Books about Fr Doyle. Part 4: Merry in God AND Trench Priest

While many people first encountered Fr Doyle through the O’Rahilly book, there are a lot whose first contact was actually the book Merry in God. This book was published in 1939, and many people mistakenly believe it was also written by O’Rahilly. However, no author’s name appears on the text. The book appears to have been written by Fr Charles Doyle, Willie’s older brother with whom he was inseparable as a child and who was instrumental in recruiting him as Jesuit.

It’s not clear why the book was written anonymously. Perhaps the thinking was that it was strange for a brother to write a book about a brother. However, the book borrows very substantially from the O’Rahilly text, and this may be why some people have mistakenly believed that it was written by him.

Merry in God contains a wealth of new information about the life of the young Willie Doyle as a child, and paints a more intimate family portrait of the life of the Doyles in Dalkey. It is also a somewhat simpler book in the sense that it tells the story of Fr Doyle’s life but without the long (but interesting) digressions into ascetical theology as a means of justifying Fr Doyle’s spirit and penances. 

The title Merry in God can be hard to track down – it pops up occasionally in second hand bookstores and online. 

However, the book itself has (mostly) appeared under another title – Trench Priest – which has been produced by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer in Scotland.

The bulk of the text of Trench Priest is taken directly from Merry in God. I know that some passages of Merry in God do not appear there but from glancing through the text I would imagine that at least 90 or 95% of the text of Merry in God (and perhaps even more)  is reproduced word for word in Trench Priest. Furthermore the publication contains the text of Vocations by Fr Doyle as well as a list of alleged cures and favours through Fr Doyle’s intercession that first appeared in appendices of some (but not all) editions of the O’Rahilly book (there were so many editions and impressions of the O’Rahilly book that it is hard to follow).

Merry in God/Trench Priest is well worth reading for a good, detailed, general overview of Fr Doyle’s life, including new and intimate insights into the Doyle family and their childhood which did not appear in O’Rahilly. It is a simpler and easier book it read than the O’Rahilly book. Even if you have read O’Rahilly, Merry in God/Trench Priest is well worth reading.

As I write there are two copies of Merry in God for sale on eBay. Trench Priest can be bought in printed format here: 

http://www.papastronsay.com/bookshop/product.php?ID=21

The printed version is in magazine format with black and white pictures and on newspaper style paper. This has the benefit of making it very affordable but not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing reading experience. 

I have recently discovered that Trench Priest is also available on kindle in a very good typeset format.

Amazon US here: https://www.amazon.com/Trench-Priest-Father-William-Doyle-ebook/dp/B00UM7CZLS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501512986&sr=8-1&keywords=trench+priest

Amazon UK here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trench-Priest-Father-William-Doyle-ebook/dp/B00UM7CZLS/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1501512881&sr=1-2

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Thoughts for July 31 (St Ignatius) from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue Fr Doyle’s account of July 31, 1917 directly after he left off yesterday. Again what is most noticeable is Fr Doyle’s good humour and cheerfulness, even in the midst of this awful war.

It was 1.30 a.m. when our first halting place was reached, and as we march again at three, little time was wasted getting to sleep. It was the morning of July 31st, the Feast of St. Ignatius, a day dear to every Jesuit, but doubly so to the soldier sons of the soldier saint. Was it to be Mass or sleep? Nature said sleep, but grace won the day, and while the weary soldiers slumbered the Adorable Sacrifice was offered for them, that God would bless them in the coming fight and, if it were His Holy Will, bring them safely through it. Mass and thanksgiving over, a few precious moments of rest on the floor of the hut, and we have fallen into line once more.

As we do, the dark clouds are lit up with red and golden flashes of light, the earth quivers with the simultaneous crash of thousands of guns and in imagination we can picture the miles of our trenches spring to life as the living stream of men pours over the top: the Fourth Battle of Ypres has begun.

Men’s hearts beat faster, and nerves seem to stretch and vibrate like harp strings as we march steadily on ever nearer and nearer towards the raging fight, on past battery after battery of huge guns and howitzers belching forth shells which ten men could scarcely lift, on past the growing streams of motor ambulances, each with its sad burden of broken bodies, the first drops of that torrent of wounded which will pour along the road. I fancy not a few were wondering how long would it be till they were carried past in the same way, or was this the last march they would ever make till the final Roll Call on the Great Review Day.

We were to be held in reserve for the opening stages of the battle, so we lay all that day (the 31st) in the open fields ready to march at a moment’s notice should things go badly at the Front. Bit by bit news of the fight came trickling in. The Jocks (15th Scottish Division) in front of us, had taken the first and second objective with little opposition, and were pushing on to their final goal. All was going well, and the steady stream of prisoners showed that for once Dame Rumour was not playing false. Our spirits rose rapidly in spite of the falling rain, for word reached us that we were to return to the camp for the night as our services would not be required. Then the sun of good news began to set, and ugly rumours to float about.

Whether it was the impetuous Celtic dash that won the ground, or part of German strategy, the enemy centre gave way while the wings held firm. This trick has been played so often and so successfully one would imagine we should not have been caught napping again, but the temptation for victorious troops to rush into an opening is almost too strong to be resisted, and probably the real state of affairs on the wings was not known. The Scotties reached their objective, only to find they were the centre of a murderous fire from three sides, and having beaten off repeated counter-attacks of the demoralized enemy were obliged to retire some distance. So far the Germans had not done too badly.

It was nearly eight o’clock, and our dinner was simmering in the pot with a tempting odour, when the fatal telegram came: the battalion will move forward in support at once. I was quite prepared for this little change of plans having experienced such surprises before, and had taken the precaution of laying in a solid lunch early in the day. I did not hear a single growl from anyone, though it meant we had to set out for another march hungry and dinnerless, with the prospect of passing a second night without sleep. When I give my next nuns retreat I think I shall try the experiment of a few supperless and bedless nights on them, just to see what they would say, and compare notes with the soldiers. The only disadvantage would be that I should be inundated with applications to give similar retreats in other convents, everyone being so delighted with the experiment, especially the good Mother Bursar who would simply coin money!

On the road once more in strict fighting kit, the clothes we stood in, a rain coat, and a stout heart. A miserable night with a cold wind driving the drizzling rain into our faces and the ground underfoot being rapidly churned into a quagmire of slush and mud. I hope the Recording Angel will not be afraid of the weather and will not get as tired of counting the steps as I did: Ten thousand and one, ten thousand and two – a bit monotonous even with the memory of the old hermit to help one.

The road was a sight never to be forgotten. On one side marched our column in close formation, on the other galloped by an endless line of ammunition wagons, extra guns hurrying up to the Front, and motor lorries packed with stores of all kinds, while between the two flowed back the stream of empties and ambulance after ambulance filled with wounded and dying.

In silence, save for the never ceasing roar of the guns and the rumble of cart wheels, we marched on through the city of the dead, Ypres, not a little anxious, for a shower of shells might come at any minute. Ruin and desolation, desolation and ruin, is the only description I can give of a spot once the pride and glory of Belgium. The hand of war has fallen heavy on the city of Ypres; scarce a stone remains of the glorious Cathedral and equally famous Cloth Hall; the churches, a dozen of them, are piles of rubbish, gone are the convents, the hospitals and public buildings, and though many of the inhabitants are still there, their bodies lie buried in the ruins of their homes, and the smell of rotting corpses poisons the air. I have seen strange sights in the last two years, but this was the worst of all. Out again by the opposite gate of this stricken spot, which people say was not undeserving of God’s chastisement, across the moat and along the road pitted all over with half filled in shell-holes. Broken carts and dead horses, with human bodies too if one looked, lie on all sides, but one is too weary to think of anything except how many more miles must be covered.

A welcome halt at last with, perhaps, an hour or more delay. The men were already stretched by the side of the road, and I was not slow to follow their example. I often used to wonder how anyone could sleep lying in mud or water, but at that moment the place for sleep, as far as I was concerned, did not matter two straws, a thorn bush, the bed of a stream, anywhere would do to satisfy the longing for even a few moments slumber after nearly two days and nights of marching without sleep. I picked out a soft spot on the ruins of a home, lay down with a sigh of relief, and then, for all I cared, all the King’s guns and the Kaiser’s combined might roar till they were hoarse, and all the rain in the heavens might fall, as it was falling then, I was too tired and happy to bother.

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.

The Head Quarters Staff found shelter in an old mine- shaft, dark, foul-smelling, and dripping water which promised soon to flood us out. Still it was some protection from the down-pour outside, and I slept like a top for some hours in a dry corner sitting on a coil of wire.

Today is the feast of St Ignatius, the spiritual father of Fr Doyle. As a true Jesuit, Fr Doyle was moulded by Ignatius’s spirituality, especially by the spiritual exercises. Those who are interested in the life and spirit of St Ignatius may wish to read the following two presentations from the great Jesuit writer Fr John Hardon:

Ignatian Spirituality Today

St Ignatius: Jesuit Saint

St Ignatius

30 July 1914

I long to get back to my little room at night, to calm and quiet, and yet I dread it, for He is often so loving there. I feel He is near because I cannot go to Him in the Tabernacle. It is such a helpless feeling to be tossed about as it were on the waves of love, to feel the ardent, burning love of His heart, to know He asks for love, and then to realise one human heart is so tiny. 

Thoughts for July 30 from Fr Willie Doyle

Fr Doyle describes the events of July 30, 1917:

For the past week we have been moving steadily up to the Front once more to face the hardships and horrors of another big push, which report says is to be the biggest effort since the War began. The blood-stained Ypres battle field is to be the centre of the fight, with our left wing running down to the Belgian coast from which it is hoped to drive the enemy and, perhaps, force him by a turning movement to fall back very far.

The preparations are on a colossal scale, the mass of men and guns enormous. Success is certain our Generals tell us, but I cannot help wondering what are the plans of the Great Leader, and what the result will be when He has issued His orders. This much is certain: the fight will be a desperate one, for our foe is not only brave, but clever and cunning, as we have learned to our cost.

Mass in the open this morning under a drizzling rain was a trying if edifying experience. Colonel, officers and men knelt on the wet grass with the water trickling off them, while a happy if somewhat damp chaplain moved from rank to rank giving every man Holy Communion. Poor fellows: with all their faults God must love them dearly for their simple faith and love of their religion, and for the confident way in which they turn to Him for help in the hour of trial.

One of my converts, received into the Church last night, made his First Holy Communion this morning under circumstances he will not easily forget. I see in the paper that 13,000 soldiers and officers have become Catholics since the War began, but I should say this number is much below the mark. Ireland’s missionaries, the light-hearted lads who shoulder a rifle and swing along the muddy roads, have taught many a man more religion, by their silent example, than he ever dreamed of before.

Many a time one’s heart grows sick to think how few will ever see home and country again, for their pluck and daring have marked them down for the positions which only the Celtic dash can take: a post of honour, no doubt, but it means slaughter as well.

We moved off at 10 p.m., a welcome hour in one way, as it means marching in the cool of the night instead of sweating under a blazing sun. Still when one has put in a long day of hard work, and legs and body are pretty well tired out already, the prospect of a stiff march is not too pleasant.

Perhaps we can all learn today from the ability of the Irish soldiers to be missionaries just by their example. It is our example of cheerfulness and charity that will attract others. It was true of the early Christians and it remains true for us today.

Books about Fr Doyle. Part 3: Worshipper and Worshipped.

Worshipper and Worshipped was written by Carole Hope and published in 2013. It has the distinction of being the longest book about Fr Doyle – it is over 700 pages in length!

This is the definitive study of Fr Doyle’s life as a military chaplain. If the O’Rahilly book is approximately 60% general biography and spiritual life and 40% about the war, this book is balanced in the opposite way, with about 15% being about Fr Doyle’s earlier life and spirituality and 85% about the war. It contains substantial new scholarship and research about the war years, and includes many letters and notes by Fr Doyle that have never been published elsewhere, including several interesting episodes that O’Rahilly never alluded to, and which I haven’t written about on this site either – so get the book to read about them! The book also places Fr Doyle’s war experience in a wider context, so it also serves as something of a history of the 16th (Irish) Division as told through the eyes of Fr Doyle.

This is a detailed and scholarly book but which is still very easy to read and contains very substantial and lengthy passages from Fr Doyle’s own writings. It is the first major original contribution to the study of Fr Doyle’s life since O’Rahilly’s biography in the 1920’s. As we approach the 100th anniversary of Fr Doyle’s death, it is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to understand the war years in greater detail and context.

It can be found on Amazon US here: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipper-Worshipped-Across-Chaplain-1915-1917/dp/1908336862/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501335963&sr=8-1&keywords=worshipper+and+worshipped

And on Amazon UK here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Worshipper-Worshipped-Across-Chaplain-1915-1917/dp/1908336862/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501336015&sr=8-1&keywords=worshipper+and+worshipped

From the publishers here: http://www.reveillepress.com/p/8773207/worshipper-and-worshipped-an-irish-padre-of-the-great-war-paperback.html

 

 

 

Thoughts for July 29 from Fr Willie Doyle

On August 12 1917 Fr Doyle sent his last “budget” home to his father. It was a long account of his involvement in the early stages of the Battle of Passchendaele. 4 days later he was hit by a German shell while rescuing 2 wounded soldiers and was killed instantly.

His account of the battle commences on July 30 and we shall follow his account in his own words each day until the 12th (except of course for those few days on which he didn’t write).

But before we relive his experiences, it might be worthwhile to reproduce a short “parable” which he wrote out for his father in this very same letter. It is noteworthy that he took the time to write this long letter, and the time to retell this parable, with such cheerfulness and good humour in the midst of the hardship and work he had to endure. He could have taken his rest. He could have looked after himself. His father would surely understand if he wasn’t able to write long letters home. But no, he was still concerned for his father all those miles away at home. This simple act in itself is indicative of his virtue.

In Fr Doyle’s own words:

Help comes to one in strange ways, and the remembrance of a quaint old story has lightened for me the weight of a heavy pair of boots over many a mile of muddy road. The story may interest you: 

In the good old days of yore a holy hermit built him a cell in a spot a few miles from the well, so that he might have a little act of penance to offer to Almighty God each day by tramping across the hot sand and back again with his pitcher. All went gaily for a while, and if the holy man did lose many a drop of honest sweat he knew he was piling up sacks of treasure in Heaven, and his heart was light. But oh ! – that little but which spoils so many things – but though the spirit was willing, the sun was very warm, the sand most provokingly hot, the pitcher the devil and all of a weight, and the road seemingly longer each day. It is a bit too much of a good joke, thought the man of God, to tramp these miles day in and day out, with my old bones, clanking like a traction engine. Why not move the cell to the edge of the water, save time (and much bad language probably) and have cool water in abundance, and a dry hair shirt on my back? 

Away home he faced for the last time with his brimming water jar, kicking the sand about in sheer delight, for the morrow would see him on the trek, and an end to his weary trudging, when suddenly he heard a voice, an angel’s voice he knew it to be, counting slowly One, two, three, four. The hermit stopped in wonder and so did the voice, but at the next steps he took the counting began again, Five, six, seven. Falling on his knees the old man prayed that he might know the meaning of this wonder. ‘I am the angel of God, came the answer, counting up each step which long ago you offered up to my Lord and Master, so that not a single one may lose its reward. Don’t be so foolish as to throw away the immense merit you are gaining, by moving your cell to the water’s edge, for know that in the eyes of the heavenly court nothing is small which is done or borne for the love of God.’ 

That very night down came the hermit’s hut, and before morning broke he had built it again five miles further from the well. For all I know he is merrily tramping still back wards and forwards across the burning sand, very hot and tired no doubt, but happy in the thought that the recording angel is busy counting each step. 

I do not think I need point the moral. But I hope and pray that my own good angel is strong at arithmetic, and won’t get mixed when he starts his long tot.

Alfred O’Rahilly comments on the story in the following fashion:

To understand this little parable is to understand much of Fr. Doyle’s life, his desire to emulate his angel guardian’s arithmetic as well as his inveterate habit of adding to, instead of subtracting from, the hard things of life.