Thoughts for the Feast of St Joseph from Fr Willie Doyle

With great earnestness recommend to His mercy the poor souls who are in their agony. What a dreadful hour, an hour tremendously decisive, is the hour of our death! Surround with your love these souls going to appear before God, and defend them by your prayers.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Joseph. We traditionally pray to St Joseph for many things – work, fidelity to one’s vocation, purity, the protection of the Church, even selling a house. But St Joseph is also regarded as the patron saint of a happy death, because tradition tells us that he died with Jesus and Mary at his side – a happy death indeed!

Fr Doyle’s mother – Christina Doyle – died at 7am on the feast of St Joseph 1915. Fr Doyle had just returned from a mission in Glasgow and was with her when she died, and was able to say Mass immediately for her soul. Fr Doyle’s parents are buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, very near Dalkey where they lived. 

St Joseph is a powerful patron; many saints were greatly devoted to him. St Teresa of Avila tells us that he always answered her prayers. Blessed Pius IX proclaimed St Joseph as the patron of the Universal Church. We should have recourse to him for the needs of the Church, which are very great at this time. 

 

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Happy Birthday Fr Doyle!

Melrose in Dalkey, Dublin. Fr Doyle was born here 146 years ago today.

 

Today is Fr Doyle’s birthday – he was born on this day in 1873. For today we shall reproduce the first few pages of O’Rahilly’s biography which tell us something about Fr Doyle’s early life.

William Joseph Gabriel Doyle was born at Melrose, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, on 3rd March, 1873. His father is Mr. Hugh Doyle, an official of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, who died on the 24th of March 1924 in his 92nd year; his mother was Christina Mary Doyle, nee Byrne. Willie was the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls. The eldest and youngest of the girls married; the second became a Sister of Mercy. The eldest boy after a short stay in the Jesuit Novitiate entered Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, whence he passed to the College of the Propaganda, Rome. Ten days before his ordination he caught fever and died in 1887 in the twenty-eighth year of his age. The second son entered the legal profession and became the Recorder of Galway. Willie’s third brother, a few years older than himself, and the inseparable companion of his boyhood, became a Jesuit.

Willie was a frail and delicate child, though like most highly strung children, he had great reserves of energy. All through life, indeed, ill-health was one of his great trials, and for some years before his death he suffered acutely from an internal complaint. But, curiously enough, his nearest approach to death was due, not to sickness, but to an accident. When he was quite a little fellow, his nurse one night placed a lighted candle on his little cot, probably to enable herself to read or sew. The nurse fell asleep, and the candle overturned and set the bed clothes on fire. Fortunately his father, who was sleeping in the next room, was awakened by the smoke and rushed into the nursery. He found the cot on fire, and little Willie fast asleep with his legs curled up, as though he felt the fire creeping towards him. In an instant the child was lifted out of bed, and the mattress and bed clothes thrown out through the window. As a military chaplain Father Willie once laughingly alluded to this escape as his first experience under fire.

For all his future holiness, Willie was by no means a stilted or unnatural child. He played games and he played pranks; and though he cannot be said to have been naughty, he was also far from being irritatingly or obtrusively pious. It is consoling to find that, like most of us, he played at being a soldier. He was seven years old when it was decided that he should emerge from the stage of velvet suit and long curls. On his return from the fateful visit to the hairdresser’s, his mother seemed sad on seeing Willie with his shorn locks. But the little fellow himself was delighted, and sturdily insisted that soldiers did not wear curls, at least not nowadays. His mother had to make a soldier’s suit for him, with red stripes down the sides; and when he won a great battle, a couple of stripes had to be added to one sleeve! This is how his old nurse describes his youthful exploits:

“His love to be a soldier even from his babyhood was wonderful— to fight for Ireland. He would arrange his soldiers and have them all ready for battle. The nursery was turned upside down, to have plenty of room for fighting, building castles, putting up tents, all for his soldiers. Poor nurse looked on, but was too fond of him to say anything. He and a brother with some other little boys were havinga great battle one day. He was fighting for Ireland; his brother was fighting for England, as he said his grandmother was English. There was a flag put up to see who was able to get it; the battle went on for some time, then in a moment, Master Willie dashed in and had the flag in his hand, though they were all guarding it. They could not tell how he got it; he was the youngest and smallest of the lot.”

How curiously and prophetically appropriate is this characteristic of him, who was to be enrolled in the Company of Jesus and to die on the battlefield as a soldier of Christ!

There are many indications that Willie’s youthful militarism was prompted by something deeper than a primitive instinct of pugnacity. Just as in after years he loved to aim at the Ignatian ideal of “distinguishing oneself in the service of one’s Eternal King,” so, even as a youngster, he felt the call to be foremost in energy and service. Long before he read of the saint of Manresa, he had a natural affinity with the soldier of Pamplona. And it was not always the mimic battle of the nursery; even at this early age he started real warfare, he began a life-long struggle against himself. At the beginning of Lent, when he was quite a little boy, an old Aunt, chancing to go into his Mother’s bedroom, found him gesticulating and talking in front of the mirror. “You villain, you wretch,” he kept saying to his reflection, “I’ll starve you, I’ll murder you! Not a sweet will you get, not a bit of cake will you get!”

This is one of the few glimpses we obtain of Willie’s interior life during his boyhood. Even of his maturer soul-struggles we should know little or nothing were it not for the chance preservation of his notes and diaries. There is a danger lest these revelations of penance and mortification should mislead a reader, who was not personally acquainted with Fr. Doyle, into fancying that he was exteriorly repellent or gloomily ascetic. Throughout his life he retained a fund of humour and kindliness; no one would suspect his slow struggle for self-mastery and perfection. That even in boyhood he sought self-conquest and recollection, and experienced the working of God’s grace, we can have no doubt. There is no record, however, save in the archives of Him who seeth in secret, where even the sparrow’s fall is registered and the hairs of our heads are numbered. But neither in youth nor in after life was his virtue fugitive and cloistered; his light so shone before men that they saw his good works, his thoughtful kindness and self-sacrificing charity.

No man, it is said, is a hero to his valet; at any rate, domestic servants are apt to be severe critics. Willie, however, was deservedly a favourite. He always tried to shield the maids when anything went astray or was neglected. He was ever on the look out for an opportunity of some act of thoughtfulness. Thus sometimes after a big dinner at Melrose, the cook would come down next morning and find the fire lighting and the dinner things washed. Willie had been playing the fairy! Again, whenever a maid was looking ill, he used to volunteer privately to do her work. A servant of the family, who gave many years of faithful service, still remembers her first arrival at Dalkey. As she was timorously proceeding to Melrose, she met the two brothers walking on stilts along the road. “How are you, Anne?” said Willie, divining that this was the new maid. He alighted and insisted on taking whatever she was carrying. Before she had her things off, he had tea ready for her.

“I know I was really awkward after leaving the rough country,” writes Anne. “I had got orders to have the boots cleaned that evening. But the good saint took them out to the coach-house and brought them in shining. No one knew only Kate (the parlourmaid) he did it so quietly. To put it off he made the remark, ‘I dare say you have no such thing in the country as blacking.’ Not understanding the coal fire, and while I was learning, he would run down stairs and have the fire lighting and the kettle on by the time I would arrive. Then when breakfast was ready, he would come to the kitchen and ask how did I get on with the fire that morning?”

When we hear of these acts of charity and zeal exercised at an age which is often associated with selfish thoughtlessness, we may be inclined to imagine that Willie Doyle was a prim, stilted, ‘goody-goody’ sort of boy. Nothing of the kind. He had a wonderful freshness and spontaneity. One never could feel that his kindness was artificially produced or that his goodness was forced. His virtue, like his laugh, had the genuine ring in it. One of his most endearing characteristics throughout life was his sense of humour. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” he once said to a rather lugubrious would-be-saint; “a sense of humour is one of the greatest aids to sanctity.” As a boy he was full of humour, even when he was doing good. He once brought to one of his poor people a carefully wrapped parcel which was joyfully acclaimed as a pound of butter; but when extricated it proved to be a stone! Next day, however, the real article, with much more besides, was brought to console the good woman.

A toy soldier found under the floorboards in Melrose. Perhaps this is one of the soldiers young Willie played with?

Thoughts for January 20 from Fr Willie Doyle

Blessed Angelo Paoli

 

For the poor people on Dalkey Hill Willie constituted himself into a Conference of St. Vincent de Paul. He raised funds by saving up his pocket-money, by numberless acts of economy and self-denial; he begged for his poor, he got the cook to make soup, he pleaded for delicacies to carry to the sick. Once he went to the family apothecary and ordered several large bottles of cod-liver oil for a poor consumptive woman, and then presented the bill to his father! He bought a store of tea with which under many pledges of secrecy he entrusted the parlourmaid. On this he used to draw when in the course of his wanderings he happened to come across some poor creature without the means of providing herself with the cup that cheers. He by no means confined himself merely to the bringing of relief. He worked for his poor, he served them, he sat down and talked familiarly with them, he read books for the sick, he helped to tidy the house, he provided snuff and tobacco for the aged. One of Willie’s cases — if such an impersonal word may be used — was a desolate old woman whose children were far away. One day noticing that the house was dirty and neglected, he went off and purchased some lime and a brush, and then returned and whitewashed the whole house from top to bottom. He then went down on his knees and scrubbed the floors, amid the poor woman’s ejaculations of protest and gratitude. No one knew of this but the cook and parlourmaid who lent him their aprons to save his clothes and kept dinner hot for him until he returned late in the evening. While thus aiding his poor friends temporally, he did not forget their souls. He contrived skilfully to remind them of their prayers and the sacraments; he also strongly advocated temperance. There was one old fellow on the Hill whom Willie had often unsuccessfully tried to reform. After years of hard drinking he lay dying, and could not be induced to see a priest. For eight hours Willie stayed praying by the bedside of the half-conscious dying sinner. Shortly before the end he came to himself, asked for the priest and made his peace with God. Only when he had breathed his last, did Willie return to Melrose. His first missionary victory!

COMMENT: These lines come from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle, and they describe his charitable activities as a young boy while living in Dalkey. It is not clear what age he started this kind of work, but given that he went to school in England at the age of 11, it must have been before this age (or else during school holidays). What a marvellous example for us! Fr Doyle’s later life shows the same charity and concern for others, even to the point of offering his own life to serve wounded soldiers.

Today is the feast of the Carmelite Blessed Angelo Paoli. He lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Rome. He was known as the father of the poor, and established hospitals and hostels to care for the poor of Rome. His motto was “Whoever loves God must go to find Him among the poor”.

In the lives of both Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle we find genuine Christian love. In effect, they followed the advice of St Francis of Assisi – to preach always, and when necessary to use words.

In a hostile climate where Catholics are viewed with such jaundiced eyes, the only way to touch people’s hearts is through love. After all, God is Love! This is the same recipe that made Catholicism so compelling 2,000 years ago. There was something about the early Christians that attracted so many converts, even at the risk of death and torture. Ultimately, this attraction was Jesus Christ, but surely it was the love that Christians had for all people that first opened the door to grace and conversion. Just as the world was evangelised through love 2,000 years ago, it can only be re-evangelised through love today.

G.K Chesterton, when asked to write an essay on what was wrong with the world, simply wrote “I am”. There is a real truth here. I am what is wrong with the Church. I am the reason why there are so may empty seats at Mass on Sunday. I am the reason that so many of my contemporaries are unaware that the Church is first and foremost about love…

Let us follow the example of Blessed Angelo and of Fr Doyle, by finding Christ in those around us, by loving them, and thus changing the world.

Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Innocents from Fr Willie Doyle

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power and hatred of Christ. It is a feast of great relevance for us today, for there are still plenty of those who hate Christ and who persecute those who follow Him. The century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and even today, in the West, those who follow Christ face a dry martyrdom of scorn and insults and damaged careers. And of course in our own day we have our own holy innocents who die by the millions each year before they get to take their first breath. On that score, 2018 has been a black year in Irish history…

I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent products of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerably less captive to his own culture than many others – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

 

Christmas at Melrose

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!

Christmas at Melrose

An imagined Victorian Christmas scene

Fr Doyle’s trip to the cinema, 105 years ago today

Fr Doyle wrote the following in his diary on 21 December 1913, 105 years ago today. It relates to a recent trip to the cinema – it’s not clear what date he went to the cinema, but presumably it was the same day or at most a few days beforehand. 

At the end of the performance of “Quo Vadis?” the words of our Lord seemed to go through my soul. ‘I am going to Rome to be crucified for thee.’ Jesus must have given me a big grace, for I walked home stunned, with these words ringing in my ears: ‘crucified for thee.’ Oh, Jesus, Jesus, why cannot I be crucified for You? I long for it with all my heart, and yet I remain a coward. Thank you at least for the dear light You have given me about the life You ask from me, namely, ‘to give up every comfort and gratification, to embrace lovingly every possible pain and suffering.’

As O’Rahilly wryly comments on this passage of Fr Doyle’s diary, this was ‘a devout conclusion not always deducible from cinema shows!’

Quo Vadis? is an excellent and gripping novel written in the late 19th century – I highly highly recommend it. It tells the story of the early Christians and the persecutions they had to endure. Fr Doyle was always attracted by the lives of the early martyrs, and it is this no surprise that the story in Quo Vadis? would really appeal to him. 

So, here we have the “modern” Fr Doyle, enjoying a trip to the cinema!

Incidentally, this is the 1912 version of Quo Vadis?, which is presumably the one Fr Doyle went to see.

Thoughts for August 1 (St Alphonsus Liguori) from Fr Willie Doyle

We continue today with Fr Doyle’s narrative of events in the days leading up to his death. Today’s account is somewhat shorter than that of other days. Even if the events of this day are less dramatic than what is to come, we can still glimpse some of the suffering Fr Doyle and the men had to endure, as well as the cheerful spirit with which he accepted it.

Morning brought a leaden sky, more rain, and no breakfast! Our cook with the rations had got lost during the night, so there was nothing for it but to tighten one’s belt… But He Who feeds the birds of the air did not forget us, and by mid-day we were sitting down before a steaming tin of tea, bully beef and biscuits, a banquet fit to set before an emperor after nearly twenty-four hours fast. Not for a moment during the whole of the day did the merciless rain cease. The men, soaked to the skin and beyond it, were standing up to their knees in a river of mud and water, and like ourselves were unable to get any hot food till the afternoon. Our only consolation was that our trenches were not shelled and we had no casualties. Someone must have had compassion on our plight, for when night fell a new Brigade came in to relieve us, much to our surprise and joy. Back to the camp we had left the previous night, one of the hardest marches I ever put in, but cheered at the thought of a rest. Once again we got through Ypres without a shell, though they fell before and after our passing; good luck was on our side for once.

Today is also the feast of St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, prolific writer of esteemed spiritual works and Founder of the Redemptorists. St Alphonsus held the Jesuits in very high esteem, and declined to take over one of the Jesuit churches in Naples following the suppression of the Jesuits in the late 18th Century.

St Alphonsus played an important role in the life of Fr Doyle – if it were not for his writings Fr Doyle may not have become a Jesuit.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography. Note by the way that Clonliffe was the diocesan seminary for priests for the Dublin diocese.

In July, 1890, Willie paid a few days visit to St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore, the Novitiate of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, where his brother, Charlie, had entered ten months previously. One day during the visit the subject of Willie’s vocation came up for discussion. Charlie knew that Willie was going to be a priest. But was it a secular priest or a religious? “I hope soon to enter Clonliffe,” said Willie. ” Did you ever think of the religious life ? ” asked his brother. “Never!” was the emphatic reply. “I have always wanted to fill the gap left by Fred’s death, and to become a secular priest.” “But do you know anything about the religious state?” persisted the zealous novice. ” No, nothing,” said Willie; “but in any case I would never come to this hole of a place!” This led to an animated discussion concerning religious Orders in general and the Society of Jesus in particular. Willie was so far shaken as to accept a copy of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s work on the Religious State, with a promise to read it and to think over it. The sequel can be told in Willie’s own words:

“On Christmas Day 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.”

On 31st March, 1891, Willie entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Tullabeg.

For those who are interested, St Alphonsus’ book on the religious vocation can be found here:

St Alphonsus Vocation to the Religious State

Meditations and spiritual reading for each day of the year (organised according to the traditional calendar) by St Alphonsus can be found here: http://www.religiousbookshelf.com/meditations-and-readings/

St Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church