I was alone in the drawing-room when Father came in and asked me if I had yet made up my mind as to my future career. I answered ‘Yes” – that I intended to become a Jesuit. I remember how I played my joy and happiness into the piano after thus giving myself openly to Jesus.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words about Christmas Day 1890, on which he told his father that he would become a Jesuit. He was 17. This decision followed several months of discernment. He originally intended to become a diocesan priest and was rather scornful of the idea of entering a religious congregation. However, the influence of his brother, and a book on the religious life by St Alphonsus Liguori, were central to him changing his mind.
Two things jump out here. Firstly that played his “joy and happiness into the piano” – how many of us have a similar joy about our Faith and about our own vocation, whatever it may be? If we lack this joy, how do we recover it? It’s also worth noting that Fr Doyle seems never to have lost this joy, even in tough times.
Secondly is Fr Doyle’s love of music. He played the piano, and we also know that he played the organ in the church in Dalkey. He also directed the first musical in Clongowes Wood College for some considerable time, and it appears that he took on this task in the face of some scepticism. Interestingly, we hear little of music in Fr Doyle’s later life as a priest, despite his obvious interest in it. Was it that he saw no particular need for it in the apostolic tasks assigned to him? If so, his abandonment of music was just one in a long list of sacrifices he made in the fuilfillment of the duties assigned to him.
O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle is a remarkable source of information about Fr Doyle’s life and spirituality. However, there is another book about Fr Doyle entitled Merry in God. This is sometimes credited to O’Rahilly as well. However, it was published anonymously, and was in fact written by Fr Charles Doyle SJ, Fr Willie’s older brother.
Below is a link to a scan of a section in the book dealing with a typical Christmas in the Doyle family home, Melrose. It gives a charming insight into the habits and customs of Fr Doyle’s family in the late 1800’s. It conjures up images of innocence and of a tranquil time that many today sadly do not know. But there is also an astounding fact that one could easily miss…The Doyle family gave gifts and money to the poor of the neighbourhood at Christmas time. Willie and his brother Charlie used to shine the coins so that they would look like new. Just think about this for a moment. Let the kindness and attention to detail sink in…
What a hidden, but remarkable, act of kindness! The money was still worth the same amount. Yet the intention behind this small, hidden act, was to give greater dignity to the poor, to show them greater respect.
Enjoy! Happy Christmas to all readers of this site!
My loving Jesus, on this the morning of my Ordination to the priesthood, I wish to place in Your Sacred Heart, in gratitude for all that You have done for me, the resolution from this day forward to go straight to holiness. My earnest wish and firm resolve is to strive with might and main to become a saint.
COMMENT: These words were written 112 years ago today, on July 28, 1907, on the morning of Fr Doyle’s ordination to the priesthood in Miltown Park, County Dublin.
Fr Doyle loved being a priest. He gives us some hint of his esteem for the priesthood in letters that he wrote to his sister.
This one was sent to his sister a few weeks before the event:
As you may imagine, all my thoughts at present are centred on the Great Day, July 28th. The various events of the year have helped keep it before my mind, learning to say Mass, the Divine Office etc; but now that such a short time remains, I find it hard to realise that I shall be a priest so very soon. Were it not for all the good prayers, especially yours, sister mine, which are being offered up daily for me, I should almost feel in despair, because these long years of waiting (nearly 17 now) have only brought home to me how unworthy I am of such an honour and such a dignity.
On the day of his ordination he wrote the following lines to this same sister:
I know that you will be glad to receive a few lines from the hands which a few hours ago have been consecrated with the holy oil. Thank God a thousand thousand times, I can say at long last, I am a priest, even though I be so unworthy of all that holy name implies. How can I tell you all that my heart feels at this moment? It is full to overflowing with joy and peace and gratitude to the good God for all that He has done for me, and with heartfelt thankfulness to the dear old Missionary for all her prayers. . . . I say my first Mass to-morrow at nine at Hampton for the dear Parents, the second (also at nine) at Terenure will be for you. . . . Thank you for all you have done for me; but above all thank the dear Sacred Heart for this crowning grace imparted to your little brother who loves you so dearly.
And on 28th July 1914, the 7th anniversary of his ordination, he wrote:
At Exposition Jesus spoke clearly in my soul, ‘Do the hard thing for my sake BECAUSE it is hard’. I also felt urged to perform all my priestly duties with great fervour to obtain grace for other priests to do the same, e.g. the Office, that priests may say theirs well.
Fr Doyle’s last ever entry in his diary was made on the 10th anniversary of his ordination (and 3 weeks prior to his death) on 28 July 1917:
I have again offered myself to Jesus as His Victim to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy as part of my immolation, in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all little pains in this spirit. A strong urging to this.
For Fr Doyle, his vocation was inseparable from his call to do penance for the sins of priests. How increasingly relevant Fr Doyle’s example is for us now in Ireland…
Here is a prayer for priests composed by Fr Doyle:
O my God, pour out in abundance Thy spirit of sacrifice upon Thy priests. It is both their glory and their duty to become victims, to be burnt up for souls, to live without ordinary joys, to be often the objects of distrust, injustice, and persecution.
The words they say every day at the altar, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” grant them to apply to themselves: “I am no longer myself, I am Jesus, Jesus crucified. I am, like the bread and wine, a substance no longer itself, but by consecration another.”
O my God, I burn with desire for the sanctification of Thy priests. I wish all the priestly hands which touch Thee were hands whose touch is gentle and pleasing to Thee, that all the mouths uttering such sublime words at the altar should never descend to speaking trivialities.
Let priests in all their person stay at the level of their lofty functions, let every man find them simple and great, like the Holy Eucharist, accessible to all yet above the rest of men. O my God, grant them to carry with them from the Mass of today, a thirst for the Mass of tomorrow, and grant them, ladened themselves with gifts, to share these abundantly with their fellow men. Amen.
Fr Doyle was not the only remarkable Irish Jesuit ordained on July 28, 1907. His friend, Blessed John Sullivan was also ordained at the same time.
In this excerpt from a long letter written 102 years ago today to his father, Fr Doyle writes about his publications on vocations.
You will be glad to know, as I was, that the ninth edition (ninety thousand copies) of my little book, Vocations, is rapidly being exhausted. After my ordination, when I began to be consulted on this important subject, I was struck by the fact that there was nothing one could put into the hands of boys and girls to help them to a decision, except ponderous volumes, which they would scarcely read … I realised the want for some time; but one evening as I walked back to the train after dining with you, the thought of the absolute necessity for such a book seized me so strongly, that there and then I made up my mind to persuade someone to write it, for I never dreamt of even attempting the task myself.
I soon found out that the shortest way to get a thing done is to do it yourself … I remember well when the manuscript had passed the censors to my great surprise, the venerable manager of the Messenger Office began shaking his head over the prospect of its selling, for as he said with truth, ‘It is a subject which appeals to a limited few’. He decided to print five thousand, and hinted I might buy them all myself !
Then when the pamphlet began to sell and orders to come in fast, I began to entertain the wild hope that by the time I reached the stage of two crutches and a long white beard, I might possibly see the one hundred thousand mark reached. We are nearly at that now without any pushing or advertising, and I hope the crutches and flowing beard are still a long way off. God is good, is he not? As the second edition came out only in the beginning of 1914 the sale has been extraordinarily rapid.
It is consoling from time to time to receive letters from convents or religious houses, saying that some novice had come to them chiefly through reading Vocations; for undoubtedly there are many splendid soldiers lost to Christ’s army for the want of a little help and encouragement.
The President of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference, in an address made on this day in 1923, had the following praise for Fr Doyle:
I have been profoundly stirred in recent months by the experience of a young Roman Catholic saint, a member of the Society of Jesus, a tremendous lover of Jesus, a tremendous soul-winner, a great human and a great humorist.
He had presumably been reading an early edition of the O’Rahilly biography and was deeply impressed at Fr Doyle’s example. Of course, in referring to Fr Doyle was a saint he was using the term in a popular and unofficial manner.
This quote, from a non-Catholic clergyman, is just one of innumerable examples of how Fr Doyle’s admirable holiness and humanity have inspired people from all sorts of backgrounds and philosophies. Fr Doyle was all things to all men – almost everyone can find something appealing and attractive about him once they study his life and spirit with an open mind.
It’s also worth recalling today was a significant ecumenical figure Fr Doyle was. He died whole rescuing two Northern Irish Protestant soldiers. Fr Doyle was, essentially, an ecumenical martyr of charity. It is an aspect of his story that has been strangely ignored over the years.
Fr Doyle had a tremendous joy and cheerfulness that easily communicated itself to others. He also retained this sense of fun despite the suffering of the war and his own personal austerity and mortification. The saints were always serene and joyful despite their sufferings. Fr Doyle seems to have been no different.
Fr Doyle was also known as a practical joker. It’s not known what others thought about his jokes, and whether they appreciated them or not! But there is little doubt that his jokes were well meaning and were an opportunity to relieve the tension of religious life or the tension of the war.
Alfred O’Rahilly recounts what he calls Fr Doyle’s last practical joke, which he estimates took place on this day in 1917, less than a month before his death. Perhaps it is more accurate to describe it as Fr Doyle’s last recorded practical joke. Here is his description of it.
One day Fr Doyle chanced upon a fresh unsoiled copy of the “Daily Mail” for a Friday in October 1914, describing the German capture of Roulers. A glance at the scare headings on its front page suggested a hoax on the mess of the 2nd Dublins. Next day, which was a Friday (probably July 20) he managed to get into the mess before the others. He substituted the old copy and abstracted the new one, which he proceeded to read while waiting the turn of events. The first to come in was Major Smithwick who, seeing the heading, called out: “They’ve begun the big advance. Roulers is captured.” At once there was great excitement, and all crowded round to get a peep at the stirring news. But after some moments there were puzzled exclamations. “Why, it’s the Germans who have taken Roulers”. “It’s not Friday’s paper”; “yes it is”. Then the fraud was discovered, and its author was discovered behind the authentic paper. That was Fr Doyle’s last practical joke.
I see more and more each day how different the world would be if we had more really holy priests. With this object I have started a crusade of prayer.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter on this day in 1913. His was right when he wrote this 100 years ago, and hindsight has shown us that he was even more correct about the importance of holy priests than he probably realised himself.
Yes, it is popular to talk about green shoots of growth in the Church today, and such shoots do exist, in places. But one cannot escape the reality that the Faith is in decline across the West, especially in Ireland…
One of the key drivers of this decline is the unfaithfulness of some priests. It is absolutely true that there are many loyal, faithful and holy priests. But it is beyond doubt that the criminal actions, or negligence, of some priests and bishops has had a devastating impact on the spiritual lives and faith of millions of people.
We are all called to be holy, and holy lay people can do things that a priest simply cannot. But without holy priests who sanctify and support lay people the progress of the Church is limited. Fr Doyle knew this – he worked hard to promote vocations and to support priests, urging them not to settle for mediocrity, but to be ambitious in their pursuit of sanctity.
Fr Doyle himself was a holy priest who loved others so much that he sacrificed himself and died to save non-Catholic soldiers in World War 1. At a time when the priesthood is held in low regard, the example of his heroism and holiness is needed now more than ever.