You would throw up your hands in horror were you to see my room at the present moment. It is a scene of chaos and disorder that would discourage and frighten even that patient and persevering arranger of confusion and disorder, the Little Mother (Fr Doyle’s nickname for his mother). For the past week examinations have been in full swing. Now it is a comparatively easy task to sit down and set an examination paper that will keep a couple of hundred boys hard at work for three hours; but it is quite a different proposition to wade through and correct the output of the said boys during these hours. Can you wonder, then, that my pale and emaciated countenance grew still paler and more emaciated, and that my hair, usually so well behaved, stood on end, as day by day I watched the pile of examination papers rise higher on my table? But gazing would never reduce that pile, so with a cry to heaven for help I plunged at it and fought my way through to the last sheet.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote this letter to his father while he was a seminarian. Between 1894-1898 he was stationed in Clongowes school as a teacher and prefect (this is where Blessed John Sullivan spent almost all of his priestly life). It is interesting to note that he never lost his good humour in writing to his father. In fact, it seemed to intensify over time. His letters written 20 years later from the war show an even more exuberant joy.
I cannot personally identify with Fr Doyle’s cheerfulness at the prospect of exam correction, but I can identify with his hair standing on end. A very large pile of exam papers sits around my desk – it is more than a metre high. It is a frightful sight to behold when one knows that one must fight one’s way through to the last sheet, as Fr Doyle put it.
During this exam season, let us remember to pray for students and for their families, and for those charged with correcting all of them!