Monday 30 January 2023

Willie Doyle SJ Much in the Presence of God - Patrick Corkery SJ

Willie Doyle SJ: Much in the Presence of God
Patrick Corkery SJ
ISBN 9781788125512

This is the second volume I have read from the pen of Patrick Corkery SJ, and it is one of a few I have read about Fr. Willie Doyle SJ. My son and I have become fascinated by stories about heroic Military Chaplains. We have read a number of books about them, and my son is set on being one himself. I finally picked up a physical copy of this to read, after waiting over half a year for the promised eBook edition to show up. But back to this volume. The description of this booklet is:

“Willie Doyle SJ was born in Dalkey on 3 March 1873 to an affluent Catholic family. Willie entered the Society of Jesus in 1891. taking vows, Fr. Doyle embarked on a period of Jesuit formation known as Regency. Fr. Doyle worked in two Jesuit schools Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College. He was ordained in 1908. His prayerful nature took him into Retreat Ministry after ordination. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are a popular way of praying in our time. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, they were almost the exclusive preserve of priests brothers and religious sisters. The Exercises made such a profound impact on Fr. Doyle that he felt they should be available to the largest audience possible. Fr. Doyle also had a great interest in vocations to religious life, and produced two bestselling pamphlets on the priesthood which were published by the Sacred Heart Messenger. In 1915 he volunteered as a Chaplain in the First World War. His time in the war saw him demonstrate great acts of heroism. His death in August 1917 came as a great blow to those who had known him. He died attempting to save injured soldiers from the battlefield at Ypres. His body was initially recovered, but subsequently obliterated by a German shell. Interest in his life was sparked by a book written by Professor Alfred O'Rahilly, which became a bestseller. The book went on to inspire future saints, like Mother Teresa. The desire to have Fr. Doyle declared a saint received much traction in the 1930s, but it lapsed as the Irish Jesuits preferred to give their energies to the cause of Fr. John Sullivan. In recent years the cause has begun to get traction and a lay Association of the Faithful is working to have it promoted.”

Another description is:

“As time goes on and the culture changes, some people find themselves trapped in the past. The name 'Willie Doyle' is often associated with the strict, penitential spirituality of times gone by. Yet Willie Doyle the man was also brave, tender and joyful. He was, as his contemporaries remember him, an arch prankster both loved and loving.

Drawing on contemporary accounts of Doyle, Patrick Corkery SJ offers a multidimensional portrayal of a man who touched the lives of so many. Joker, teacher, Jesuit, chaplain in the trenches of the First World War, Doyle comes alive as a complex and moving figure for our time.

Packed with biographical detail, points for reflection and an exploration of Doyle's significance for Christians today, Willie Doyle Sf is the perfect introduction to the man whose heroism and charisma continue to inspire.”

The chapters in the booklet are:

Willie Doyle’s Early Life
Willie Doyle Joins the Jesuits
Willie Doyle’s Journey to the Priesthood
Willie Doyle’s Discernment and Spirituality
Willie Doyle and the First World War
What Can Willie Doyle Teach People Today?

Even though this is a small volume; meant as a brief biography, introduction, or overview of Father Willie Doyle SJ, it is an excellent volume, no matter how familiar you are with the subject matter. I highlighted many passages while reading this book, some of them are:

“While some people might find novenas twee or think them out of kilter with
contemporary spirituality, it is clear that Fr Willie Doyle has an attraction for people and devotion to him remains strong.”

“At times his penances were off-putting, but one could not help but admire how dedicated he was to the people he served, and how Fr Doyle desired to make God known to those with whom he interacted.”

“At the beginning of regency, my provincial asked me to assist a lay group formed to promote Fr Doyle's canonisation cause. I don't know if the provincial knew about my interest in Fr Doyle, but it certainly helped strengthen my devotion to him and helped me see that Ireland potentially has a great saint relevant for our time. In being asked by Messenger Publications to write this booklet, I hoped t capture something of Fr Doyle's significance for a modern

“From a young age, he took a strong interest in the local poor; he would visit their homes and even parted with his meagre pocket money to ensure that they were able to enjoy some small luxuries. Stories of young Willie's generosity entered in family lore and were recounted later in his brother Charlie's biography of Willie, Merry In God.”

“Even domestically, Willie sought to make life easier for the family's servants. He would often rise early in the morning before the domestic staff and complete some of the tasks allotted to them. This was never done in a showy way but always quietly and never seeking any reward. His care and concern for others and his desire to be of service were evident early in life.”

“Young Willie appears to have had an easy-going nature that attracted others to him, and they enjoyed being in his company. This ease in the company of others seems to have been a trait from early on.”

“WILLIE FINISHED at Ratcliffe in 1890, and no one was surprised when he announced he wanted to be a priest; the question that followed was where would he serve as a priest? Of the seven Doyle children, four opted for religious
life, including Willie. His oldest brother, Fred, had initially been a Jesuit but left to join the Archdiocese of Dublin. Charlie, who was his closest sib ling, had entered the Jesuit novitiate and persisted in that vocation, becoming a priest and at one point was assistant to the Jesuit provincial in Ireland. He would also play a role in helping to develop the spirituality of Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. Willie's sister, May, entered the Sisters of Mercy, taking the religious name Benedict. Having multiple children was not uncommon in Irish families at this time, and it was considered a mark of great pride to have children enter religious life. The prayerful atmosphere of the Doyle home no doubt contributed' to multiple vocations.”

“The Jesuits had been at Tullabeg since 1818 and St Stanislaus College had served in a variety of different capacities. It had been a boarding school, house of formation for Jesuits and eventually served as a retreat house before it closed in 1991.”

“For some, the Jesuit formation process may need some explanation. There are multiple stages to Jesuit formation: novitiate, juniorate, philosophy, regency, theology, and if one opts to be a priest, there is ordination. The Jesuits also have lay-brothers who do not get ordained.”

“On 15 August 1893, Willie Doyle took his vows and became a Jesuit. Earlier in that year he had made his own personal vow to Mary, writing, 'My Martyrdom for Mary's Sake. Darling Mother Mary, in preparation for the glorious martyrdom which I feel assured thou art going to obtain for me, I, thy most unworthy child, oh this the first day of thy month, solemnly commence my life of slow martyrdom
by earnest hard work and constant self-denial. With my blood I promise thee to keep this resolution, do thou, sweet Mother, assist me and obtain for me the one favour I wish and long for: To die a Jesuit Martyr. May God's will, not mine, be done! May 1st, 1893. Amen.'”

“Hot tempered by nature, I believe, he never allowed himself to be carried into arbitrary action by the intemperate or unreasonable conduct of those in his charge. He was firm, but never unjust; indeed, if he erred at all, it was on the side of leniency. But apart from his self-control, the quality that struck me most was his optimism, his breezy cheerfulness in the midst of difficulties. He never lost his good spirits; he never seemed to be he never appeared to consider for a moment how trouble in his department affected himself; he was intent always on setting others on the right track.’”

“Another of his students echoed these sentiments, 'Fr Doyle's example worked good. His cheerfulness, his energy, his enthusiasm were infectious and inspiring. His whole conduct was marked by gentleness and a kindly thoughtfulness that gained him loyalty and affection. In the playing fields he was a tower of strength. I can still recall the admiration with which I watched him play full back,
or stump a batsman who had his toe barely off the ground. But above all he gave the impression to us boys of one who lived much in the presence of God. I know one boy, at least, who entered the Society ofJesus, partly, at any rate, because Fr Doyle was such a splendid man and splendid Jesuit.'”

“It is important to note that Willie often clashed with his superiors. He could sometimes be stubborn, and his sense of humour was not always appreciated. For one thing, he would mimic other Jesuits.”

“Hope also notes some other transgressions, 'On another occasion he was ordered to his room by his Superior, a school boy's punishment for a man just into his third decade! Willie obeyed: but instead of shutting his door, he piled up chair, table, priedieu, etc., at the entrance and during the evening interviewed and entertained friends and sympathisers from behind the barrier.'”

“His desire to go to the Congo never materialised. Even though he desired to be a missionary, Willie understood that God's will was paramount. This is not an uncommon feature of discernment. In such cases the discerning person must trust that whatever happens is the will of God, though they may not see it in that moment, and hand themselves over entirely in God's providence. Sometimes you and I may be more inclined to pray that 'my will be done' rather than 'thy will be done'.”

“One source of controversy attached to Willie was his penances. These are a continuing source of fuel for would-be critics. His penances were severe, but
they were not different from the kind of penances adopted by other holy people throughout history, such as John Vianney or Matt Talbot. Willie's penances are often challenging because they show a level of fortitude that others may not readily share in.”

“The prolonged nature of the conflict meant the British government wanted spiritual succour for its ever-expanding army. In these circumstances, Willie Doyle offered his services as a chaplain. In the early days, volunteering was
at a high in both Ireland and Britain, and the presence of chaplains was recognised as a beneficial aid to the morale of the soldiers. Chaplains would provide spiritual accompaniment with liturgies and sacraments where necessary. Some, like Willie Doyle, would go a step further and live with the men in the trenches. This was not a general requirement of chaplains, but it was certainly common among the Jesuit chaplains. Such acts of sacrifice did a lot to endear these chaplains to the men they served alongside.”

“His one idea was to do God's work with the men, to make them saints. How
he worked and how he prayed for this!”

“OVER ONE hundred years on from his death in the First World War, Willie Doyle, continues to fascinate people. Some have focused on his tenderness, others his sense of humour; for some his bravery is inspiring, and others are
interested in his spirituality. Looking back ac Willie's life, what lessons does he have for the world of today?”

I hope those quotes show you some of the value of this great little volume. It is a great volume. It does not matter if you only know the name, or are well versed in works by or about Fr Willie this is an excellent little edition to the canon of work about him. And I am greatly interested in following the cause of his canonization that as mentioned in the quotes is underway. I can easily recommend this volume. It is a great read about a truly inspiring life.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Patrick Corkery SJ:

Reviews of other books about Military Chaplains:

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