Fr Doyle offered his life to rescue wounded soldiers 100 years ago today.

In memory of Fr William Doyle SJ          3 March 1873 – 16 August 1917

My Martyrdom for Mary’s Sake.

Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, on this the first day of thy month, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr.

May 1st, 1893.

May God’s will, not mine, be done! Amen.

These words were written in Fr Doyle’s private diary. He kept his part of the bargain – the remaining 24 years of his life were literally a slow martyrdom of “earnest hard work and constant self-denial”. Mary kept her part of the bargain, and won for him the grace of “martyrdom” on August 16, 1917: 100 years ago today. Of course, Fr Doyle is not a martyr in the formal, classical sense of the term – he was not killed out of hatred for the Faith. The concept of being a “martyr of charity” – one who dies while serving others or administering the sacraments – can be traced back to heroic Christians who died after nursing plague victims in the 3rd century. Some background on the concept of a “martyr of charity” can be found here: http://newsaints.faithweb.com/new_martyrs/martyrs_charity.htm 

Interestingly, since July if this year, there is a specific pathway towards canonisation for martyrs of charity. More on this in a later post today.

This is O’Rahilly’s brief account of Fr Doyle’s death:

Fr. Doyle had been engaged from early morning in the front line, cheering and consoling his men, and attending to the many wounded. Soon after 3 p.m. he made his way back to the Regimental Aid Post which was in charge of a Corporal Raitt, the doctor having gone back to the rear some hours before. Whilst here word came in that an officer of the Dublins had been badly hit, and was lying out in an exposed position. Fr. Doyle at once decided to go out to him, and left the Aid Post with his runner, Private Mclnespie, and a Lieutenant Grant. Some twenty minutes later, at about a quarter to four, Mclnespie staggered into the Aid Post and fell down in a state of collapse from shell shock. Corporal Raitt went to his assistance and after considerable difficulty managed to revive him. His first words on coming back to consciousness were: “Fr. Doyle has been killed!” Then bit by bit the whole story was told. Fr. Doyle had found the wounded officer lying far out in a shell crater. He crawled out to him, absolved and anointed him, and then, half dragging, half carrying the dying man, managed to get him within the line. Three officers came up at this moment, and Mclnespie was sent for some water. This he got and was handing it to Fr. Doyle when a shell burst in the midst of the group, killing Fr. Doyle and the three officers instantaneously, and hurling Mclnespie violently to the ground. Later in the day some of the Dublins when retiring came across the bodies of all four. Recognising Fr. Doyle, they placed him and a Private Meehan, whom they were carrying back dead, behind a portion of the Frezenberg Redoubt and covered the bodies with sods and stones.

The book The Cross on the Sword: Catholic Chaplains in the Armed Forces claims that another military chaplain by the name of Fr Fitzmaurice heard Fr Doyle’s confession 15 minutes before his death. If this is true, then Fr Doyle himself had the great grace of confession just moments before death – this is a great gift to one who lost his own life while bringing this sacrament to others.

Those who wish to know more about Fr Doyle’s service as a military chaplain, and who wish to know the identity of the officers that Fr Doyle ran to help when he was killed, should purchase a copy of Carole Hope’s Worshipper and Worshipped. Other books focus on different aspects of Fr Doyle’s life, and all include extensive treatment of the war (including KV Turley’s CTS booklet and my own To Raise the Fallen which includes about 60 pages of war letters); but it is Worshipper and Worshipped that is the definitive scholarly guide to the specific military aspect of Fr Doyle’s life.

Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was not properly buried and preserved. There are various suggestions that he was hastily buried under rocks, and that soldiers who found his body removed some of his uniform buttons and his Pioneer pin and gave them to Fr Frank Browne for safe keeping. There are other suggestions that the location of Fr Doyle’s body was noted, and when men returned to bury him, that it was no longer to be found, presumably having been hit by another shell. Ultimately, we don’t know where his body is so we have no physical remains or monuments to him. In this regard, one of the later editions of O’Rahilly’s biography quotes the words of St Ignatius of Antioch which are very fitting:

Entice the wild beasts to become my tomb and leave no trace of my body so that in falling asleep I may be a burden to no one. Then shall I be really a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world will not even see my body.

St Patrick wrote in a similar vein: 

I beg of God whom I love to grant me that I may shed my blood with those strangers and captives for His name’s sake, even though I be without burial itself, or my corpse be most miserably divided, limb by limb, amongst dogs and fierce beasts, or the birds of the air devour it. I think it most certain that if this happens to me, I shall have gained my soul with my body.

And so it was with Fr Doyle.

How does one sum up someone who lived such a varied and remarkable life as Fr Doyle on this, his anniversary? Perhaps only the words of Christ Himself would do him justice:

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Thank you Fr Willie for this love that you showed to the wounded soldiers in the Great War and for the example of your struggle to grow in virtue throughout your life.

A song featuring Fr Doyle

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 9: The gift of peace

Today, the anniversary of Fr Doyle’s heroic death, we shall consider the role of serenity and peace in Fr Doyle’s life.

One of the remarkable things about Fr Doyle was his profound interior peace, even in the midst of objectively horrific circumstances. This is something that we can also identify in the lives of canonised saints – they all had a rare serenity, even when facing death. St Thomas More joked with his executioner, while St Lawrence the Deacon joked with those who were burning him to death that they should turn him over on the griddle, because he was already well cooked on one side already! And it wasn’t just martyrs who remained peaceful – saints like Gerard Majella and Vincent de Paul remained calm when falsely accused of crimes, while others like Teresa of Avila and Maravillas remained peaceful in the face of grave financial worries related to their foundations.

Many people noticed a special peace that emanated from Fr Doyle. His brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ noted:

Willie and I were dining at Melrose one evening. I arrived first, and I was looking out of the drawing room, when I saw Willie coming up the drive. I can still see his face as he came towards the house. It had an expression of sweetness, brightness, and holiness that was quite astonishing. During the last time that he was at home on leave from the Front, he came down to Limerick where I was stationed. We went out for a walk together. Coming home, we met a number of people walking… As each couple or party came near us, I noticed all eyes became fixed on Willie with a curiously interested and reverential expression. I stole a glance at him. His eyes were cast down, and upon his face was the same unearthly look of sweetness and radiance I had seen on it that evening years before at Melrose.

The soldiers felt a certain “something” about Fr Doyle as well, and some of this peace seemed to communicate itself to them. An Irish soldier recounts the following incident:

You need not worry any longer about my soul. I came across a Jesuit, a Fr Willie Doyle, out here, and he settled up my accounts with the Lord. Fr Doyle is a splendid fellow. He is so brave and cheery. He has a wonderful influence over others and can do what he likes with the men. I was out the other evening with a brother officer, and met him. After a few words I said: ‘This is a pal of mine, Padre; he is a Protestant, but I think he would like your blessing.’ Fr Doyle looked at my chum for a moment with a smile and then made the sign of the cross on his forehead. When he had passed on, my pal said: ‘That is a holy man. Did you see the way he looked at me? It went right through me. And when he crossed my forehead I felt such an extraordinary sensation.’  

What did Fr Doyle himself have to say about his peace of soul, and its true source? We learn a lot from his letters home:

In some ways I have found life out here much easier than I expected and in other respects a good deal more trying. Still if I get only a little bit of holiness out of it all, will it not be well worth it all? Jesus knows I have only one wish in this world — to love Him and Him alone — for the rest He has carte blanche to do as He pleases in my regard. I just leave myself in His loving Hands and so have no anxiety or care, but great peace of soul.

And elsewhere

God’s will is everything to me now. . . . True, nature rebels at times, for He has filled me with such a longing to labour for Him, to live and suffer for His dear sake, that the thought of death is very bitter. I can only call it a living martyrdom. But I conquer the feeling by saying this little prayer: ‘Take, O Lord, and receive my liberty, my health and strength, my limbs, my flesh, my blood, my very life. Do with me just as You wish; I embrace all lovingly — suffering, wounds, death — if only it will glorify You one tiny bit.’ That always brings back peace, even when a bullet grazing my head drives home the reality of the offering.

Fr Doyle also felt this peace even as a young man preparing for the priesthood. He wrote the following in a letter to his mother:

Since then I have gone on from day to day and year to year, with the same cheerful spirits, making the best of difficulties and always trying to look at the bright side of things. True, from time to time, there have been trials and hard things to face — even a Jesuit’s life is not all roses — but through it all I can honestly say, I have never lost that deep interior peace and contentment which sweetens the bitter things and makes rough paths smooth.

We will conclude today with some of Fr Doyle’s advice for finding holiness and inner peace:

If you train yourself to see God’s hand in all things and rather to be glad when everything goes wrong, you will enjoy great interior peace. Here is a most important spiritual maxim for you: A soul which is not at peace and happy will never be really holy.

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 8: Joy

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. I have also tried to show this in Chapter 3 of To Raise the Fallen with a selection of spiritual quotes that help to round out Fr Doyle’s character.

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.

Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary is in 2 days – what will YOU do???

Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary is in two days time – August 16. It is an excellent time to tell people about his life and his message. I always find that people – even if they have little or no faith or interest in religion – are amazed at his life and his heroism when they first encounter him. Introducing people to the example of Fr Doyle is a useful act of apostolate. 

Perhaps it would be good to take the opportunity of his anniversary to tell people about Fr Doyle? Perhaps his example has enriched your life in some way? There’s no better way to thank him than by telling others about him. 

You could refer people to this site – talk to them, email them, or put a note about it on Facebook or twitter or some other social network. 

Have you told your local priest about Fr Doyle? Or if you are in a prayer group, have you told them?

Have you read any of the books about Fr Doyle? The classic and original O’Rahilly biography, or Carole Hope’s Worshiper and Worshipped, or the Catholic Truth Society booklet by K.V. Turley? This CTS booklet has the great advantage of being relatively cheap to buy – you can buy a bundle and distribute them! Or perhaps my own recent effort To Raise the Fallen? The more people who buy it now, the greater visibility it will have in shops. Links to all of these are available in the right hand column (if you read this on a smart phone the column may not be there, but will be if you read it on a computer).  

Perhaps you might want to send somebody this newsletter on Fr Doyle from St Joseph’s Abbey in Flavigny in France? Flavigny newsletter May 2013

Or maybe you might want to send somebody this short video

Or this one:

I know one priest who reads this site who has preached about Fr Doyle for the last two weekends. Here is a wonderful blog post from one reader of this site on her own blog: https://illuminadomine.com/2017/08/13/holiness-begets-holiness/

Almost all of us can find something to do to make Fr Doyle more well known over these next two days!

Preparing for Fr Doyle’s 100th anniversary – Day 7: The virtue of temperance

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following to say about the virtue of temperance.

1809 Temperanceis the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honourable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.” Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.” In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”

To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).

Temperance was certainly one of Fr Doyle’s characteristic virtues. He had a very hearty appetite, but he restrained it, both as a penance and as a form of self-mastery. Circumstances in the war also meant that, like many of the soldiers, he sometimes had to go without food. But on other occasions he also gave his food away to the troops.

Fr Doyle was also a friend and supporter of Fr James Cullen SJ, the founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. This movement, which is still going strong, was established to help combat excessive alcohol consumption, a real social problem in Ireland, both then and now. Fr Doyle was on the governing council of the Pioneers, and Fr Cullen was even thinking of him as a potential successor as leader of the Pioneers. Fr Doyle was wearing his pioneer pin when he was killed and he is known to have urged men to “take the pledge” to become Pioneers in order to combat the spread of alcoholism in Ireland. 

Fr Doyle was certainly temperate in his use of the bed (he would sometimes sleep on the floor, and even that for only a short amount of time), and temperate in his use of heat, often refusing to a fire in his room. But it is in the matter of food, and the control of his appetite, that he really showed his capacity for the virtue of temperance. We will conclude today with Alfred O’Rahilly’s description of Fr Doyle’s temperance with respect to food. As always, Fr Doyle’s ascetism is, for most of us, more to be admired than imitated…

Moreover, between sugarless tea, butterless bread and saltless meat, he converted his meals into a continuous series of mortifications. Naturally he had, in fact, a very hearty appetite and a keen appreciation of sweets and delicacies; all of which he converted into an arena for self-denial…

We find him pencilling this resolution on the first page of the little private notebook he kept with him at the Front: “No blackberries. Give away all chocolates. Give away box of biscuits. No jam, breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

…Just after giving a retreat in a Carmelite convent, he records: “I felt urged in honour of St. Teresa to give myself absolutely no comfort at meals which I could possibly avoid. I found no difficulty in doing this for the nine days. I have begged very earnestly for the grace to continue this all my life and am determined to try to do so. For example, to take no butter, no sugar in coffee, no salt, etc. The wonderful mortified lives of these holy nuns have made me ashamed of my gratification of my appetite.” That he by no means found this mortification easy we have many indications. Thus on 5th Jan., 1912, he writes: “During Exposition Jesus asked me if I would give up taking second course at dinner. This would be a very great sacrifice; but I promised Him at least to try to do so and begged for grace and generosity.”

“A fierce temptation during Mass and thanksgiving,” he records a year later (18th Sept., 1913), “to break my resolution and indulge my appetite at breakfast. The thought of a breakfast of dry bread and tea without sugar in future seemed intolerable. Jesus urged me to pray for strength though I could scarcely bring myself to do so. But the temptation left me in the refectory, and joy filled my heart with the victory. I see now that I need never yield if only I pray for strength.”

On the subject of butter there are many resolutions in the diary. Materially the subject may seem trivial, but psychologically it represents a great struggle and victory…It is in such little acts that man rises above the beast and fosters his human heritage of a rational will. So Fr. Doyle’s butter-resolutions are not at all so unimportant or whimsical as they who have ever thoughtlessly eaten and drunk may be inclined to fancy. “God has been urging me strongly all during this retreat,” he writes in September 1913, “to give up butter entirely. I have done so at many meals without any serious inconvenience; but I am partly held back through human respect, fearing others may notice it. If they do, what harm? I have noticed that X takes none for lunch; that has helped me. Would not I help others if I did the same?” “One thing,” he continues, “I feel Jesus asks, which I have not the courage to give Him: the promise to give up butter entirely.” On 29th July, 1914, we find this resolution: “For the present I will take butter on two mouthfuls of bread at breakfast but none at other meals.” To this decision he seems to have adhered.

…This relentless concentration of will on matters of food must not lead us to suppose that Fr. Doyle was in any way morbidly absorbed or morosely affected thereby. For one less trained in will or less sure in spiritual perspective there might easily be danger of entanglement in minutiae and over-attention to what is secondary. All this apparatus of mortification is but a means to an end, it should not be made an end in itself…This persistent and systematic thwarting of appetite helped Fr. Doyle to strengthen his will and to fix it on God. He never lost himself in a maze of petty resolutions, he never became anxious or distracted.

14 August 1917: Fr Doyle’s last letter??

Fr Doyle’s last written words

I have told you all my escapes, dearest Father, because I think what I have written will give you the same confidence which I feel, that my old arm chair up in Heaven is not ready yet, and I do not want you to be uneasy about me. I am all the better for these couple of days rest, and am quite on my fighting legs again. Leave will be possible very shortly, I think, so I shall only say au revoir in view of an early meeting. Heaps of love to every dear one. As ever, dearest Father, your loving son, Willie. 14/8/17.

COMMENT: These are probably Fr Doyle’s last written words, written 100 years ago today, just two days before his death. As ever, Fr Doyle was thinking of others, even amongst the mess and strain of the trenches. Could we honestly say that we would have a similar concern for others if we found ourselves in the same situation that Fr Doyle was in?

Today of course, is also the feast of St Maximilian Kolbe, one of the shining examples of holiness and apostolic zeal of the twentieth century. It is interesting that St Maximilian, who was so devoted to Mary, was given the grace of martyrdom on the eve of the feast of the Assumption, while Fr Doyle, who always reported receiving special graces from Mary on this particular feast, received his long desired wish for “martyrdom” immediately after this feast. Their “martyrdoms” are also quite similar. St Maximilian volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who was to be killed in the concentration camp as an act of revenge by the Nazis for the escape of a prisoner. Fr Doyle was blown up while trying to rescue some wounded soldiers. Both St Maximilian and Fr Doyle laid down their lives to save others. This is significant in terms of the changes to the laws on canonisations. I will write more about this in coming days.

Like Fr Doyle in the trenches of World War 1, and St Teresa Benedicta at Auschwitz (who we discussed a few days ago), St Maximilian’s body was entirely destroyed by the Nazis, although there are still some first class relics of St Maximilian due to a barber who cleverly kept some of his hair when it was being cut. 

We shall return to this issue of the destruction of the body of martyrs with some reflections from St Ignatius of Antioch and St Patrick on Wednesday when we remember Fr Doyle’s anniversary. In the meantime, those who want to read more about St Maximilian’s spirituality could fruitfully read some reflections from Fr John Hardon SJ here:

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Saints/Saints_002.htm

St Maximilian Kolbe in the concentration camp starvation bunker