Christmas Day 1890: Fr Doyle’s vocation to become a Jesuit (Post 3 of 3)

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.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words about Christmas Day 1890, on which he told his father that he would become a Jesuit. He was 17. This decision followed several months of discernment. He originally intended to become a diocesan priest and was rather scornful of the idea of entering a religious congregation. However, the influence of his brother, and a book on the religious life by St Alphonsus Liguori, were central to him changing his mind. 

Two things jump out here. Firstly that played his “joy and happiness into the piano” – how many of us have a similar joy about our Faith and about our own vocation, whatever it may be? If we lack this joy, how do we recover it? It’s also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems never to have lost this joy, even in tough times. 

Secondly is Fr Doyle’s love of music. He played the piano, and we also know that he played the organ in the church in Dalkey. He also directed the first musical in Clongowes Wood College for some considerable time, and it appears that he took on this task in the face of some scepticism.  Interestingly, we hear little of music in Fr Doyle’s later life as a priest, despite his obvious interest in it. Was it that he saw no particular need for it in the apostolic tasks assigned to him? If so, his abandonment of music was just one in a long list of sacrifices he made in the fuilfillment of the duties assigned to him. 

Christmas at Melrose (Post 2 of 3)

O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, it was published anonymously, and was in fact written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother.

Below is a link to a scan of a section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family home, Melrose. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s. It conjures up images of innocence and of a tranquil time that many today sadly do not know. But there is also an astounding fact that one could easily miss…The Doyle family gave gifts and money to the poor of the neighbourhood at Christmas time. Willie and his brother Charlie used to shine the coins so that they would look like new. Just think about this for a moment. Let the kindness and attention to detail sink in…

What a hidden, but remarkable, act of kindness! The money was still worth the same amount. Yet the intention behind this small, hidden act, was to give greater dignity to the poor, to show them greater respect. 

Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!

Christmas at Melrose

An imagined Victorian Christmas scene
An imagined Victorian Christmas scene

Thoughts for Christmas Day from Fr Willie Doyle (Post 1 of 3)

Nativity

What impressed me most in the meditation on the Nativity was the thought that Jesus could have been born in wealth and luxury, or at least with the ordinary comforts of life, but He chose all that was hard, unpleasant and uncomfortable.

This He did for me, to show me the life I must lead for Him. If I want to be with Christ, I must lead the life of Christ, and in that life there was little of what was pleasing to nature. I think I have been following Christ, yet how pleasant and comfortable my life has always been ever avoiding cold, hunger, hard work, disagreeable things, humiliations, etc. My Jesus, You are speaking to my heart now. I cannot mistake Your voice or hide from myself what You want from me and what my future life should be. Help me for I am weak and cowardly.

Christmas 2010

Thoughts for Christmas Eve from Fr Willie Doyle

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The following excerpt from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle recalls Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass during the war in 1916…

Christmas itself Fr. Doyle had the good luck of spending in billets. He got permission from General Hickie to have Midnight Mass for his men in the Convent. The chapel was a fine large one, as in pre-war times over three hundred boarders and orphans were resident in the Convent; and by opening folding-doors the refectory was added to the chapel and thus doubled the available room. An hour before Mass every inch of space was filled, even inside the altar rails and in the corridor, while numbers had to remain in the open. Word had in fact gone round about the Mass, and men from other battalions came to hear it, some having walked several miles from another village. Before the Mass there was strenuous Confession-work. “We were kept hard at work hearing confessions all the evening till nine o’clock” writes Fr. Doyle, “the sort of Confessions you would like, the real serious business, no nonsense and no trimmings. As I was leaving the village church, a big soldier stopped me to know, like our Gardiner Street friend, ‘if the Fathers would be sittin’ any more that night.’ He was soon polished off, poor chap, and then insisted on escorting me home. He was one of my old boys, and having had a couple of glasses of beer — ‘It wouldn’t scratch the back of your throat, Father, that French stuff’ — was in the mood to be complimentary. ‘We miss you sorely, Father, in the battalion’, he said, ‘we do be always talking about you’. Then in a tone of great confidence: ‘Look, Father, there isn’t a man who wouldn’t give the whole of the world, if he had it, for your little toe! That’s the truth’. The poor fellow meant well, but ‘the stuff that would not scratch his throat’ certainly helped his imagination and eloquence. I reached the Convent a bit tired, intending to have a rest before Mass, but found a string of the boys awaiting my arrival, determined that they at least would not be left out in the cold. I was kept hard at it hearing Confessions till the stroke of twelve and seldom had a more fruitful or consoling couple of hours’ work, the love of the little Babe of Bethlehem softening hearts which all the terrors of war had failed to touch.”

The Mass itself was a great success and brought consolation and spiritual peace to many a war- weary exile. This is what Fr. Doyle says:

“I sang the Mass, the girls’ choir doing the needful. One of the Tommies, from Dolphin’s Barn, sang the Adeste beautifully with just a touch of the sweet Dublin accent to remind us of home, sweet home, the whole congregation joining in the chorus. It was a curious contrast: the chapel packed with men and officers, almost strangely quiet and reverent (the nuns were particularly struck by this), praying .and singing most devoutly, while the big tears ran down many a rough cheek: outside the cannon boomed and the machine-guns spat out a hail of lead: peace and good will — hatred and bloodshed!

“It was a Midnight Mass none of us will ever forget. A good 500 men came to Holy Communion, so that I was more than rewarded for my work.”

Thoughts for December 23 from Fr Willie Doyle

Don’t lose sight of this principle, that true holiness is based on humility.

COMMENT: There is only one place in the Gospel where Jesus speaks about His own character, and urges us to follow it. In the 11th Chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us:

Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

Everything about this time of the year speaks of the humility and meekness of Christ. Being born of the unknown and humble virgin Mary. Being born while on a journey, with all of its inconveniences. Not even being born in an inn, but in a stable, surrounded by animals and all of the noises and smells that go with it. One of the most extraordinary moments of history – God being born as a helpless baby – goes unnoticed by the world. Christ is born in humility, He will live in humility and He will die in humility.

May we learn from the examples of Jesus, Mary and Joseph how to live with greater humility and simplicity of heart.

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. 

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema 103 years ago

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 103 years ago today. It relates to a recent trip to the cinema – it’s not clear what date he went to the cinema, but presumably it was the same day or at most a few days beforehand. 

At the end of the performance of “Quo Vadis?” the words of our Lord seemed to go through my soul. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified for thee.’ Jesus must have given me a big grace, for I walked home stunned, with these words ringing in my ears: ‘crucified for thee.’ Oh, Jesus, Jesus, why cannot I be crucified for You? I long for it with all my heart, and yet I remain a coward. Thank you at least for the dear light You have given me about the life You ask from me, namely, ‘to give up every comfort and gratification, to embrace lovingly every possible pain and suffering.’

As O’Rahilly wryly comments on this passage of Fr Doyle’s diary, this was ‘a devout conclusion not always deducible from cinema shows!’

Quo Vadis? is an excellent and gripping novel written in the late 19th century – I highly highly recommend it. It tells the story of the early Christians and the persecutions that had to endure. Fr Doyle was always attracted by the lives of the early martyrs, and it is this no surprise that the story in Quop Vadis? would really appeal to him. 

So, here we have the modern Fr Doyle, enjoying a trip to the cinema!

Incidentally, this is the 1912 version of Quo Vadis?, which Fr Doyle which is presumably the one Fr Doyle went to see.