Sr Clare Crockett, Fr Doyle, and religious joy

Sr Clare Crockett

Sr Clare Crockett, a religious of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother, died on this day in 2016. She was only 33. She was a typical religiously disinterested teenager from Derry, Northern Ireland, when she had a completely unexpected and powerful encounter with the Lord on Good Friday in the year 2000. She was a talented actress and budding TV presenter with a bright future, and the party lifestyle to go along with it, but she could not resists the call to give it all up to follow Jesus as a consecrated religious. Overcoming significant temptations and strong family opposition, she left to enter religious life in Spain in 2001. She was unexpectedly killed in an earthquake in Ecuador this day in 2016.

On the surface Sr Clare seems very different to Fr Doyle. Fr Doyle had a relatively conventionally pious upbringing. His was the 4th religious vocation in his family. He certainly had no party lifestyle to leave behind; given his later involvement with the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and his regular homilies on the danger of alcohol, it seems likely to me that he never touched a drop of alcohol in his entire life. Fr Doyle was musical by nature but seems to have suppressed this interest to some degree whereas Sr Clare used her music and acting skills in her work with young children. While Fr Doyle faced the ongoing slog of conversion we all must undergo, there was no dramatic moment that changed his life like Sr Clare experienced on that Good Friday.

Yet for all the differences there are some striking similarities between Sr Clare and Fr Doyle at the level of temperament. They were both headstrong, determined, and generous, and the Lord blessed that generosity as they strove to overcome their defects and grow in humility, docility and trust. Their respective private diaries, published in part after their deaths, show that this process of growth and purification was an ongoing one that required constant effort. But, aided by grace, their growth continued. This should be an encouragement to us all. 

There is a strange incident in Fr Doyle’s early life. He was renowned as a practical joker throughout his life, and these jokes were especially elaborate in his early years as a Jesuit.

Fr Doyle’s brother, Fr Charles Doyle, describes one such prank in his book Merry in God:

Among the novices was a secular priest with whom Willie was very good friends, but who was the object of many of his innocent pranks. One day during the summer vacation the novices were gathered outside the door of the novitiate, chatting and laughing, preparatory to moving off for a bathe. Willie, in hat and gown, appeared at an upper window. After exchanging some bantering remarks with his friend, he withdrew. Suddenly there was a loud scream, and a figure in hat and gown came hurtling through the air from the window where we had been a moment before. His friend had just time and presence of mind to give conditional absolution before the body crashed to the ground. He rushed over, expecting to find Willie dead or badly injured, when Willie himself appeared at the window above, grinning and chuckling. It was a long time before his friend heard the end of his absolution of the dressed up bolster.

Not everyone approved of jokes like this. Even though Fr Doyle was very young at the time, and probably still a teenager, some have (wrongly) suggested that this showed a lack of virtue. 

In the new biography of Sr Clare entitled Alone with Christ Alone, written by Sr Kristen Gardner, we find the following remarkably similar prank perpetrated by Sr Clare on Sr Kristen while she was about the same age Fr Doyle had been:

Clare told Bernadette, “I’ve got a plan. Go and ask Kristen if I can use her computer. She’s going to ask what I need it for. You tell her that you don’t know and that she can come ask me. I’ll be waiting here with the ladder.” Bernadette agreed and went running to the Casita to tell me Clare wanted to use my computer. The fact that I reacted exactly as Clare had expected goes to show not only how well she knew me personally, but how perspicacious she was as she got to know people. “What does Clare need it for?” I asked. And, just as Clare had planned, Bernadette went on to say she did not know and invited me to go ask Clare myself. As I came up close to the corner where she was working, all of a sudden, I saw a ladder fall and Clare with it. I was scared to death! “Clare! Are you alright?!” And then she burst out in laughter. She had thrown the ladder to the ground and acted as if she had fallen! That had been her plan from the beginning.

Interestingly, both Sr Clare and Fr Doyle also shared a talent for impersonating those they lived with, and used this skill to bring joy and laughter to their respective religious families. But despite the fact that they were fun to be with, and that their magnetic personalities drew – and after death continue to draw – people to them, they both strove to love and follow Christ with an undivided heart. 

From the diary of Sr Clare:

Let me never be separated from You. May no creature ever possess part of my heart. Grant me an undivided heart. Let nothing enter between Your heart and mine, never. Help me to always choose the crown of thorns. Let me always be with You and may this not be simply pretty words or pious and fleeting sentiments but may I truly be converted and always fix my gaze on You.

And from Fr Doyle:

How many wish to belong entirely to Jesus without reserve or restriction? Most want to serve two masters, to be under two standards. A union of wordliness and devotion; a perpetual succession of sins and repentance; something given to grace, more to nature; fervour and tepidity by turns. Such is the state of many religious. Obligations are whittled down; rules are interpreted laxly; all kinds of excuses are invented for self-indulgence, health, greater glory of God in the end, etc. No service is so hard as the half-and-half; what is given to God costs more; His yoke is heavy; the cross is dragged, not cheerfully carried; the thought of what is refused to grace causes remorse and sadness; there is no pleasure from the world and little from the service of Christ.

And elsewhere: 

Don’t be one of those who give God everything but one little corner of their heart on which they put up a notice board with the inscription: “Trespassers not allowed.”

Sr Clare’s life indicates evidence of significant growth in the life of virtue and her diaries reveal an intense spiritual life of generosity and a life of hidden reparation. There is significant speculation that her Cause for beatification will soon be introduced. We pray that it will, and that it will succeed. And we pray also that we may see the same for Fr Doyle.

 

 

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