Ronan McGreevy writes today’s Irishman’s Diary column about Fr Doyle. It is an excellent tribute to Fr Doyle. Ronan launched my book To Raise the Fallen last night. I am very grateful to him for this. I shall post his speech later.
Photo of the article below, and below that a link to a more reader-friendly online version. One small point – while Alfred O’Rahilly was an ex-Jesuit, he was not an ex-Jesuit priest. He left the Jesuits prior to ordination. He was however ordained as a Holy Ghost priest later in life, following the death of his wife.
We continue our reflections on the life of Fr John Sullivan who will be beatified this coming Saturday in Dublin. He was ordained with Fr Doyle on 28 July 1907 and his beatification is of direct relevance to this blog. His beatification is an important good news story for all of the Church here in Ireland which has suffered so much from (often self-inflicted) bad news for the past several decades. The beatification and canonisation of Irish people has the potential to be a morale boost – it highlights the important example of those who truly followed the compassionate and merciful path Jesus asked His disciples to walk. Local, and recent, examples are an important component of the new evangelisation. They give us models that instruct and inspire. And, if we cannot imitate the special gifts of Fr Sullivan, we can at least be inspired by the example of his intense love of God and the fruits that love bore in his life for the benefit of all those around him.
On Monday we gave an overview of Fr Sullivan’s life. Yesterday we looked at his life of asceticism. Today we will look at his service of the afflicted.
If there was one characteristic note about Fr Sullivan’s life, it would be his care for those who suffered.
Even before he entered the Jesuits he adopted the habit of visiting the sick in hospitals around Dublin. He was especially well known in hospitals for sick children and in what was called the hospital for “incurables”, which seems mostly to have been occupied by patients with cancer for whom there was little hope of recovery. He spent a long time in prayer with those who were sick, and, occasionally, they made almost inexplicable recoveries. Over time his fame as a “healer” began to grow.
Fr Sullivan spent most of his life as a priest in Clongowes Wood College in Kildare, and the locals developed a deep and enduring devotion to him. Not only did they come to visit him at Clongowes, but they also requested that he visit them in their houses and pray over them. It became a common sight to see Fr Sullivan trotting along or even cycling to visit the sick in the area – no distance or trouble was too much if it meant that he could help someone.
The following are just a few examples, of many, of cures attributed to him during his life. Note that these cures are not the reason for his beatification, nor is there always hard scientific evidence relating to most of them, as there always is when it comes to miracles for beatification and canonisation. But they are well attested by eye witnesses, and they show the mutual respect and devotion between Fr Sullivan and those who suffered.
Jeremiah Hooks was 12 years old and was afflicted with St Vitus’ Dance. he was unable to hold a knife or fork or even drink from a cup. Fr Sullivan prayed over him, and he was cured. However some time later he was frightened by a bull, and the symptoms returned. His father brought him back to Fr Sullivan, who, after praying over him a second time, told the father that he would be better and would never be afflicted again. When the boy returned home he was perfectly cured, and the disease never returned and was able to work on the railway for many years.
There was the case of a woman in Carlow with a long term swelling on her breast, which the doctors advised had to be surgically removed. Fr Sullivan said Mass for her; the next morning when she awoke the swelling had disappeared.
A Mrs Williams in Monkstown was told that she was going blind from cataracts. Fr Sullivan visited her and blessed her with a relic of Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Irish Sisters of Charity. The cataracts disappeared and she had no more sight problems. A similar case happened in Rathfarnham in Dublin where a person had ulcers on the eyes for three years and was told that they would go blind. Fr Sullivan authoritatively told the patient that the doctors were wrong and to make a novena to our Lady of Lourdes and that a cure would happen on her feast. His prediction came true.
This was not the only example of his having a strange spiritual insight or intuition. There were many cases when he visited a person and predicted that they would not get better and that they would die, even in some cases that did not seem very serious at the time. There is also some evidence that he even had certain spiritual intuitions about those who came to him for confession.
Of course, much of this is obviously very specific to Fr Sullivan. We cannot copy his specific spiritual gifts. But we can imitate his practice of the virtue of charity and kindness towards others. He lived a simple and poor life, one that was simpler and poorer than it strictly needed to be, even with his vow of poverty. He gave any excess money, or any gifts of new clothing that he received, to the poor. He used to say that any friend of the poor is a friend of Christ. This is one of his great lessons for us.
Prayer through Fr Sullivan’s intercession:
God, you honour those who honour you. Make sacred the memory of your servant John Sullivan, by granting through his intercession the petition we now make (name the petition) and hastening the day when his name will be numbered among those of your saints. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
A kind word goes far. I stopped to say a few words to a group of men at a street corner in Kinsale, and as I walked away, I heard one of the men say to his companions: “Wasn’t it kind of him to speak to us? He’s a grand man entirely!”
COMMENT: Jesus tells us that we shall be known as His disciples by the love we have for one another. He didn’t say that we would be known as disciples by the orthodoxy of our doctrine or by our evangelical zeal or by our fervent prayer. Yes, all of these are vital in the Christian life. But love is the unmistakeable sign of discipleship. It was this love that allowed the small, impoverished, persecuted Christian sect to grow and flourish in the Roman Empire and gradually transform and enrich the entire world. We rarely find dramatic ways to demonstrate this love, but there are innumerable small ways of doing so, one of the most effective of which is through normal human kindness and politeness. How sad it is to find people who are filled with righteous zeal but yet lack that basic quality of love. Without this, we are nothing.
“He’s a grand man entirely”. Is this what people in general say today about faithful Catholics? Is it what people would say about each of us individually? If it is not, then we need to examine our conscience…
Fr Doyle wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him from any egotistical motive. Rather, his concern was clearly apostolic in nature. Through our kindness we open avenues for apostolate that might otherwise remain closed to us.
Fr Doyle himself demonstrated this in a most dramatic way in the case of “Fanny Cranbush”. This young lady was a prostitute who was sentenced to death for her involvement in a murder in England. A few days before her death she requested the Fr Doyle be found and brought to her cell to instruct her in the Faith, and all because Fr Doyle once saw her on the street and spoke kindly to her about Jesus.
A more complete account of the story can be read starting at page 16 of the pamphlet “Stories of Father Willie” which can be found below. The pamphlet was published in 1932 and reflects the writing style of the period; nonetheless it is the content and message of the story that counts.
“My yoke is sweet” (Matthew 11. 30). The service of God, the whole-hearted generous service of God, is full of a sweetness hidden from the world. Beneath the rough garb of the monk or the holy nun’s coarse garment there is hidden more real happiness, more true peace and contentment than poor wordlings have ever known or dreamt of. Sweet is the yoke, light the burden of the Lord.
COMMENT: Of course, it’s not just the monk and the nun who know the delight and happiness of serving the Lord – many laypeople who have given “whole-hearted generous service of God” know the sweetness that this entails.
The obligation, then, lies on believing Christians to show this joy to the world around them. The early Christians were known for their joy, even in the midst of persecutions. Do we really have any excuse not to be joyful? For too long religious belief has been stereotyped as something negative or austere, especially in Ireland. Yes, a certain austerity is an element of the spiritual life, but we are to practice a balanced austerity with ourselves, and loving gentleness with others. And always we are to carry peace and joy in our hearts and always communicate this peace and joy to others.
Fr Doyle wrote the following notes around this time in 1914:
I…gave up aspirations and all penances, and indulged myself in every way. The result was great misery and unhappiness with the feeling that Jesus was very much pained, though I did not seem to care. I felt powerless to rise out of this state. This morning He came back to me during my Mass with such love and grace that I could not resist Him, and took up my former life again. Great peace and happiness since.
In many ways these words are remarkable to read. For Fr Doyle, to indulge himself (and this probably merely meant eating butter or warming himself at a fire…) was to be sad. And it is surely consoling for us to read about how he struggled to rouse himself to virtue and to prayer, until God’s grace aided him in a powerful manner and he was again filled with “great peace and happiness”. There is surely much for us all to console ourselves with in this.
St Francis de Sales said that one catches more flies with a spoon of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. Fr Doyle himself had this gentle spirit in his dealings with others, despite his own personal austerity. He demonstrated this gentleness when he met what was curiously called a “lady of the unfortunate class” plying her trade on the street. Instead of condemning her, he looked lovingly at her and encouraged her to go home and not offend Jesus. Years later, when she faced execution for her role in a murder, this same prostitute asked for Fr Doyle to be found and brought to the prison to help her. She didn’t know his name and she knew nothing about Catholicism. It was the gentle sweetness of Fr Doyle that won her over, and she died in a state of grace and happiness having received the sacraments at the hands of Fr Doyle.
Today is also the memorial of the Mexican Jesuit martyr Miguel Pro. Fr Doyle and he are kindred spirits, nit just in the common Jesuit vocation and the fact that they were near contemporaries, but because their personalities were so similar. Both loved adventure and faced innumerable dangers in their apostolates, and both were practical jokers with a deep spirituality that was clothed in joy.
Sometimes God seems to leave me to my weakness and I tremble with fear. At other times I have so much trust and confidence in his loving protection that I could almost sit down on a bursting shell feeling I could come to no harm. You would laugh, or perhaps cry, if you saw me at this moment sitting on a pile of bricks and rubbish. Shells are bursting some little distance away on three sides and occasionally a piece comes down with an unpleasantly close thud. But what does it matter? Jesus is resting on my heart, and whenever I like I can fold my arms over Him and press Him to that heart which, as He knows, beats with love of Him.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in early May 1916. When he referred to Jesus resting over his heart, he was referring to the fact that he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament with him in a pyx.
Fr Doyle’s confidence in the midst of war was one of the most remarkable aspects of his life. His very presence filled the soldiers with courage and cheerfulness. As one of his officers said about him:
We cannot get him away from the line while the men are there, he is with his own and he is with us. The men couldn’t stick it half so well if he weren’t there.
Yet, this courage was not necessarily innate to him. His diaries reveal the fear he felt; they show that at times he shivered while he hid in a shallow hole, seeking protection from the shells falling around him. As a missionary priest he also suffered from fear, and describes sweating from every pore with the stress of preaching. It was so bad he was determined to quit his preaching ministry. Yet, curiously, despite his fear and stress, his ministry was fruitful and he was always in high demand. As a novice he had what is described as “a complete nervous breakdown” following a fire in his building. He had to leave his formation for a while and there was even talk of his not being fit enough to return to the Jesuits.
From a nervous breakdown to a fearless hero who was a source of inspiration to his soldiers – such is the transformation that Christ can work in us if we let Him.
But we must remember that grace builds upon nature. The grace of God will transform us, but we must dispose ourselves to receive this grace. This means saying no to ourselves, and fighting to overcome sin in our lives. Without this death to sin, we do not remain in Christ and He does not remain in us.
Today is also the feast of Blessed Ana Rosa Gattorno. She is little known in the English speaking world, but she deserves our attention. She lived a very full life as a wife and mother. But as a widow in her thirties she felt a call to found a religious order, and having received confirmation of this from several ecclesiastics, including Blessed Pius IX, she founded the Daughters of St Anne, Mother of Mary Immaculate. When she died 34 years later, there were 368 houses of this congregation containing over 3,500 sisters in 6 countries, along with numerous hostels and schools. What an incredible rate of growth!
Truly, if we remain in Christ, we will be transformed and bear fruit in plenty.
At the community Mass this morning I again felt an overpowering desire to become a saint. It came suddenly, filling my soul with consolation. Surely God has an object in inspiring me so often with this desire, and has great graces for me if I will only cooperate with Him.
Reflecting on this inspiration afterwards, I saw more clearly that the chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St. John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.