within a triangular area denoted, approximately, by a line from St. Omer to Hazebrouck and up to Wormhout. The men had been billeted in farms dotted in the countryside around Rubrouck. Although they were away from the stress and danger of the firing line and enjoyed some rest and recreation, they were also underwent special training for the next phase of the attack, which eventually “kicked off” on 31st July 1917.

On Wednesday 25th July Fr. Doyle’s 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers started marching from Winizeele back over the border into Belgium to Watou (Camp Number 2) just west of Poperinghe. On Monday 30th July they moved to the other side of Poperinghe, to Brandhoek Camp, west of Ypres, moving off at 9.25pm and arriving just after Midnight, on the opening day of Third Battle of Ypres. The 16th (Irish) Division was one of the reserve divisions, kept back to await further orders. About 10.30 am the area of their assembly positions in fields at Brandhoek was shelled, but there were no casualties. The weather was fine but turned to rain towards evening. At 6.15 pm orders were received to prepare to move forward and the battalion was ready thirty minutes later, when they were temporarily attached to 164th Brigade of 50th Division. They met their guides at Menin Gate, Ypres who led them to position in Reserve Trench, Congreve Walk, north-east of the Vinery, which was reached at 10.15pm. Battalion Head Quarters was located at the mound of the chateau attached to Potijze cross-roads. Working parties were formed to help bury the dead of 15th (Scottish) Division. Fr. Doyle does not mention this, so presumably he did not take part in the process, because the 15th Division would have had their own chaplains.