Fr Doyle’s last practical joke – 20 July 1917

Fr Doyle had a tremendous joy and cheerfulness that easily communicated itself to others. He also retained this sense of fun despite the suffering of the war and his own personal austerity and mortification. All of this is extremely significant – the saints were always serene and joyful despite their sufferings.

Fr Doyle was also known as a practical joker. It’s not known what others thought about his jokes, and whether they appreciated them or not! But there is little doubt that his jokes were well meaning and were an opportunity to relieve the tension of religious life or the tension of the war.

Alfred O’Rahilly recounts what he calls Fr Doyle’s last practical joke, which he estimates took place on this day in 1917, less than a month before his death. Here is his description of it.

One day Fr Doyle chanced upon a fresh unsoiled copy of the “Daily Mail” for a Friday in October 1914, describing the German capture of Roulers. A glance at the scare headings on its front page suggested a hoax on the mess of the 2nd Dublins. Next day, which was a Friday (probably July 20) he managed to get into the mess before the others. He substituted the old copy and abstracted the new one, which he proceeded to read while waiting the turn of events. The first to come in was Major Smithwick who, seeing the heading, called out: “They’ve begun the big advance. Roulers is captured.” At once there was great excitement, and all crowded round to get a peep at the stirring news. But after some moments there were puzzled exclamations. “Why, it’s the Germans who have taken Roulers”. “It’s not Friday’s paper”; “yes it is”. Then the fraud was discovered, and its author was discovered behind the authentic paper. That was Fr Doyle’s last practical joke.

One thought on “Fr Doyle’s last practical joke – 20 July 1917

  1. Another Jesuit practical joker was Blessed Miguel Pro, the Mexican martyred in 1927. A more recent martyr, Fr Ragheed Ganni, shot dead in Mosul after celebrating Mass on Trinity Sunday 2007, while not a practical joker, as far as I know, was noted for his ‘tremendous joy and cheerfulness that easily communicated itself to others’, to quote your own words. He stayed at the Irish College in Rome while studying there and was known as ‘Paddy the Iraqi’. Someone who knew him said after his death that he knew where to find the best pizza in Rome. That might not have been part of Father Willie’s spirituality but he and Father Ragheed both chose to go into danger in order to serve others as priest. I’ve written about Fr Ragheed in my Sunday Reflections for tomorrow:

Leave a Reply