Thoughts for December 22 from Fr Willie Doyle

My genius of an orderly fried meat and pudding together and, with a smile of triumph on his face, brought both on the same plate to the dug-out. He is a good poor chap, but I would not recommend him as a cook.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on 22nd December 1916, 100 years ago today. Fr Doyle loved his orderly (Fr Doyle had the rank of Captain, and thus had an orderly to attend to him), but he had much to suffer at his hands – he seems to have lacked a certain common sense. On one occasion he seems to have made tea from the water in which he washed Fr Doyle’s socks! On another occasion (if I recall correctly…) tea was made from water tainted with petrol. Yet, as usual, Fr Doyle offered it all up and took everything in good spirit. 

The famous Fr Frank Browne SJ was a witness to the challenges posed by Fr Doyle’s orderly. Here is his account of one tale of woe.

I rode over one morning to see Fr Doyle. I found him writing letters, which he interrupted to tell me of Murphy’s latest. Pointing to his trench boots he asked me to smell them. They were awful. Murphy, in order to prepare them for polishing, had in the orthodox way washed them, but in an unorthodox manner he had chosen a cesspool! The result was almost too much from Fr Willie. When I told him to sack Murphy on the spot, saying that it was getting a bit too much of a good joke, he laughed and said: ‘Well he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, I can perhaps gain something too.’ I must say his patience and restraint made a great impression on me.

Fr Doyle’s kind patience in dealing with the incompetence of his orderly, and the huge inconveniences they caused him in the midst of so many other stresses and dangers, is surely a sign of great virtue. It is also a further sign that his penances were appropriate for him – a neurotic and unbalanced personality who performed penance out of an unhealthy obsession seems unlikely to be able to maintain patience and serenity in the face of these provocations. But Fr Doyle was universally known for this sweetness and calm, even when tired, under stress and facing grave dangers. 

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