Fr Doyle entered on his career as Jesuit on this day 130 years ago. The following is as letter he wrote from Stonyhurst to his parents on the 31 March 1901, reflecting on the 10th anniversary of his entrance to the Society of Jesus.
10 years ago today I went to Tullabeg and entered on my career as a novice in the Society. Looking back on it all now, it seems hard to realise that 10 long years have gone by since that eventful day on which I took a step which has meant so much for me, and which, thank God, during all this time I have never for a moment regretted. Our Lord was very good to me at that time, smoothing away many difficulties and making that day, which, to human nature at least, was full of sorrow, one of the happiest of all my life.
I remember well my arrival at Tullabeg and the way I astonished the Father Socius (as he told me afterwards) by running up to the hall door three steps at a time. He was not accustomed, he said, to see novices coming in such a merry mood, evidently enjoying the whole thing; and, though I did not know it then, it was the best of signs of a real vocation.
Since then I’ve 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 it 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.
I think this would be a consolation to you, dearest father and mother, for I’ve often pictured you to myself as wondering if I were really happy and content. I could not be more so, and were I to look upon religious life from the soul aspect of what makes for the greatest happiness, I would not exchange it for all the pleasures the world could offer. Thank God for all his goodness, and after him, many grateful thanks to you both, dearest father and mother, for that good example and loving care to which we all owe so much
The update is very positive – William is now in full health, and is at home with his family. All of his tests are good and he has no symptoms of any illness and needs no further intervention. His family wishes to thank everyone for their prayers and support.
However, there is an interesting twist to the story.
24 hours after birth William became unwell. He was not feeding, and was vomiting up the milk that was given to him. He had not had a bowel movement, and an X-ray showed some type of blockage. He was moved to the high dependency during his second night. The maternity hospital decided it was best to move him to the specialist children’s hospital for further tests and possibly for an operation. There was also some speculation about the possibility of an infection, and even sepsis, developing.
Given all of these circumstances, and in particular the risk of an adverse event occurring quickly, the family decided that it was appropriate to have recourse to an emergency baptism. This was performed by his mother while he lay in his incubator in the high dependency unit of the maternity hospital. Immediately upon completion of the baptism the bowel blockage was resolved – he had his first bowel movement, 55 hours after his birth. From then on he improved by the hour with all other symptoms of illness resolving themselves quickly, and all further tests were very satisfactory.
Was it coincidence that this health crisis was resolved spontaneously, and with no ongoing symptoms, at the moment of baptism? Or was there a special grace that accompanied the sacrament?
It is also interesting that the moment of baptism was the moment in which this baby was formally given the name William, and placed under the protection of Fr Doyle, after whom he was named.
I have recently been made aware of an excellent recent homily featuring Fr Doyle that was delivered in Baltimore Basilica by the Rector, Fr James Boric. The event was All Saint’s Day 2020. Once again we see evidence of how Fr Doyle’s life and spirit attract many people around the world.
Bishop Pádraig O’Donoghue was born in County Cork in 1934 and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Westminster in 1967. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Westminster in 1993 and was appointed Bishop of Lancaster in 2001, serving in that role until his retirement in 2009. Following retirement he continued his ministry as a priest in Cork, and died at the age of 86 last Sunday.
We learned at his funeral Mass of his recent admiration for Fr Doyle. He had read To Raise the Fallen and apparently “waxed lyrical” about it, being particularly inspired by Fr Doyle’s remarkable spirit of self-sacrifice and generosity. Bishop O’Donoghue was just one of many people over the last century who have come to know, and hence to love, Fr Doyle’s spirit and example.
As we pray for Bishop O’Donoghue at his passing into eternal life, we also trust that he will join in the prayers of so many us who desire to see Fr Doyle’s Cause formally opened and to see him eventually canonised as a saint.
The relevant section of the homily dealing with Bishop O’Donoghue’s admiration for Fr Doyle starts at 55 minutes and 37 seconds into the video, and also includes Fr Doyle’s prayer for priests.
On this day in 1917, Major General Hickie paid another tribute to Fr Doyle. Writing to his father, Hugh Doyle, General Hickie said:
I could not say too much about your son. He was loved and reverenced by us all; his gallantry, self-sacrifice, and devotion to duty were all so well known and recognised. I think that he was the most wonderful character that I have ever known.
Christmas is only one month away. If you haven’t yet bought Christmas presents, why not consider giving someone a gift relating to Fr Doyle? Books (and even DVDs) are always great gifts, but even more so if the subject matter is inspiring and spiritually uplifting. Giving a gift related to Fr Doyle is a practical act of evangelisation and a way of spreading devotion to him.
There has been a big increase in the number of items relating to Fr Doyle in the last few years (a clear sign that something is “stirring” in terms of interest in Fr Doyle, and that devotion is growing). Any one of these would be a great gift to someone. Each has its own contribution to make.
Firstly, we’ll start with the DVD of the EWTN docudrama Bravery Under Fire. It is a detailed, 80 minute long exploration of Fr Doyle’s life, featuring detailed re-enactments of aspects of Fr Doyle’s life, as well as interviews about him. You can find the DVD in the EWTN religious cataloguehere:
If you are in Britain or Ireland, you can find the relevant version of the DVD here: http://www.ewtnireland.com/bravery-under-fire/ – Remember: DVD formats are different in different regions, so make sure you order the right one!
If, for some reason, somebody would like the DVD of my hour long interview with Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ on EWTN Live, you can find it at this link, searching for the relevant date (October 24 2018).
However it is worth noting that the full programme is on YouTube, though some people might prefer a DVD, especially if giving it as a gift to an older person who is not online, and who also has an interest in Fr Doyle.
In terms of books, there is my own modest contribution – To Raise the Fallen. This is 200 page book is a broad overview of Fr Doyle’s life – both military and spiritual – mostly in his own words, with some commentary from me. It would be a great gift for someone who knows a little about Fr Doyle and wants to know more, or even for anyone with a passing interest in history or World War 1. Fr Doyle’s letters are sure to grip people, and they might even gain from his fascinating spiritual notes. It is a useful tool of apostolate – it is a credible gift to give someone who is indifferent to – or alienated from – the Church. It also contains several prayers and meditations from Fr Doyle that have never been published before. For readers in the United States it is available here from Ignatius Press: https://www.ignatius.com/To-Raise-the-Fallen-P3056.aspx
Worshipper and Worshipped has the distinction of being the largest (700+ pages) and most detailed book about Fr Doyle, and the first book published about him in approximately 75 years. It is the definitive account of Fr Doyle’s war service. It would be a great gift for any World War 1 buffs and for those who already know Fr Doyle but who want probably the most complete assessment of his war years possible. It is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Worshipper-Worshipped-Across-Chaplain-1915-1917/dp/1908336862
Man of the People is the first children’s book about Fr Doyle that I am aware of. One of there greatest gifts we can give children is a love of books, and especially when they are inspiring and uplifting from a human and spiritual perspective. This 35 page book is available here: http://www.alanhannas.com/shopexd.asp?id=7115014
And let’s not forget the classics! The original book from the 1920’s that started it all, the biography by O’Rahilly is a spiritual masterpiece. It may not be as spiritually or theologically accessible to everyone 100 years later, but it remains the definitive overall biography of all of Fr Doyle’s life. The very detailed spiritual notes mean that it will be of most interest to those who appreciate Fr Doyle because of his spiritual brilliance, though the final two chapters about the war will be of interest to anyone of good will. The second edition is available as a reprint here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/professor-alfred-orahilly/father-william-doyle-sj/paperback/product-15463211.html It is also available in kindle versions.
Merry in God, published in 1939, is perhaps the most intimate book about Fr Doyle. That’s because it was written (anonymously) by his brother, Fr Charles Doyle SJ. Currently out of print, it was (largely) republished (with some minor editing) as a magazine called Trench Priest. The content is, of course brilliant, although the production values are not exceptional. The significant upside of this is that the book is tremendous value. Once again a brilliant present for those with an interest in Fr Doyle’s life as a whole. Available here: http://www.papastronsay.com/bookshop/product.php?ID=21
If you appreciate and admire Fr Doyle, do not keep him to yourself; spread devotion to him – get a book or a DVD as a gift for others this Christmas.
Today is the feast of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, one of the most famous and popular Catholics of recent times. Saint Teresa was Albanian, but she lived in Dublin for a number of years while she was a Loreto sister. In fact, the house she lived in was in Rathfarnham, very close to the Jesuit house there where Fr Doyle had spent some time. The young St Teresa learned about Fr Doyle from the Jesuits and was obviously very impressed. She even decided to adopt some of Fr Doyle’s spiritual practices.
Here is a description from the book “Come be my Light” written by Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk MC, the postulator for her canonisation cause.
It was this mysterious feature of love that moved Mother Teresa to seal the total offering of herself by means of a vow and thus tangibly express her longing to be fully united with her Beloved…Thus for Mother Teresa the vow was the means of strengthening the bond with the One she loved and so experiencing the true freedom that only love can give.
Mother Teresa would have read about the practice of making private vows in the spiritual literature of her time.
Irish Jesuit Fr William Doyle, made numerous private vows, as he found this practice a help in keeping his resolutions. One such vow, which he made in 1911 and renewed from day to day until he could obtain permission from his confessor to make it permanently, was “I deliberately vow, and bind myself, under pain of mortal sin, to refuse Jesus no sacrifice, which I clearly see He is asking from me”.
Fr Kolodiejchuk then describes how Sister Benigna Consolata Ferrero (an Italian nun) and St Therese of Lisieux both adopted this same spiritual practice. He then concludes:
Reading about this promise of her patron saint (St Therese) as well as the private vows made by Fr Doyle and Sr Benigna Consolata no doubt inspired Mother Teresa and influenced her to do the same.
How remarkable – yet another saint who has been inspired by Fr Doyle’s example! St Teresa is added to the list of those whose holiness has been formally recognised by the Church and who were inspired by Fr Doyle: St Josemaria Escriva, St Alberto Hurtago, St Raphael Arnaiz Barron and Blessed John Sullivan.
The following was written about Fr Doyle by Sir Percival Phillips, the famous war correspondent, and appeared in the Daily Express on this day in 1917.
The Orangemen will not forget a certain Roman Catholic chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. He went forward and back over the battle field with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give them Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a saint — they speak his name with tears.
The Times also included this note on the same day. The chaplain in question was Fr Doyle.
Many tales of individual gallantry are told; two instances especially which should be recorded; one being that of an officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Leinsters, who spent five hours in circumstances of the greatest danger tending the wounded, and behaving in all ways with consummate heroism; and the other that of a Roman Catholic chaplain who went up with the men, sustained and cheered them to the last, till he was killed.
During his time away from the trenches Fr Doyle often stayed in a convent in Locre. If my memory serves me correctly, he had an uninterrupted 13 hour sleep after one particularly trying period at the front, and on one occasion he got locked out and had to sleep on a bench outside.
In any event, these nuns of St Anthony’s Institute obviously held Fr Doyle in very great esteem. They were heartbroken when they heard of his death, and on August 21 1917 they sent the following note to Fr Frank Browne, requesting that Fr Doyle’s body be buried in their convent.
What very sad news I have received! Our good brave holy Fr. Doyle has been killed! Compassionate Lord Jesus give him eternal rest! Rev. Fr Browne will accept my condolence, my feelings of sympathy in the great loss of our good Fr. Doyle, your confrere. Notre petit saint, he has now received his recompense for his holy life, his great love for God and neighbour. Oh! he was so much loved by everybody and we shall never forget him. We are all very glad to have had him with us in the convent and to have made his life as comfortable as possible. Were it not possible Rev. Fr. to bring his holy body to the convent? It were a great honour to us to have it.
Of course, Fr Doyle’s body was never found, and so the “holy body” of the “petit saint” never returned to St Anthony’s Institute.
On this day in 1917, 4 days after Fr Doyle’s death, Fr Frank Browne, the famous photographer and Jesuit military chaplain, wrote the following in a letter expressing his esteem for Fr Doyle. Fr Browne worked closely with Fr Doyle, and these words come from the pen of one who knew Fr Doyle intimately.
All during these last months he was my greatest help, and to his saintly advice, and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything I felt and did. With him, as with others of us, his bravery was no mere physical show-off. He was afraid and felt fear deeply, how deeply few can realise. And yet the last word said of him to me by the Adjutant of the Royal Irish Rifles in answer to my question, ‘I hope you are taking care of Fr. Doyle?’, was, ‘He is as fond of the shells as ever.’ His one idea was to do God’s work with the men, to make them saints. How he worked and how he prayed for this! Fine weather and foul he was always thinking of them and what he could do for them. In the cold winter he would not use the stove I bought for our dug-out. He scoffed at the idea as making it ‘stuffy’ – and that when the thermometer was fifteen to twenty degrees below zero, the coldest ever known in living memory here.
And how he loathed it all, the life and everything it implied! And yet nobody suspected it. God’s Will was his law. And to all who remonstrated, ‘Must I not be about the Lord’s business?’ was his laughing answer in act and deed and not merely in word. May he rest in peace — it seems superfluous to pray for him.