Cause for the Beatification and Canonisation of
Fr. Willie Doyle SJ
Fr. Willie Doyle: World War I's Forgotten 'Martyr of Charity'
Bishop Tom Deenihan announced the opening of the Cause for the Beatification and Canonisation of Fr Willie Doyle SJ. Fr Doyle, renowned for his heroism as a military chaplain during World War I. He enjoyed a reputation for sanctity and intercessory power since his death on 16 August 1917. The Cause was formally opened at a ceremony in the Cathedral of Christ the King on Sunday 20 November 2022.
For details on Fr Doyle's life please see; www.williedoyle.org.
for the Solemnity of
CHRIST THE KING
the Opening of the Diocesan Inquiry
into the Cause for Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God,
Fr. William Doyle SJ
by Most Rev. Thomas Deenihan
20 November 2022
Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar
Fr. Doyle's Story
Fr Willie Doyle SJ was a man who loved God and his neighbour so much that he was willing to die to save a soul or to save a life. He was the youngest of seven children, born on 3 March 1873 in Dalkey, County Dublin. His family was deeply religious, and their devotion was given practical expression by their care for the less fortunate in the neighbourhood – long lines of the local poor visited the house at Christmas to receive financial assistance and gifts from the Doyle family.
Willie was a typical young boy in many respects – he loved sports, in particular swimming and cricket. As he grew he developed a close relationship with the local poor, often bringing food and money to them, and cleaning and painting their houses when necessary. On one occasion, he encouraged a lonely dying neighbour to confess to a priest before death.
The man refused, so the young Willie stayed with him for eight hours, praying and pleading until at last the man relented. He died soon after making his confession.
Willie entered the Jesuit novitiate in Tullabeg, Rahan, in the Diocese of Meath at the age of 18 in 1891, and his 16 years of formation were interspersed with periods spent at home due to ill health. He suffered with an unidentified digestive complaint for much of his life, including his time as a military chaplain. He also had a nervous breakdown which afflicted him after a fire broke out in the novitiate. Fr Doyle’s life is one of incredible transformation; the boy who suffered physical and mental health difficulties was transformed into a tireless rock of courage in World War 1.
It was while he was a novice that Fr Doyle offered his life to the Blessed Virgin as a martyr on the 1st May 1893.
Most of his priesthood was spent on the Jesuit mission team, preaching missions in parishes and giving retreats to religious communities around Ireland. His impact seems to have been electrifying, and testimonies about the impact of his preaching, retreats and his personal example poured in.
In the words of Pope Francis, he often went to the ‘peripheries’ to seek those alienated from the Church. He visited them at home, and was known to wait on the docks for sailors arriving into port late at night or to go out to meet factory workers on their way to work at dawn. He seemed to have a special gift for connecting with disaffected or wounded souls. He was particularly devoted to helping ordinary workingmen. At a time when holiness was often seen as the preserve of priests and nuns, he understood the importance of reaching ordinary lay people. He travelled across the continent to study the growing phenomenon of retreats for workers and wrote a booklet on the importance of this apostolate for Ireland. But he did not confine his activities to retreats or missions and was highly sought after as a spiritual director, sometimes receiving several dozen letters per day seeking advice.
In the midst of all this work, and indeed in the midst of his later life in the trenches, Fr Doyle retained his exuberant natural cheerfulness and the love of practical jokes. His optimistic and joyful approach to life was one of his most prominent and endearing characteristics.
Fr Doyle originally wanted to volunteer as a missionary in Africa but was not chosen for this task. However, the outbreak of World War I provided him with a unique missionary opportunity to satisfy his desire to help souls and also face the possibility of ‘martyrdom’ in the service of God and of others. In November 1915 he was appointed chaplain to the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (part of the 16th [Irish] Division). Despite having the rank of Captain, he lived and suffered alongside his men, experiencing all of the dangers and trials of life in the trenches.
From Fr Doyle’s private diaries we learn that he offered up all of these sufferings in reparation for the sins of priests.
“Fr Doyle never rests. Night and day he is with us. He finds a dying or dead man, does all, comes back smiling, makes a little cross and goes out to bury him and then begins all over again.”
Fr. Doyle was present at several important battles, including the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Messines Ridge, during which nearly one million pounds of explosives were detonated under the German trenches. He was awarded the 16th (Irish) Division Parchment of Merit for bravery during a gas attack in April 1916, awarded the Military Cross for his bravery at the Somme, and nominated for both the Distinguished Service Order and Victoria Cross.
Fr Doyle laid down his life as a martyr of charity on 16 August 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele. At some time in the late afternoon a group of soldiers lead by Lieutenants Marlow and Green got into trouble beyond the front line, and Fr Doyle ran to assist them. It seems that Fr Doyle and the two officers were about to take shelter when they were hit by a German shell and killed. His body was never recovered. Marlow and Green were Protestant soldiers from Northern Ireland making Fr Doyle an ecumenical martyr of charity.
All who knew Fr Doyle were devastated at his loss, and many tributes from those who knew him poured in. These tributes especially emphasised his good humour, his shining faith and in particular his stunning courage.
(Extract taken from www.williedoyle.org)
Many people continue to pray for their needs through Fr. Doyle's intercession, and they believe that their prayers are answered. If you have prayed through Fr Doyle’s intercession and believe that your prayers have been answered, it is very helpful to receive reports of these alleged favours – they may be important in pursuing a Cause for Fr Doyle’s beatification and canonisation.
Fr. John Hogan,
Office of the Diocesan Postulator,