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

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Fr Doyle offered his life to rescue wounded soldiers 100 years ago today.

  1. Thanks, Pat, for all you have done and are doing to make Father Willie much better known. He surely is a martyr of charity. You have mentioned a number of times on this blog how Fr Doyle influenced St Josemaría Escrivá. He in turn was an influence on an officially honoured martyr born the day before Father Willie died, Blessed Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, murdered while celebrating Mass on 24 March 1980.

    Father Willie’s life also paralled in many ways the life of his younger contemporary Jesuit martyr, Blessed Miguel Pro, executed in Mexico in 1927 at the age of 36. He too was a practical joker, suffered from an illness of the stomach for years and studied for a while in Belgium. And the words of Pope St John Paul II at Blessed Miguel’s beatification in 1988 could be applied to Father Willie: ‘Neither suffering nor serious illness, nor the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death.’

  2. Dear Pat,

    We have been reading your blog for a number of years after discovering Fr. Doyle’s biography. Since then we have been very inspired by his life and works and have asked for his intercession on many occasions.

    We have had the great joy to make a sort of pilgrimage to Passchendaele on the centenary of his death. Today we visited Tyne Cot cemetery and saw his name on the memorial and heard his name read out on the list of the dead and we also visited Frezenburg ridge where he died. This has been a great grace for our family and be assured that we remembered you in our prayers there as well as the cause of his beatification.

    The whole area is filled with the memory of the fallen and the trials they had to endure. I would recommend all of your readers to visit, if they can, to get a true understanding of the hardships the soldiers had to face and the debt we owe those men. It was truly a great grace that Fr Doyle was given to the soldiers to aid them through with the sacraments, hardships that we cannot possibly comprehend.

    Please keep up the blog and Fr Doyle’s cause.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s