Preparing for Fr Doyle’s anniversary – Day 8: Joy in the life of Fr Doyle

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

1832 The fruitof the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity”.

We have considered the 3 theological virtues and the 4 cardinal virtues in the life of Fr Doyle over the last week. We have two days left until his anniversary tomorrow, and my intention is to discuss two other characteristics of Fr Doyle – joy and peace. As we see from the Catechism, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, but one hesitates somewhat in specifying that joy and peace in the life of Fr Doyle are specific “gifts” of the Holy Spirit in every case. This is a determination for the Church, and not for me. So bearing in mind the decree of Pope Urban VIII, everything I say rests only on my own human interpretation, and refers to the human characteristics of joy and peace in the life of Fr Doyle.

Today we will discuss joy in the life of Fr Doyle, and tomorrow, the anniversary of his death, we will examine peace and serenity in his life.

Fr Doyle was a joyful and happy man. It is crucial to remember this, and Alfred O’Rahilly goes to great lengths to emphasise this in his detailed biography. However, this joy comes across even more wonderfully in Carole Hope’s new biography “Worshipper and Worshipped” – by reproducing the entire text of all of Fr Doyle’s war letters we see even more of his wonderful, joyful humanity. He was truly down to earth, and was not an abstract pious sentimentalist.  

Remembering the reality of this joy is specifically important in the life of Fr Doyle because of the intensely ascetical life that he lived. Perhaps we imagine that one who lived such a strict life would end up being morose, boring and poor company. Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of Fr Doyle! Those who knew him always reported that he had a great sense of fun, that he was a great companion and source of entertainment, notwithstanding his personally tough life or the distressing conditions during the war. Nor was this joyfulness a mere act or show. And it is this fact of Fr Doyle’s joyfulness, amongst others, which should put to rest all concerns about his penances.

One aspect of Fr Doyle’s cheerfulness and joy that I find most touching is how he would include humourous stories and jokes in his letters home to his father. He knew that his father would worry about him, so he was always unfailingly cheerful in these letters in order to ensure that his father’s mind was at ease. He could have rested instead, but he remained faithful to these letters which were surely such a consolation to his father.

An aside from one of his last letters home illustrates this aspect of Fr Doyle’s character. He is describing a march in which he fell into a shell hole:

I was chuckling over the disappearance of the officer in front of me into a friendly trench from which he emerged, if possible, a little more muddy than he was, when I felt my two legs shoot from under me, and I vanished down the sides of a shell-hole which I had not noticed. As I am not making a confession of my whole life, I shall not tell you what I said, but it was something different from the exclamation of the pious old gentleman who used to mutter ‘Tut, tut’ every time he missed the golf ball.

Others often commented on Fr Doyle’s naturalness and cheerfulness. The Servant of God, Monsignor Joseph Quinn of Brooklyn, himself a surviving chaplain of the war, read the O’Rahilly biography and was deeply impressed. He met a nun who had know Fr Doyle, and she had a wonderful way of describing his naturalness and cheerfulness in life:

One day, not long ago, I met a Good Shepherd nun who had known Father Doyle very intimately in Ireland.  I asked her if she could tell me anything about the secret of his holiness.  She told me that holiness was as natural to Father Doyle as wings are to a bird. 

Fr Doyle was also known for his good cheer while still a seminarian. A Jesuit had the following to say about his character while he worked in the Jesuit schools as a young man:

Fr. Doyle’s example worked good. His cheerfulness, his energy, his enthusiasm were infectious and inspiring. His whole conduct was marked by gentleness and a kindly thoughtfulness that gained him loyalty and affection. In the playing fields he was a tower of strength. I can still recall the admiration with which I watched him play full-back, or stump a batsman who had his toe barely off the ground. But above all he gave the impression to us boys of one who lived much in the presence of God. I know one boy, at least, who entered the Society of Jesus, partly, at any rate, because Fr. Doyle was such a splendid man and splendid Jesuit.

And of course, the soldiers were fulsome in their praise of this aspect of his character:

Which of the men do not recall with a tear and a smile how he went ‘over the top’ at Wytschaete? He lived with us in our newly- won position, and endured our hardships with unfailing cheerfulness. In billets he was an ever welcome visitor to the companies, and our only trouble was that he could not always live with whatever company he might be visiting.

The fact that he maintained his joy in the war, and so impressed the soldiers, says much, for it would be difficult to impress such hardened men with a mere superficial act.

We will conclude today with Fr Doyle’s own humourous description of his harsh conditions and his joyful acceptance of his hardships.

I wonder is there a happier man in France than I am. Just now Jesus is giving me great joy in tribulation, though conditions of living are about as uncomfortable as even St. Teresa could wish — perpetual rain, oceans of mud, damp, cold and a plague of rats. Yet I feel that all this is a preparation for the future and that God is labouring in my soul for ends I do not clearly see as yet. Sometimes I kneel down with outstretched arms and pray God, if it is a part of His divine plan, to rain down fresh privations and sufferings. But I stopped when the mud wall of my little hut fell in upon me — that was too much of a good joke!


Thoughts for the Feast of the Assumption from Fr Willie Doyle


The feast of the Assumption was an important feast for Fr Doyle. He made his religious vows on this feast in 1893, and always felt that that Our Lady obtained special graces for him on this day. Perhaps our Blessed Mother will have special graces in store for us as well today? 

Here is his account of Mary’s protection on August 15th, 1916 (a year before his death) during one German shell attack: 

Knowing there were a good number of my boys about I hurried back as quickly as I could, and made my way up the long, narrow street. The shells were all coming in one direction, across the road, not down it, so that by keeping close to the houses on the shady side there was little danger, though occasional thrills of excitement enough to satisfy Don Quixote himself. I reached the village cross-roads in time to lift up the poor sentry who had been badly hit, and with the help of a couple of men carried him to the side of the road. He was unconscious, but I gave him absolution and was half way through the anointing when with a scream and a roar which made our hearts jump a shell whizzed over our heads and crashed into the wall directly opposite on the other side of the street, covering us with brick dust and dirt. Bits of shrapnel came thud, thud, on the ground and wall around us, but neither I nor the men were touched.

“Begorra, Father, that was a near one, anyhow”, said one of them, as he brushed the dust off his tunic, and started to fill his pipe. “It was well we had your Reverence with us when Jerry (a nickname for German) sent that one across”.

“You must not thank me, boys” I said, “don’t you know it is our Lady s feast, and Mary had her mantle spread over us to save us from all harm?

“True for you, Father”, came the answer. But I could see by their faces that they were by no means convinced that I had not worked the miracle.

Though it was the 15th of August I was taking no risks, especially with this reputation to maintain ! So, the poor boy being dead, I bundled the rest of them down a cellar out of harm’s way, and started off again. Heavy as the shelling was, little damage was done thanks to the fact that the sports had emptied the town. One man was beyond my aid, a few slightly wounded, and that was all. As I came round the corner of the Church I met four of my boys calmly strolling along in the middle of the street as if they were walking on Kingstown pier. I won t record what I said, but my words helped by the opportune arrival of an unpleasantly near H.E. (high explosive) had the desired effect, and we all took cover in the church. It was only then I realised my mistake, for it soon became evident the Germans were firing at the church itself. One after another the shells came in rapid succession, first on one side then on the other, dropping in front and behind the building, which was a target with its tall, white tower. It was madness to go out, and I do not think the men, some score of them, knew of their danger, nor did I tell them, but man of little faith, as I was, I cast anxious eyes at the roof and wished it were stronger. All’s well that ends well, they say. Not a shot hit the church, though the houses and road got it hot. Our fiery ordeal ended at last, safely and happily for all of us. And August 15th, 1916, went down on my list as another day of special grace and favour at Mary’s hands.