22 December 1916

My genius of an orderly fried meat and pudding together and, with a smile of triumph on his face, brought both on the same plate to the dug-out. He is a good poor chap, but I would not recommend him as a cook.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on 22nd December 1916, 105 years ago today. Fr Doyle loved his orderly (Fr Doyle had the rank of Captain, and thus had an orderly to attend to him), but he had much to suffer at his hands – he seems to have lacked common sense. On one occasion he seems to have made tea from the water in which he washed Fr Doyle’s socks! On another occasion (if I recall correctly…) tea was made from water tainted with petrol. Yet, as usual, Fr Doyle offered it all up and took everything in good spirit. 

The famous Fr Frank Browne SJ was a witness to the challenges posed by Fr Doyle’s orderly. Here is his account of one tale of woe.

I rode over one morning to see Fr Doyle. I found him writing letters, which he interrupted to tell me of Murphy’s latest. Pointing to his trench boots he asked me to smell them. They were awful. Murphy, in order to prepare them for polishing, had in the orthodox way washed them, but in an unorthodox manner he had chosen a cesspool! The result was almost too much from Fr Willie. When I told him to sack Murphy on the spot, saying that it was getting a bit too much of a good joke, he laughed and said: ‘Well he’s a decent poor fellow and he means well; and – well, I can perhaps gain something too.’ I must say his patience and restraint made a great impression on me.

Fr Doyle’s kindly patience in dealing with the incompetence of his orderly, and the huge inconveniences they caused him in the midst of so many other stresses and dangers, is surely a sign of great virtue.

Fr Doyle also “used” the incompetence of his orderly as a way of overcoming his own self-will. Copying the example of the Spaniard Luisa de Caravajal, a 16th century noblewoman who was close to the Jesuits and did much for the English martyrs of the Elizabethan persecution, he determined to allow himself to be “trampled on” by his orderly. Writing in his private diary in October 1916, he says:

Lately the desire to be trampled on and become the slave of everybody has grown very strong. I have resolved to make myself secretly the slave of my servant, and, as far as I can, to submit to his will e.g. to wait till he comes to serve my Mass and not to send for him, never to complain of anything he does, to take my meals in the way he chooses to cook them and at the hours he suggests, to let him arrange things in the way he sees fit, in a word humbly to let him trample on me as I deserve.

Fr Doyle was a master of the interior struggle for virtue. His predominant weakness (in my opinion) was his strong willed temperament. This temperament is obviously not entirely bad news the way a temperament oriented towards sloth or sensuality is – we need a strong will if we are ever to achieve anything in life. But Fr Doyle knew that he could easily tip over into a hot temper if he wasn’t careful. Even near the end of his life, we see him remain vigilant – very successfully – to master this defect. 

All of this is also a further sign of Fr Doyle’s sound psychological health and that his penances were appropriate for him – a neurotic and unbalanced personality who performed penance out of an unhealthy obsession seems unlikely to be able to maintain patience and serenity in the face of the provocations and failures of his orderly. On the contrary, Fr Doyle was universally known for this sweetness and calm, even when tired, under stress and when facing grave dangers.

Leave a Reply