Thoughts for Vocations Sunday from Fr Willie Doyle

padre pio at Mass 2

I do not know if I have told you of a scheme which I have in my mind to help poor boys who are anxious to be priests. Before the war I came in contact with a number of very respectable lads and young men, whose one desire was to work for God and the salvation of souls, but who, for want of means, were not able to pursue their studies. I was able to help some of them and get them free places in America or England, with a couple at Mungret, but the number of applicants was far in excess of the resources. 

One day having successfully negotiated or missed a couple of shells, I was struck instead by a happy idea. I was coming home on leave and made up my mind to make an experiment with my new idea, which was this. I gave a little talk to the Sodality of the Children of Mary in a certain convent in Dublin on the need for priests at the present time, and what a glorious work it was to help even a single lad to become one of the ‘Lord’s Anointed.’ I told them how many were longing for this honour, and suggested that they should adopt some poor boy and pay for his education until he was ordained. Two hundred girls subscribing 5/- a year would provide £50, more than enough for the purpose. I suggested that this money ought to be the result of some personal sacrifice, working overtime, making a hat or dress last longer, etc., but as a last resource they might collect the 5/- or some of it. 

The idea was taken up most warmly: nearly all the money for this year is paid in, though the girls are nearly all factory hands, and the lucky boy will begin his college course in September. I am hoping when the cruel war is over to get the other convents to follow suit; for the scheme is simple and no great burden on any one, and is a ready solution of the financial difficulty and should bring joy to many a boy’s heart. Certain difficulties naturally suggest themselves, but I think we may safely count a little at least on our Blessed Lord’s help, since the work is being done for Him, and go on with confidence. 

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter home to his father in July 1917, just three weeks before his death. How remarkable that, even in the midst of some of his darkest days in the war that he was planning future apostolic initiatives. It is even more extraordinary that he launched this initiative when on leave from the Front, when most other people would simply take life easy and enjoy a well earned rest. 

Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We all have a vocation in life, and our sanctity largely depends on our conformity with that vocation and our fulfillment of the duties that attach to that vocation. 

However, this is a day when we specifically pray for priestly and religious vocations. That isn’t because the vocation to the married or single life aren’t important or aren’t paths to sanctity. They clearly are paths to great holiness if they are embraced with fidelity and generosity. Instead, we pray today for priestly and religious vocations because the Church needs these vocations and because Christ still calls people to follow Him in this special way and because this call is often harder to discern and harder to follow (initially at least) in the cultural context in which we live in the secular West.

Fr Doyle was an enthusiastic and effective promoter of vocations. Not only did he provide spiritual direction for those discerning a call, he also provided practical help as well. In addition to the above mentioned fundraising schemes he also helped to place young women in convents. Specifically, he found places in convents around the world (including America, Australia and South America) for women who could not find a suitable convent in Ireland due to ill health or other restrictions (including one young lady with a wooden leg and another with a paralysed hand). Let us remember that this was before the advent of the internet! Fr Doyle’s global efforts show the importance he placed on vocations. 

His efforts for female religious vocations were not limited only to overseas convents – he also founded the Poor Clare convent in Cork city, and was a spiritual director to many nuns around Ireland.

Some of Fr Doyle’s most famous pamphlets were on vocations, and links to them can be found here. 

Shall I be a Priest? 

Vocations.

These pamphlets sold tens of thousands during his life, surpassing all expectations. What a consolation it must have been for him when he received letters from priests and nuns informing him that his writings helped them discern their true calling. 

The impact of these pamphlets was still felt decades after Fr Doyle’s death. Recently I received a letter from a retired English priest. He reported that when he was a soldier in the Second World War his chaplain gave him a copy of Shall I be a Priest, and that it was this pamphlet that set him on the road to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1953. Years later he met the chaplain again, and was informed that at least 11 other soldiers to whom the chaplain had given this pamphlet went on to become priests. 

Perhaps Fr Doyle’s words are still bearing fruit in inspiring vocations to this day…

In conclusion it might be worth recalling one of Fr Doyle’s little jokes today. He was also full of mirth and he let this shine through one day while trying to place a young lady in a convent. Fr Charles Doyle, his brother, recounts this detail in his book Merry in God.

In these negotiations he could not always resist his love of a joke. Thus when a desirable subject had been readily accepted on his recommendation, he said to the Reverend Mother as he rose to leave, “Perhaps, Mother, I should have told you that Miss X has been in hospital for the last two years”. Reverend Mother threw up her hands in dismay. “O Father”, she exclaimed, “that changes everything! We could never accept a delicate girl, much less an invalid”. Father Doyle laughed. “Miss X is not a bit delicate”, he said. “Hospital*, County Limerick, where she lives, is a very healthy spot!”.

(*Hospital is a village in County Limerick. I can imagine Fr Doyle planning out that joke long in advance and waiting for his opportunity to deliver it). 

Thoughts for April 17 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Bernadette
St Bernadette

Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me. 

In addition to being the feast of St Benedict Joseph Labre, yesterday was also the feast of St Bernadette, but I decided to hold over discussion of St Bernadette until today.

Fr Doyle recorded the above reflections after a trip to Lourdes, the spot where Mary appeared to St Bernadette. The message Fr Doyle took away from Lourdes is the very same as the message he took away from Amettes, the birthplace of St Benedict Joseph Labre – penance and austerity.

If one knew nothing else of Fr Doyle, one could form a very erroneous impression of him. It would be easy to misperceive him as harsh and narrow minded. The opposite was the case – he was joyful and happy and full of practical jokes. Yet, underneath this joy, he lived a very harsh personal life. Paradoxically, this may be why he was so joyful. We see the same in so many other saints known for their happiness and joy. All of the saints were happy, but some were especially known for their jokes and happiness – St Francis and St Philip Neri in particular come to mind. Yet these saints all lived very austere personal lives. 

St Francis de Sales says that:

To receive the grace of God into our own hearts, they must be void of our own glory.

Self-love and love of God do not happily live side by side. People who tire themselves out with exercise paradoxically end up with more energy. In the same way, people who live with a spirit of service, generosity and self-denial (so long as it is suited to their strength and station in life) are often more joyful than those who indulge their every whim.