Born: 03 March 1873, Dalkey, County Dublin
Entered: 31 March 1891, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 28 July 1907, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1909, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Died :16 August 1917, Ypres, Belgium
Younger Brother of Charles Doyle - RIP 1949
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Educated by the Rosminians at Ratcliffe, Leicstershire, England.
After First Vows he studied Philosophy at Enghien and Stonyhurst.
He was then sent for Regency teaching at Belvedere College SJ, and later also as a Prefect at Clongowes Wood College SJ.
1904 He was sent for Theology to Milltown Park, Dublin and was ordained there after three years.
Afterward, to Drongen, Belgium for Tertianship.
He then became Minister at Belvedere, and was put on the Mission Staff, where he displayed outstanding qualities, especially as an orator in the pulpit.
He was something of a literary person as well. He founded the “Clongownian”, wrote regularly in the “Messenger” and wrote some booklets and a life of the French Jesuit Paul Ginhac.
In the early years of the Great War he volunteered for service as a Military Chaplain. 15 November 1915 he wrote “Received my appointment from the War Office as Chaplain to the 16th Division”. 01 January 1916 He moved with his regiment (8th Royal Irish Fusiliers) from Whitely to Bordon. he remained with this group until he was killed 16 or 17 August 1917 near Ypres.
Notice in the “Irish Independent” 25 August 1917 :
“When Irish troops advanced at Ginchy, Father Doyle was in the thick of the fighting ministering to the wounded, and for conspicuous bravery then, was awarded the Military Cross. The story of his Priestly devotion in the advance at the Zonnebeke River, when he met his death while administering the Last Sacraments to his stricken countrymen, has been borne testimony to alike by Northern Orangemen and Catholic Nationalists, and it is admitted by all who witnessed his courage and indifference to danger that his heroism will rank among the great unselfish, self-sacrificing deeds of the war.”
Mr Percival Phillips writing on his death in the “Morning Post” :
“The Orange will not forget a certain Catholic Chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. he went forward and back on the battlefield, with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give the 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.”
Sir Philip Gibbs KBE wrote :
“All through the worst hours and Irish Padre went about among the dead and dying giving Absolution to his boys. Once he came back to HQ, but would not take a bite of food or stay, though his friends urged him. he went back to the field to minister to those who were glad to see him bending over them in their last agony. Four men were killed by shell fire as he knelt beside them, and he was not touched - until his own turn came. A shell burst close and the Padre fell dead.”
A Soldier writing :
“Father Willie was more than a priest to them, and if any man was loved by the men it was he, who certainly risked every danger to try and do good for their bodies as well as their souls.
A Fellow Chaplain wrote 15 August 1917 :
“Father Doyle is a marvel. They may talk of heroes and Saints, they are hardly in it. he sticks it to the end - shells, gas, attack. The first greeting to me of a man from another battalion, who had only known Father Doyle by sight was ‘Father Doyle deserves the VG more than any man who ever wore it. We cannot get him away from where the men are. If he is not with his own, he is in with us. The men would not stick half of it were it not for him. If we give him an orderly, he sends the man back. He doesn't wear a tin hat, he is always so cheery’.”
An Officer writing :
“Father Doyle never rests, night and day. he finds a dead or dying man, does all he can, comes back smiling, makes a little cross, goes out and buries him. It would be the proudest moment of my life if I could only call him VC.”
(cf Father William Doyle SJ, by Professor Alfred O’Rahilly ISBN 9782917813041)
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
Doyle, William Joseph Gabriel
by David Murphy
Doyle, William Joseph Gabriel (1873–1917), Jesuit priest and military chaplain, was born 3 March 1873 at Melrose, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, youngest child of Hugh Doyle, registrar of the insolvency court, and Christine Doyle (née Byrne). He was educated by the Rosminian Fathers at Ratcliffe College, Leics., and entered the Society of Jesus in Ireland (March 1891). On completing his novitiate he taught at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare (1894–8), founding the college magazine The Clongownian (1895). He then studied philosophy at Enghien, Belgium, and Stonyhurst College, England, before returning to Ireland to teach once more at Clongowes and later Belvedere College, Dublin. His final theological studies were taken at Milltown College, Dublin (1904–7), and he was ordained in July 1907. After completing his tertianship at Trenchiennes, Belgium, he began to work as an urban missionary and retreat-giver in Dublin. Due to his positive attitude he was a great success at this work and also travelled around England, Scotland, and Wales. Recognising that urban labourers were in great need of spiritual direction, he proposed that a special retreat house be opened in Dublin to cater for the needs of the working classes. He also wrote several best-selling pamphlets including Retreats for working men: why not in Ireland? (1909), Vocations (1913), and Shall I be a priest? (1915).
At the outbreak of the first world war he volunteered to work as a military chaplain and was posted (November 1915) to 8th Bn, Royal Irish Fusiliers, 16th (Irish) Division. Arriving in France early in 1916, he soon gained a reputation for bravery and was recommended for the MC (April) for helping to dig wounded men out of a collapsed shelter under fire. Present at the battle of the Somme from its beginning in July 1916, he was awarded the MC (January 1917) for his work with casualties during the battle. He was transferred to 8th Bn, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, in December 1916 and greatly impressed the men of his new unit. The CO of the battalion, Lt-col. H. R. Stirke, later said that Fr Doyle was ‘one of the finest fellows that I ever met, utterly fearless, always with a cheery word on his lips, and ever ready to go out and attend the wounded and dying under the heaviest fire’. He was killed in Belgium, along with two other officers, while going to the aid of a wounded man on 16 August 1917 during the third battle of Ypres. His body, supposedly buried on the spot by men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was never recovered. He was recommended posthumously for both the VC and DSO, but neither was granted.
Personal papers, opened after his death, were the basis of Alfred O'Rahilly's biography of Doyle (1920), and he became a focus of popular devotion in Dublin. The papers also revealed that Doyle had inflicted extreme physical punishments on himself since his novitiate, perhaps since childhood. In August 1938 the cause for his canonisation was proposed and relevant documentation sent to Rome. The cause subsequently fell silent. There is a substantial collection of Doyle papers in the Jesuit archives, Leeson St., Dublin.
Fr W. Doyle papers, Jesuit archives; Alfred O'Rahilly, Fr William Doyle, S.J.: a spiritual study (1920); Henry L. Stuart, ‘Fr William Doyle S.J.’, The Commonweal, no. 8 (11 Nov. 1925), 11–14; Sir John Smyth, In this sign conquer (1968); Louis McRedmond, To the greater glory: a history of the Irish Jesuits (1991); Tom Johnstone and James Hagerty, The cross on the sword: catholic chaplains in the forces (1996)
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Fr Willie Doyle SJ – a lesson for Europe
In a lengthy article for the UK Independent, renowned British writer and journalist Robert Fisk has used the exemplary life and death of Irish war chaplain Fr Willie Doyle SJ as an anti-Brexit morality tale. “The image of an Irish Catholic going to the aid of a (Protestant?) German in little Catholic Belgium, wearing the battledress of a British soldier,” Fisk writes, “is surely the finest image of what the EU was supposed to embrace and redress: that there should never again be a European war.” He concludes with a stern reproof of the British Prime Minister: “Theresa May, hang your head in shame.”
Fisk was prompted to write the article by a talk on the life of Fr Doyle, given in Dalkey Library on Tuesday, 15 August, by Damien Burke of the Irish Jesuit Archives. The talk, which was attended by more than 60 people, was one of a number of events to mark the centenary of Fr Doyle’s death at the Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders in August 1917.
The fact that Fr Doyle was himself a Dalkey native added poignancy to Damien’s account of his life and his death in the trenches. The slides which Damien presented of Fr Doyle’s letters, writings, and personal belongings, which had been preserved for many years in Rathfarnham Castle, were also touching.
At the same event in Dalkey Library, Dr Patrick Kenny discussed his book on Fr Doyle, entitled To Raise the Fallen. Amazingly one of the parishioners present was a 105-year-old woman who remembered the news of Fr Doyle’s death!
RTE’s Morning Ireland covered the Dalkey event. Damien Burke and Fergus O’Donoghue SJ of the Irish Jesuit Archives were interviewed for a package about Fr Willie Doyle, which you can listen to here. A commemorative Mass for Fr Doyle was celebrated on 16 August in Dalkey Church. Since his remains were never found some people considered this to be his real requiem, albeit one hundred years after his untimely death. At the Mass, Fr McGuinness referenced the self-sacrificing love that Fr Doyle had for the men who engaged in the horrific war.
Centenary events to mark Fr Doyle and the other Jesuit chaplains of the First World War continue in the coming months. This Friday, 1 September, a documentary by Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy entitled, ‘The Irish at Passchendaele’, featuring the story of Jesuit chaplain Willie Doyle, will be screened at Veritas House, 7-8 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1, at 1pm.
And in October, there will be a Dalkey-themed RTE Nationwide programme in which Fr Doyle will feature. Material from the Fr Willie Doyle exhibition currently on display in Dalkey Library will be incorporated in an exhibition on ‘Jesuit chaplains and Rathfarnham Castle 1917’ at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, 2 November- 3 December 2017.
There will also be an exhibition on ‘Fr Michael Bergin SJ and Australian Jesuit chaplains’ at Roscrea Library, Tipperary, from 2 to 27 October 2017.
Also worth noting is the attention garnered by the remarkable graphic short entitled ‘A Perfect Trust’ by Alan Dunne, which is displayed in the Dalkey Library exhibition. It has been nominated for an Irish Design Award
A champion at the front
The third of March marks the birthday anniversary of Willie Doyle, who was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, Flanders in 1917. He was one of thirty-two Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War. His life and the lives of his fellow-chaplains were commemorated, around the centenary date of his death on 16 or 17 August (exact date of death unknown), at a number of events in Dublin in 2017. The exhibition ‘Jesuit chaplains in the First World War’ continued its tour in April 2018 at Stillorgan Library, Dublin where material relating to Jesuit chaplains in 1918 and Fr Doyle was on show.
To us today the First World War can only be seen as an indescribable waste of life, a cause which served no purpose other than the decimation of an entire generation. Willie Doyle served and died in the Great War; he willingly put himself forward again and again to help those with him, and in the end it cost him his life.
Willie Doyle was born in Dalkey, just outside of Dublin, in 1873, the youngest of seven children. His education took place both in Ireland and at Ratcliffe College, in Leicester. At eighteen he joined the noviciate for the Society of Jesus, a decision he reached after reading Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State by St Alphonsus. In 1907 he was ordained as a priest, and spent several years following as a missionary, travelling from parish to parish all across the British Isles.
With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Doyle volunteered, knowing that many would be in need of guidance and assistance in the time to come. He landed in France in 1915 with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, serving as chaplain. He went to the front, serving in many major battles, including the Battle of the Somme. Out on the battlefield Doyle risked his life countless times, seeking out men where they fell dying in the mud to be with them in their last moment and to offer absolution; those who served with him described him as fearless. His selflessness was not just given to those who shared his faith; Doyle was a champion too among the Protestant Ulstermen in his battalion.
In August 1917 he was killed by a German shell while out helping fallen soldiers in no man’s land. Three other Irish Jesuits were killed in the war along with two who died from illness. Doyle was awarded the Military Cross, and he was put forward for the Victoria Cross posthumously but did not receive it. According to the National Museum of Ireland, this was arguably due to the “triple disqualification of being an Irishman, a Catholic and a Jesuit”.
The commemoration in 2017 by the Irish Province took the form of an exhibition on Fr Doyle, which was launched at Dalkey library, and the National Museum of Ireland exhibited some of his chaplain effects from the front. Bernard McGuckian SJ told his story as part of a collection of essays in the book Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War.
Watch the trailer below for Bravery Under Fire, a docudrama on his life.
Film on ‘forgotten hero’
Details of a docudrama about the life of wartime hero Fr. Willie Doyle SJ have just been released by the Catholic network EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).
The docudrama already dubbed Ireland’s Hacksaw Ridge, has the working title Bravery under Fire. It will explore the life of Fr. Doyle, showing his bravery as an army chaplain in World War I when, disregarding the advice of his superiors and his own personal safety, the Irish Jesuit saved many lives, repeatedly going into no man’s land to drag soldiers back to safety.
EWTN say the story is an ‘inspirational’ one and they have appointed Newcastle Co. Down man Campbell Miller to direct it. He is filming on location in Passchendaele, Ireland and England.
In April 2018, for the very first time, the historic events will be brought to the big screen and will include readings from Fr Willie’s personal diaries, historical footage and re-enactments of his many brave actions.
Producer Campbell Miller said, “I accepted this project as I believe Fr Willie Doyle is a forgotten hero. While other soldiers have got the Victoria Cross for showing one act of bravery, Fr. Doyle performed miraculous acts of bravery each day he was on the front line. In this secular age there is a lot to be learned from his actions, his teachings and his respect for all others regardless of their creed.”
The high budget docudrama is the first of its kind for EWTN Ireland, and it will bring significant job opportunities for local cast and crew, when it goes into production here in Ireland next month.
Speaking about the movie and its producer, the CEO of EWTN Ireland, Aidan Gallagher said, “We are absolutely delighted to be producing this movie. It will bring the story of Fr Doyle and his selfless heroism to a wider audience. It is a new opportunity for EWTN and I wish Campbell every success..”
Campbell, who studied film at Ball State University in Indiana, brings to the project over 10 years of experience directing documentaries and short films and a proven track record in producing award winning films — receiving accolades in film festivals around the world, including Orlando, New York, New Jersey, and London, to name but a few.
Campbell’s award winning films, Respite at Christmas and Family, were pivotal in EWTN selecting him as the Director of the film.
The film will be shot in London and Belgium, with the majority of its World War I re-enactments taking place in Ireland.
A sparrow to fall
A BBC Northern Ireland documentary, Voices 16 – Somme (BBC 1 NI on Wednesday 29th June,
9pm) explores the events of 1916 through the testimony of the people who witnessed it and their families. Documentary makers and relatives of Jesuit chaplain Willie Doyle were shown his letters, postcards and personal possessions kept here at the Irish Jesuit Archives. In the 1920s, Alfred O’Rahilly used some of these letters in his biography of Fr Willie Doyle SJ. Afterwards they were given to Willie’s brother, Charles, and were stored for safekeeping in the basement of St Francis Xavier’s church, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin in 1949. In 2011, they were accessioned into the archives.
Fr Willie Doyle SJ was one of ten Irish Jesuits who served as chaplains at the battle of the Somme (1 July- 18 November 1916): seven with the British forces; three with the Australian. Their letters, diaries and photographs witness their presence to the horror of war.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 1st Year No 4 1926
The third edition of the life of Fr Wm Doyle SJ has received high praise on both sides of the Atlantic. Reviewers foretell for it a place among the classics of ascetical literature. It is a treatise on the spiritual life, in which the truths of spirituality are not treated in an abstract manner, but brought home to us by the life of one who shared the common experiences of us all. The sale of the book has been rapid. Already half of the English edition has been sold, the American edition is nearly exhausted. German, Italian, and Dutch translations have appeared, A French translation is in the press, and a Spanish is nearly complete. An abridged Polish translation is also in hand.
Irish Province News 23rd Year No 4 1948
Manresa House, Dollymount, Dublin.
.......... Fr. C. Doyle is equipping and furnishing the domestic chapel as a memorial to Fr. Willie, who worked so tirelessly for the establishment of workingmen's retreats in Ireland.
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father William (Willie) Doyle SJ 1873-1917
Father William Doyle, or Father Willie as he was affectionately know, was born in Dalkey County Dublin on March 3rd 1873. He was educated at Ratcliff College, Leicestershire, conducted by the Fathers of the Institute of Charity. He became a Jesuit in 1891 and was ordained at Milltown Park in 1907.
He was possessed of great literary ability. He founded the “Clongownian” and translated the life of the famous French Jesuit, Pére Gignac. He was a frequent contributor to “The Irish Messenger” and wrote a number of other pamphlets which showed considerable research and erudition. He was a pioneer in the movement of retreats for the working man, to advance which he wrote his pamphlet entitled “Retreats for workingmen : Why not in Ireland?” He was also a great missioner and preacher, being attached to the Mission Staff for many years. As a pulpit orator, he won signal admiration in all parts of the country, both at hone and in England. It was during this period that he wrote his famous and still popular and useful pamphlet on “Vocations”.
In 1915 he was posted to the 16th Division of the 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers as chaplain. He has been very fortunate in his biographer, for his life by Monsignor Alfred O’Rahilly is world famous. Written in 1920, it has already run through at least four editions. In that biography, details are given of Fr Willie’s heroism on the field in the Battle of the Somme and Ypres, and of the love he evoked in all, both Catholics and Protestants.
In the same biography will be found and exhaustive account of his interior life, so remarkable for its absolute dedication in every detail of life to the Lord, so permeated with mortification and penance. He indulged in the “follies” of the saints, the most outstanding of which was standing up to his neck in the pond at Rathfarnham Castle and rolling himself in nettles.
He was killed while ministering to the troops at the Battle of Ypres on August 17th 1917. He died as he wished – a Martyr of Charity – and that his sacrifice was acceptable seems proven by the wide devotion which sprang up to him, not only in this country, and by the number of cures which have been wrought through his intercessions.
◆ The Belvederian, Dublin, 1918
Father William Doyle SJ
“He went forward and back over the battlefield 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”.
These words of an English war correspondent describe the death of Fr Doyle, and they are a sufficient commentary on his life. In all that he undertook he was sincere and whole-hearted, and wherever he went the charm of his manner and the saintliness of his life won love and admiration. Those who knew him as a member of the staff in Belvedere will realise what his loss means to so many. To his relatives, and especially to his brother, Rev Charles Doyle SJ, an other past member of the Belvedere Community, we offer our most sincere sympathy. RIP
◆ The Clongownian, 1918
Father William Doyle SJ
Father William Doyle SJ was killed on the 17th of last August as he was ministering to the dying on a battlefield in France. He was never a pupil of Clongowes; but he was long a member of the Clongowes community, and he was the founder and first editor of the “Clongownian”. It is, therefore, but right that the “Clongownian” should pay a tribute to his memory.
Father Doyle was educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicester, where he spent six years. In 1891 he entered the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus. Three years later he came to Clongowes as a master. The writer, though never taught by him, remembers his cheery smile and infectious gaiety. In December of the following year, 1895, appeared the first number of the “Clongownian”. Father Doyle, as we have said, was its founder, and for the next three years - till June, 1898 - he continued to be its editor. He brought out six numbers in all, for in those days the “Clongownian” came out twice in the year, Then he left Clongowes for three years to study on the Continent. At the end of that time he returned to take up the duties of a prefect, first of the Third and then of the Lower Line. In 1904 he finally left Clongowes to complete at Milltown Park his studies the priesthood. He was ordained in 1907.
For some years he worked in Dublin at Belvedere College. Then he was placed upon the mission staff, and stationed first Limerick and afterwards at Rathfarnham. Hardly was he well launched upon his career as a missioner when the call came to him to serve as a military chaplain in the great war. But during those few years he show what great things he might have done had it pleased God spare him. It was the work for which his zeal had longed, directly spiritual work, immediate contact with souls. He was a very effect preacher and his activity was untiring, but it was his holiness that was the main factor of his success. A fellow missioner writes of him: “Father Doyle was a very great saint... The first mission. was at with him man said, ‘you are holy, but Father Doyle is a saint’.. Every priest wanted him. He used to down at 5.30 am, to factory doors and get all the boys and girls who were not coming. He used to go down to steamers coming in at midnight and bring all the sailors to confession. At the ‘Holy Hour’ I have seen the church in tears when he gave it. He did as much as three and said he loved have more work than he could do”. One who knew him well describes his missionary life as one of “extra ordinary zeal and self-sacrifice”.
The intervals of his missions he spent in other works of zeal, in writing, and in long hours of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Those who lived with him hint also at severe austerities practised. One of his great aims was to establish a system of Retreats for workingmen. But this part of his life will be more worthily told in the booklet about him that is to be published. Let us pass on to the closing scenes.
Early in 1916 Father Doyle reached the front as Chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The rest is best told in the words of those who witnessed his work. Here is a letter from an Irish officer of the Division :
Do the boys who read this remember our share in the battle of the Somme last year? The winter of last year in Belgium? SP 13 and the little dugout of the brave padre rise up before me as I write. Liège Farm, and early Mass when our battalion was in reserve. Often have I knelt at the impromptu altar serving that Mass for the padre in the upper barn, hail, rain, and snow blowing in gusts through the shell-torn roof. Then on all occasions his wonderful words of cheer during his little sermon to the “boys”. “God bless Father Doyle” is the heartfelt. wish of all the men of the Irish Division to-day.
He knew no fear. As Company Officers, how many times have we accompanied him through the front line system to speak a word to the men. Well do we remember when at long last we went back for rest and training, how our beloved padre did the long three days march at the head of the battalion with “A” Company. Then, which of the men do not recall with a tear and a smile how he went “over the top” at Wytschaete? He lived with us in our newly-won position, and endured our hardships with unfailing cheerfulness. In billets he was an ever welcome visitor to the companies, and our only trouble was that he could not always live with whatever company he might be visiting, ...
Ypres sounded the knell. Recommended for the DSO, for Wytschaete, he did wonderful work at Ypres, and was recommended for the VC. Many a dying soldier on that bloody field has flashed a last look of loving recognition as our brave padre rushed to his aid, a braving the fearful barrage and whistling machine-gun bullets, to give his boys a last few words of hope. Yes, we have lost a father and friend whose place we will find it very hard to fill. Our gallant Jesuit chaplain has gone to the bourne from which no traveller returns, and he has taken with him the hearts of the Irish soldiers in France. A true Soggarth Aroon, may his soul rest in peace. FK
Writing just two days before the end, a fellow-chaplain says of him :
Father Doyle is a marvel. They may talk of heroes and saints; they are hardly in it. He sticks it to the end the shells, the gas, and the attack.
The first greeting to me of an adjutant of another battalion, who had only known Father Doyle by sight, was : “Father Doyle deserves the VC more than any man who ever wore it. We cannot get him away from where the men are. If he is not with his own, he is in with us. The men could not stick half of it were it not for him. If we give him an orderly, he sends the man back. He doesn't wear a tin hat; he is always so cheery.
It would be easy to fill pages of the “Clongownian” with such tributes. Perhaps one of the most convincing and sincere is that paid by an Ulster man, writing shortly after Father Doyle's heroic death:
God never made a nobler soul. Father Doyle was a good deal amongst us. We could not possibly agree with his religious opinions, but we simply worshipped him for other things. He didn't know the meaning of fear, and he did not know what bigotry was. He was as ready to risk his life and take a drop of water to a wounded Ulsterman as to assist men of his own faith and regiment. If he risked his life in looking after Ulster Protestant soldiers once, he did it a hundred times in the last few days. They told him he was wanted in a more exposed part of the field to administer the last rites of his Church to a fusilier who had been badly hit. In spite of the danger to himself, Father Doyle went over. While he was doing what he could to comfort the poor chap at the very gates of death, the priest was struck down. He and the man he was ministering to passed out of life together. The Ulstermen felt his loss more keenly than anybody, and none were readier to show their marks of respect to the dead hero priest than were our Ulster Presbyterians. Father Doyle was a fine Christian in every sense of the word, and a credit to any religious faith. He never tried to get things easy. He was always sharing the risks of the men, and had to be kept in restraint by the staff for his own protection. Many a time have I seen him walk beside a stretcher trying to console a wounded man, with bullets flying around him, and shells bursting every few yards.
One might well think that, humanly speaking, such a life must needs have a speedy ending: yet he was spared for nearly eighteen months. At last the end came. It is not possible to know with certainty the circumstances of it. Certain, however, it is that it came in the very midst of his work of mercy, in the firing line, as he was giving the last sacraments to the dying.
“On the day of his death”, writes General Hickie, CO of the 16th Division, “he had worked in the front line, and appeared to know no fatigue - he never knew fear. He was killed by a shell towards the close of the day, and was buried on the Frezenberg Ridge. Father Doyle”, he adds, “was one of the best priests I have ever met, and one of the bravest men who have fought or worked out here. He did his duty, and more than his duty, most nobly, and has left a memory and a name behind him that will never be forgotten”.
May his memory be an example and an inspiration for all who read his story.
From Father Doyle’s First “Clongownian”
We need make no apology for reproducing here the following paragraphs from the first number of our magazine, We think they will bear repetition,
To many it has long been a source of regret, that when Clongownians leave their Alma Mater and go forth to face the stern battle of life, they so quickly lose sight of, and interest in, their old college. This is but natural, and the fulfilment of the old proverb. Of the numbers who, year by year, leave these walls for the last time, never to return under the same conditions of dependence, many are to-day as true and faithful sons of Clongowes as when five, twenty, aye, forty long years ago, they studied at their desks or fought on the cricket field for the honour of their college. But of the remainder, scattered all over the globe, far from those little incidents which help so much to keep the Past in touch with the Present, of these must we not say that in many instances they have little in common with us, except the name of Clongownians ?
When, therefore, the proposal was made to start a Clongowes Magazine, which, while chronicling the doings of the Present Generation, might also be a record of the labours and achievements of those who have gone before, the proposal met with the warmest sympathy and support.
“The Clongownian”, then, is to be a connecting link between their Alma Mater and those who bear her name; its pages, written by her sons, will tell them what things are done within its walls, what fresh honours gained, be it in the arena of intellectual contest, or on the sod with ball or bat, while with no less interest will the Present sons of Clongowes learn that they themselves, and those, whom before they regarded with respect, if not with admiration, are children of the same Mother.
Father Doyle at Loos and Ginchy
We publish the following letter as giving a wonderfully vivid account of the dangers and trials of a Chaplain's life, and, incidentally, a very realistic picture of what war means. It was written for the Ratcliffian, to the kindness of whose Editor we owe the permission to reprint it here.
On Sunday, September 3rd, definite news came that we were destined for the front. We had reached the spot from where I last wrote a few days previously, which, strange to say, bore the familiar name of Bray. This is part of one huge camp which stretches for miles and miles. I had never seen such a scene of life and animation before. Picture to yourself the whole of the Three Rock Mountain, the Vale of Shanganagh, Killiney, Bray Head, and far beyond Greystones, covered with a dense mass of men, horses, guns, and wagons, with piles of stores all round. Tents are few, as I soon discovered, but then one does not look for comfort in the midst of war. Multiply that camp tenfold, crowd every road with columns of marching troops, with an endless stream of motor wagons, gun teams, and ammunition carts, and you will have some faint idea of my surroundings. We were camped on a high hill, at the foot of which flowed the river, which gave me the chance of a welcome scrub. Each morning I said Mass in the open, and gave Holy Communion to hundreds of the men. I wish you could have seen them kneeling there before the whole camp - recollected and prayerful, a grand profession surely of the “faith that is in them”.' More than one non-Catholic was touched by it, and it made many a one, I am sure, turn to God in the hour of need. That evening, just as we sat down for dinner, spread on a pile of empty shell boxes, urgent orders reached us to march in ten minutes. There was only time to grab a slice of bread and hack off a piece of meat before rushing to get one's kit. As luck would have it, I had had nothing to eat since the morning, and was farnished, but there was nothing for it but to tighten one's belt and look happy.
After a couple of hours tramp, a halt was called. “All implements, kits, packs, blankets, etc., to be stacked by the side of the road”, was the order. This meant business evidently, as we set off again with nothing but our arms and the clothes we stood in. If it rained we got wet, and when it got dry we got dry too. Jolly prospect, but c'est la. guerre, war is war. I held on to my Mass things, but to my great sorrow for five days I was not able to offer the Holy Sacrifice, the biggest privation of the whole campaign. One good result at least came from this trial; it showed me in a way I never realised before what a help daily Mass is in one's life. The greater part of that night I spent humming Moore's famous song, “My lodging is the cold, cold ground”. The Headquarters officers found shelter in a narrow trench under the road, open at both ends, so fresh air and ventilation were not wanting. There was no room to stretch one's legs or lie down, but we sat on the cold, cold ground (mother earth's (kitchen fires must have been out that night), and slept, or pretended to do so. Without covering or blankets sleep was impossible, but the hours crept on between short dozes and long spells of shivering, till at last the welcome sun sprang out of bed to warm us up. Morning brought another surprise. Though the country round about Loos was full of guns, one scarcely ever saw one, so carefully were they hidden, but here were our cannon, scores, hundreds of them of all sizes and shapes, standing out boldly in the fields and roaring as if they had swallowed a dish of uncooked shells.
That never-ending roar of bursting shells was one of the most trying things of the past seven days. Our guns, some at least of them, are never silent; day and night, without a moment's break, they hammer the enemy's lines at times to such a degree that it is almost useless to try and talk with the infernal roar.
What a change this is from the trench life of the past six months, where for days we never saw a soul overground. Here, though the enemy's guns were quite close, as we know to our cost, men and horses move about as calmly as if there was no such thing as war. In this valley of life and death we had our first casualties, and it was here that your poor Will also nearly left his bones. I was standing about a hundred yards away watching a party of my men crossing the valley, when I saw the earth under their feet open and the twenty men disappear in a cloud of smoke, while a column of stones and clay was shot a couple of hundred feet into the air. A big German shell, by the merest chance, had landed in the middle of the party. I rushed down the slope, getting a most unmerciful “whack” between the shoulders, probably from a falling stone, as it did not wound me, but it was no time to think of one's safety. I gave them all a general absolution, scraped the clay from the faces of a couple of buried men who were not wounded, and then anointed as many of the poor lads as I could reach. Two of them had no faces to anoint, and others were ten feet under the clay, but a few were living still. By this time half a dozen volunteers had run up and were digging the buried men out. War may be horrible, but it certainly brings out the best side of a man's character; over and over again I have seen men risking their lives to help or save a comrade, and these brave fellows knew the risk they were taking, for when a German shell falls in a certain place, you clear as quickly as you can, since several more are pretty certain to land close. It was a case of duty for me, but real courage for them. We dug like demons for our lads lives and our own, to tell the truth, for every few minutes another “iron pill” from a Krupp gun would come tearing down the valley, making our very hearts leap into our mouths. More than once we were well sprinkled with clay and stones, but the cup of cold water promise was well kept, and not one of the party received a scratch. We got three buried men out alive, not much the worse of their trying experience. but so thoroughly had the shell done its work that there was not a single wounded man in the rest of the party; all had gone to a better land. As I walked back I nearly shared the fate of my boys, but somehow escaped again, and pulled out two more lads who were only buried up to the waist and uninjured. Meanwhile the regiment had been ordered back to a safer position on the hill, and we were able to breathe once more. Our resting place that night was a fine luxurious shell-hole open to all the blasts of heaven. To make matters worse we were posted fifteen yards in front of two batteries of field guns, twelve in number, : while on our right a little further off were a half a dozen huge sixty pounders Not once during the whole night did these guns cease firing, making the ground tremble and rock like a small earthquake, till I thought my head would crack in two with the ear-splitting crashes. Shells, as one very soon learns, have an unpleasant trick of bursting prematurely as they leave the muzzle of the gun. In the next shell-hole lay the body of one of our men who had been killed in this way, so the prospect of a night spent in this dangerous position was not a pleasant one. A soldier has to go and stay where he is sent, but to move would have made little difference, for, dodge as you might, you could never get out of the line of fire of the innumerable batteries all round. Many a time have I seen the earth open in front and around me, ploughed up by bits of our own shells, which helped to make things more lively still, Rain was falling in torrents as we prepared to go to bed in our shell-hole, Seated on a box in the bottom of the hole for protection from our guns, huddled together for warmth, our feet in a pool, we watched the water trickle down the sides, and wondered how long it would take to wash us out. I have spent many more pleasant nights in my life, but never a more uncomfortable one, drenched by the falling rain, which would persist in running down my neck, ravenous enough to eat a live German, and so tired and weary that the roar of the guns failed to keep me awake. I could not help thinking of Him who often “had not where to lay His head”, and it helped me to resemble Him a little. Providence was good to us, far after some time a tarpaulin was found, which we stretched over our cave, baled out the water, and settled down for a night of “Shivery O”. Strange to say, I am not one bit the worse for this trying experience, and others like it, nor did I even get a cold.
At last came the expected order to advance I at once, and hold the front line; the part assigned to us being Louze Wood, the scene of so much desperate fighting The first part part of our journey lay through a narrow trench, the floor of which consisted of deep thick mud, and the bodies of dead men trodden under foot. It was horrible beyond description, but there was no help for it, and on the half rotten corpses of our brave men we marched in silence, everyone busy with his own thoughts.
I shall spare you gruesome details, but you can picture one's sensations as one felt the ground yield under one's foot, and one sank down through the body of some poor fellow Half an hour of this brought us out on the open into the middle of the battlefield of some day previously. The wounded, at least I hope so had all been removed, but the dead lay there stiff and stark, with open staring eyes, just a they had fallen. Good God, such a sight. had tried to prepare myself for this, but all I had read or pictured gave me little idea of the reality. Some lay as if they were sleeping quietly, others had died in agony, or had had the life crushed out of them by mortal fear; while the whole ground, every foot of it, was littered with heads or limbs, or pieces of torn human bodies. In the bottom of one hole lay a British and a German soldier, locked in a deadly embrace, neither had any weapon, but they had fought on to the bitter end. Another couple seemed to have realised that the horrible struggle was none of their making, and that they were both children of the same God; they had died hand-in-hand praying for and forgiving one another. A third face caught my eye, a tall, strikingly handsome young German, not more, I should say, than 18. He lay there calm and peaceful, with a smile of happiness on his face, as if he had had a glimpse of Heaven before he died, Ah, if only his poor mother could have seen her boy it would have soothed the pain of her broken heart.
We pushed on rapidly through that charnel house, for the stench was fearful, till we stumbled across a sunken road. Here the retreating Germans had evidently made a last desperate stand, but they had been caught by our artillery fire.
The dead lay in piles, the blue grey uniforms broken by many a khaki-clad body. I saw the ruins of what was evidently the dressing station, judging by the number of bandaged men about, but a shell had found them out even here and swept them all into the net of death.
A halt for a few minutes gave me the opportunity I was waiting for. I hurried along from group to group, and as I did the men fell on their knees to receive absolution. A few words to give them courage, for no man knew if he would return alive, A “God bless and protect you, boys”, and I passed on to the next company. As I did, a soldier stepped out of the ranks, caught me by the hand, and said: “I am not a Catholic, sir, but I want to thank you for that beautiful prayer”. The regiments moved on to the wood, while the doctor and I took up our positions in the dressing station to wait for the wounded. This was a dug-out on the hill facing Louze Wood. The previous afternoon it had been occupied by the Germans, before our men drove them out. Some poor chaps must have taken refuge there and have been bombed out, for the sides and roof were stained all over with fresh blood. At one end was a suspicious-looking mound of fresh earth, which I did not investigate too closely, but as I said a prayer for the repose of the soul, the dead German will forgive me, I trust, for sleeping on his grave.
To give you an idea of my position. From where I stood the ground sloped down steeply into a narrow valley, while on the opposite hill lay the wood, half of which the Fusiliers were holding, the Germans occupying the rest; the distance across being so short I could easily follow the movements of our men without a glass.
Fighting was going on all round, so that I was kept busy, but all the time my thoughts and my heart were with my poor boys in the wood opposite. They had reached it safely, but the Germans somehow had worked round the sides and temporarily cut them off. No food or water could be sent up, while ten slightly wounded men who tried to come back were shot down, one after another.
Under these circumstances it would be madness to try and reach the wood, but my heart bled for the wounded and dying lying there alone. When dusk came I made up my mind to try and creep through the valley, more especially as the fire had slackened very much; but once again the Providence of God watched over me. As I was setting out I met a Sergeant, who argued the point with me. “You can do little good, Father”, he said, “down there in the wood, and will only run a great risk. Wait till night comes, and then we shall be able to bring all the wounded up here. Don't forget that, though we have plenty of officers and to spare, we have only one priest to look after us”. The poor fellow was so much in earnest I decided to wait a little at least. It was well I did so, for shortly afterwards the Germans opened a terrific bombardment, and launched a counter attack on the wood.
Meanwhile we on the opposite hill were having a most unpleasant time. A wounded man had reported that the enemy had captured the wood. Communication was broken, and Headquarters had no information of what was going on. At that moment an orderly dashed in with the startling news that the Germans were in the valley, and actually climbing our hill. Jerusalem! We non combatants might easily escape to the rear, but who would protect the wounded? They could not be abandoned. If it were daylight, the Red Cross would give his protection, but in the darkness of the night the enemy would not think twice about flinging a dozen bombs down the steps of the dug-out. I looked round at the blood-stained walls and shivered. A nice coward, am I not? Thank God, the situation was not quite so bad as reported; our men got the upper hand, and drove back the attack, but that half-hour of suspense will live long in my memory. I fear you will be weary of this letter, so I shall try and finish up. I have given you an outline of my doings, and little more remains to be said, except the last day's experience at the front, Saturday, 9th. It was arranged that the 16th Division were to storm Ginchy, a strong village, against which previous attacks had failed. By good fortune we were held in reserve. At 7 in the morning our heavy guns opened fire, and till 5 in the evening rained a storm of bullets and shells on the defenders. Shortly before 5, I went up on the hill in front of the town, and was just in time to see our men leap from their trenches and dart up the slope, only to be met by a storm of bullets from concealed machine guns. It was my first real view of a battle at close quarters, an experience not easily forgotten. Almost simultaneously all our guns, big and little, opened a terrific “barrage” behind the village, to prevent the enemy bringing up reinforcements, and in half a minute the scene was hidden by the smoke of thousands of bursting shells, British and German. The wild rush of our Irish lads swept the Germans away like chaff. The first line went clean through the village and out the other side, and were it not for the officers, acting under orders, would certainly be in Berlin by this time. Meanwhile the : supports had cleared the cellars and dug-outs of their defenders; the town was ours and all well. At the same time a feeling of uneasiness was about. Rumour said some other part of the line had failed to advance, the Germans were breaking through, etc. One thing was certain, the guns had not ceased. Something was not going well. About 9, just as we were getting ready to be relieved by another regiment, an urgent order reached us to hurry up to the front. To my dying day I shall never forget that half-hour, as we pushed across the open, our only light the flash of bursting shells, tripping over barbed wire, stumbling and walking on the dead, expecting every moment to be blown into Eternity. We were halted in a trench at the rear of the village, and there till 4 in the morning we lay on the ground listening to the roar of the guns and the scream of the shell flying overhead, not knowing if the next moment might be our last. Fortunately, we were not called upon to attack, and our casual ties were very slight, but probably because the terrible strain of the past week was be ginding to tell, or the Lord wished to give me a little merit by suffering more, the agony and fear and suspense of those six hours seemed to surpass the whole of the seven days.
◆ The Clongownian, 1918
We should have liked to be able to give a series of letters from Army. Chaplains, Past Clongownians, and former members of the Clongowes Community, describing their professional experiences. We made considerable efforts and received promises not a few. But in the end, all found that their life was too busy and too irregular to make formal composition of that kind possible, and they one and all shrank from the task. Very often, too, no doubt, there was the fear of the Censor in the background. But notwithstanding this we thought it would be of interest to many readers of the “Clongownian” if we pieced together from these letters the scattered fragments of news contained in them. And this is what we have done. We begin with Father Corr, who for several years most worthily filled the position of Editor to this Magazine, and to whom is due the magnificent Centenary Number, 1914
It would not be fitting to close these all too fragmentary notes without recalling the fact that in the discharge of their duties as Chaplains one past Clongownian and three former Clongowes masters have lost their lives viz:
Fathers W Doyle and John Gwynn, who were killed in France.
◆ The Clongownian, 1922
The Late Father Doyle
The following are some striking extracts from an address delivered before the Church of England Congress last October by the Rev G C Rawlinson MA
Here stands on the East Forty-Second Street in New York City A a giant building many stories high, with a floor space measuring three and a-half acres, which is the Parish House of St Bartholomew's Church. It is the house of a multitude of social activities. Under its roof you will find a lodging-house and a loan bureau, an employment bureau, and a coffee-house, a penny provident fund, a girls' club, a boys' club, and a men's club, a gymnasium, a parish press, a kindergarten, a surgical clinic, a medical clinic, and an eye and ear clinic. It was built by the late Bishop Greer of New York, when he was rector of St. Bartholomew's, a quarter of a century ago, and a full account of it can be read in the lately published Life of that prelate. He believed that secular work was religious work, and he would certainly have claimed that he was showing his personal allegiance to Jesus Christ in the busy hours that he spent amid the multifarious activities of his parish house. Who will say that he was wrong?
But there is another ideal. Not long before I read the Life of Bishop Greer I came across the biography of an obscure Jesuit, Father William Doyle, who was a chaplain during the war, and was killed near Ypres in 1917, in his forty-fifth year. Here one found oneself in a different world, and in a different spiritual atmosphere from that in which Bishop Greer lived. It was the inner life for which Father Doyle cared. The flame of his personal allegiance to his Saviour burned very brightly, but it showed itself mainly in the acts of the interior life - in long hours of prayer, in rigid self-discipline, in tremendous penances. At one time he had an opportunity of quiet prayer before a life-size crucifix. “I could not remain at His feet”, he said, “but climbed up until both my arms were around His neck. The Figure seemed almost to live, and I think I loved Him then, for it was borne in upon me how abandoned and suffering and broken-hearted He was. It seemed to console Him when I kissed His eyes and pallid cheeks and swollen lips, and, as I clung to Him, I knew He had won the victory, and I gave Him all He asked”. “He spent”, we are told, “every spare moment in church or chapel ; and, since spare moments grew scarcer as the years went on, he laid the hours of sleep under contribution”. The truth is he was possessed completely by the Ignatian idea of generosity towards God; not, that is, to give God the least one must but the most one can. So that when he became convinced that God desired him to strip his life of every possible comfort, to be his own executioner, though his whole soul shrank from such a life, he obeyed...
These are two very different pictures of spiritual loyalty which I have put before you, are they not? On the one hand there is Dr Greer visiting his crowded parish house in the evening, when all the lifts are working and the building is humming with activity; seeing that everything is going smoothly ; chatting with his workers; keeping his finger on the pulse of the whole vast organization - on the other hand there is Father Doyle setting his alarm for midnight, and then creeping down to the dark and lonely chapel for an exquisite hour of devotion before the Tabernacle. It is a startling contrast. With the one the exterior life and its activities are the chief thing, with the other the interior. I do not mean, of course, that Dr. Greer did not say his prayers, or that Father Doyle did not perform many active works. But they represent different ideals. The one shows the Martha spirit - the ideal of active work, and, beyond all possibility of contradiction, this is the ideal of the modern world as a whole. I am not sure even that many of my audience here will not sympathize with Bishop Greer rather than with Father Doyle. The other shows the Mary spirit, and the contemporary western world will hardly tolerate this. Some say frankly that it is eastern and not western, and that this is one of the points on which East and West will never meet. That is certainly false. The history of Christian devotion and the lives of Christian saints proves the contrary. But it is not a popular ideal to-day. Other-worldliness is often spoken of with contempt, and the best Christian is supposed to be the man with the largest number of good works to his credit. This seems to me to spring from a wrong standard of values, and I desire to lift up an unimportant voice on behalf of the other worldly ideal. I believe that, as our loyalty grows, as we penetrate more deeply into the understanding of the mind of Jesus Christ, as we learn more of the delights of prayer, we shall become possessed more and more with the idea of other-worldliness. We shall look upon everything with different eyes, and shall no longer consider the school after-care worker to be as useful a member of the community as the enclosed nun in her oratory.
The true life of those other-worldly people whom I am trying to describe is their interior life. There lie all their chief interests, and there is their principal source of happiness. Consequently, they are always exploring and opening up new roads in the spiritual life. I suppose many have no idea of prayer except as vocal prayer; to this a certain number add the practice of meditation. But even meditation is for beginners. Beyond that there lies much : affective power; the practice of the Presence of God, the prayer of quiet; contemplative prayer. As the soul begins to learn something of these it is quite likely that the desire for silence and solitude will grow. The person may not spend more time in prayer, in the usual sense of the word, but an attitude of prayer will be the background of the whole life. The thought of God will never be far away. There are certain ideas in everybody which have inherent power to leap into the foreground of consciousness directly the mind is unoccupied for a moment. With some men they may be ideas of money-making; with people in love it is the thought of the loved one; in certain disastrous cases it is the obsession of evil impulses. But with those who are approaching contemplative or mystical prayer it is the thought of God. God becomes, as it were, an actor in the person's interior life in a way which was never realized before. Such souls are in a new world. They have advanced far beyond the average Christian. They are meeting new dangers. They are exploring outside the hinterland that sur rounds the life of the ordinary communicant. The world, when it knows nothing about them, looks on with amazement and some times with dislike. Their attempts, by means of rigorous austerities, to liberate the soul for its upward flight, provoke incredulous wonder. Father Doyle, for instance, making himself a discipline out of the blades of safety-razors, is regarded as the limit of wrong-headedness. How men can seek pain utterly fails to be understood. Yet these men and women are really the very salt of the earth. We could do without our politicians, we might manage without our business men, but a nation cannot afford to be without the spiritual strength that comes from the hidden life of its contemplatives. After all, the unworldly man is most use to the world.
So what we want in the Church of England is more men and women of this type - more men and women who show their allegiance in this way. Nothing else will convert the world back again to Jesus Christ. .....
Probably the cause of much of the impotence of the Church of England arises from the fact that she impresses many people, not as the great supernatural society, but as a more or less useful department of the State. And we are ourselves to blame for this. We produce few of that fine aristocracy of souls who have given up everything for Jesus Christ.
Suppose we were to produce a St Francis to-day, what would be thought of such a career in contemporary England? He would probably be summoned and convicted by an unsympathetic and well-fed magistrate for sleeping out without visible means of support, and the sergeant of police would mention that he had been prosecuted a fortnight earlier for begging and dismissed with a caution. And it is doubtful if he would obtain much sympathy from the leaders of the Church. They would prefer him back in the thirteenth century. We do not admire enough the men of that type we do produce. In the last volume of the letters of Father. Benson of Cowley, there was a vivid picture of the life led by Father O'Neill of the same society as a missionary in the great Hindu city of Indore. He led there for years a life of extreme poverty, in a small native house, making himself as a Hindu that he might win the Hindus. But who knew or cared ? How many in the Church of England to-day know anything of that splendid supernatural life? We do not produce such men enough, and we do not make enough of them when we do produce them. And that is why there is often so little enthusiastic loyalty in the children of the Church.
We must begin by getting back to the right ideal. That must come first. Some people believe that what you think does not matter, but the truth is that all the evils in the world can be traced to the embrace by men of wrong ideals. We get the type of Christians we admire. If you admire the Bishop Greer type - the capable Christian of business habits and social activities - you will get it; if you admire the Father Doyle or the Father O'Neill type, you will get that. However miserably we may fall short in our own practice, however worldly we may be in our thoughts and actions, let us at least admire the right thing
◆ The Crescent : Limerick Jesuit Centenary Record 1859-1959
Bonum Certamen ... A Biographical Index of Former Members of the Limerick Jesuit Community
Father Willie Doyle (1873-1917)
The name of Father Willie Doyle needs no introduction to Irish readers or, for that matter, to Catholic readers anywhere throughout the world. But few, even in Limerick, remember that for three years, 1910 to 1913, he was a member of the Crescent community. His work on the Province mission staff earned him, naturally, few acquaintances among the boys of the school or the folk who came to Sacred Heart church. On leaving the Crescent, his last Irish address was Rathfarnham Castle whence, a year later, he departed as a chaplain for the European battlefields and his heroic death.