Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ on Remembrance Sunday

Fr Doyle’s Life
William Joseph Gabriel Doyle was born in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, in Ireland on March 3, 1873. He was the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls, out of which two boys became Jesuits, another died a few days before his priestly ordination and one of the three girls became a Sister of Mercy: four vocations out of seven children.
He entered the Jesuit Novitiate at the age of 18 after reading St. Alphonsus’ book “Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State”. Soon after his ordination in 1907, his superiors appointed him on the mission staff for five years. From 1908 to 1915, he gave no less than 152 missions and retreats. His fame as preacher, confessor and spiritual director spread wide and far, and he had a special gift to hunt out the most hardened and neglected sinners and to bring them back with him to the church for confession.
In the midst of such an active apostolate, he maintained a fervent spiritual life of union with his Eucharistic Lord, offering himself as a victim for the salvation of souls with the Divine Victim.

He was finally appointed during World War I chaplain of the 16th Irish Division, serving with 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 6th Royal Irish Rifles and the 7th Royal Irish Rifles. Having fulfilled his priestly duties in an outstanding fashion for almost two years, he was killed in the Battle of Ypres on August 16, 1917, having run “all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy.” This good shepherd truly gave his life for his sheep. Taken from Remembering Fr Willie Doyle here
Some inspiration about Fr Doyle taken from here I like the reflctions on practicing the presence of God and the Ignatian spirituality.
reaching the barracks, the first thing I saw were the words :
‘ R. C. Hut.’ Thinking it was just the empty hut for Sunday
Mass, and yet half-hoping, I opened the door to find a
beautifully furnished little chapel with the red lamp that
told me all. I think I now know what Mary felt when she
found her Son in the temple. How I thanked Him for this
gift, for His goodness in sending my regiment to camp about
His dwelling ! His goodness did not stop there, for without
asking him, the priest in charge gave me the key, so that
I can come to Jesus at any time. I am very happy now,
for I have Him, Deus meus et omnia 1 — all else cannot supply
His place — and life seems quite changed.”
Even when serving at the Front, his thoughts turned to
nocturnal prayer and adoration. Here is an entry dated
25th October, 1916 : ” Jesus has long urged me to give Him
a whole night of prayer and reparation. Last night I prayed
in my dug-out at Kemmel from 9 till 5 (eight hours), most
of the time on my knees. I bound myself beforehand to
do so by vow in order not to let myself off. Though I had
only two hours’ sleep, I am not very tired or weary to-day.
Jesus wants more of these nights of prayer, adoration and
Thus this true follower of the Prince of Peace pursued
his calm inner life amid the scenes and sounds of human
strife, kneeling in his dug-out and adoring his eucharistic
Lord in the pyx as quietly and devotedly as if he were in the
domestic chapel of Rathfarnham Castle. Two months before
his death he notes (2ist June, 1917) : ” Jesus told me to-day
that the work of regeneration and sanctification is to be
done by leading souls to Him in the Blessed Sacrament.”
And on 2nd July he records : ‘ The conviction has been
growing that nocturnal adoration will be established only
if I spend much time myself before the Blessed Sacrament
at night. I know well that Jesus not only wants me to
sacrifice much of my sleep, but also to rise sometimes during
the night to adore and console Him in the Tabernacle. The
repugnance (and yet attraction) to this is extraordinary.”
i. — ” My God and All ” aspiration of S. Francis of Assisi. (Fioreiti 2 }
devotion to the Real Presence was quite compatible with
dryness, drowsiness and discomfort. In advice once sent
to another he gives us the secret of his own devotion to
his sacramental Lord. ” Real devotion to the Blessed
Sacrament,” he writes, ” is only to be gained by hard, grinding
work of dry adoration before the Hidden God. But such a
treasure cannot be purchased at too great a cost, for once
obtained, it makes of this life as near an approach to heaven
as we can ever hope for.”
Although grace worked very effectively and appreciably
in his soul, it never dispensed him from ‘ hard, grinding
work.’ Even in the case of that interior union which seemed
to be so spontaneously natural in Fr. Doyle, we can from
his diary perceive how slow, painful and methodic were the
means which he took to acquire and perfect such union.
During his retreat of January 1913 he wrote : ” I feel drawn
still more to the life of interior union. To acquire this I
must practise the following : —
(1) Constant and profound recollection.
(2) To keep my thoughts always if possible centred on
Jesus in my heart.
(3) To avoid worry and anxiety about future things.
(4) To avoid useless conversation.
(5) Great guard over my eyes, not reading or looking
at useless things.”
So, even in regions generally called mystic, he proceeded
in that clear, systematic, one might say businesslike, way
so characteristic of St. Ignatius. 1 No vague yearnings
after sublimities or ecstasies, no anxiety for the abnormal
or singular, just a quiet persevering fidelity in small things
and an unflinching determination to avail of those countless
opportunities with which each day is strewn. To use an
expressive phrase, St. Ignatius wishes us in our spiritual
life to come to the point ; he will have no pious generalities ;
no beating about the bush. In my meditation I am ” to
reflect in order to derive some fruit ” ; in my prayer I am
” to ask of God our Lord that which I wish and desire.”
Above all, I must, according to St. Ignatius, specialise, I
must concentrate on some special defects, needs, or devotions.
i. — See above p. 34.
And this concentration necessarily implies an increase in
self-conscious purpose, a growth in deliberate mental self-
control. Thus to eradicate some special sin or fault, St.
Ignatius suggests ” that each time a person falls into that
particular sin or defect he lays his hand on his breast,
repenting that he has fallen ; and he can do this even in the
presence of many people without their perceiving it.” More
over he wants us to write down twice a day the number of
times we have fallen ; he will not have us merely enter the
total number, the faults must be represented graphically by
parallel rows of points, so that we can at a glance compare
day with day and week with week. Such is the spiritual
accountancy of the writer of the Spiritual Exercises? who
wishes us to apply to our souls the minute care with which
business men keep their ledgers. Not everyone, of course,
could or should literally follow all these details on every
point ; but there is in them an elemental method of the
human mind, which we altogether neglect only at the peril
of lapsing into unpractical dreaming, vague sentimentalism,
and perhaps serious self-delusion. 2
This incisive, one might say militant, method of spirituality
appealed very much to the fervent heart and chivalrous
courage of Fr. Doyle. He believed in marshalling all his
forces for the immediate present, in concentrating his energies
on the holiness attainable here and now. In this strain he
writes on the Feast of the Blessed Cure of Ars, 4th August,
1913 : ” Making my meditation before the picture of the
Blessed, he seemed to say to me with an interior voice : The
secret of my life was that / lived for the moment. I did not
say, ‘ I must pray here for the next hour,’ but only ‘ for
this moment.’ I did not say, ‘ I have a hundred confessions
to hear/ but looked upon this one as the first and last. I did
not say, ‘ I must deny myself everything and always,’ but
only ‘ just this once.’ By this means I was able always to
do everything perfectly, quietly and in great peace.
and live this life of the present moment. Pray as if you
had nothing else whatever to do ; say your Office slowly
as if for the last time ; do not look forward and think you
must often repeat this act of self-denial. This will make
all things much easier.” Two years later we find a similar
entry : ” No sacrifice would be great if looked at in this
way. I do not feel now the pain which has past, I have
not yet to bear what is coming ; hence I have only to endure
the suffering of this one moment, which is quickly over and
cannot return.”
It was especially by momentary recollection and ejaculatory
prayer that Fr. Doyle sought to sanctify the passing moment
and to condense perfection into the immediate present. When
he was tempted to break a resolution, or when he shrank
from some sacrifice, he used to say five times to himself,
” Will you refuse to do this for the love of Jesus ? ” By
means of aspirations he sharpened his will into instant action
and brought into play all the accumulated motive-power
of the past. ” This morning,” he writes in his diary (Sept.
1915), ” I lay awake powerless to overcome myself and to
make my promised visit to the chapel. Then I felt prompted
to pray ; I said five aspirations and rose without difficulty.
How many victories I could win by this easy and powerful
weapon ! ” Indeed he had a wonderful idea of the value
of aspirations as a source of grace and merit. ” Great light
at meditation,” he writes, ” on the value of one aspiration.
If I knew I should receive £i for each one I made, I would
not waste a spare moment. And yet I get infinitely more
than this, though I often fail to realise it.” During the last
few years of his life Fr. Doyle’s conviction of the value of
aspirations steadily grew ; and with him to believe was to
act. 1 The number of aspirations which he contrived to
fit into one day advanced from 10,000 to over 100,000. This
latter astounding figure was reached while he was actually
engaged in the arduous duties of military chaplain at the
i . — The following aspirations, jotted down in one of Fr. Doyle’s notebooks,
seem to have been favourites of his : (i) My Crucified Jesus, help me to crucify
myself. (2) Lord, teach me how to pray and pray always. (3) Jesus, Thou
Saint of saints, make me a saint. (4) Blessed be God for all things. (5) My
loving Jesus within my heart, unite my heart to Thee. (6) Heart of Jesus, give
me Your zeal for souls. (7) My God, Thou art omnipotent, make me a saint.

On the Church & our part:

In the order of time, indeed, Christ suffers no more. In
His personal humanity He can no longer endure pain and
humiliation. But we, His mystical Body, can. ‘ The
Church is His Body and the completing of Him who fills
all in all.” (Ephes. i. 23.) Hence it is that S. Paul could
say, as already cited : ” I fill up those things that are wanting
of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His Body which
is the Church. (Col. i. 24.) And this function, this
association in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, is not
an ideal applicable merely to great saints and mystics ; it
is a function to be filled by all true Christians, each in his

measure filling up the lacunae, every good life linking itself.


up into the wondrous unity of the moral order. Though
we may not always advert to it, when we speak of the
imitation of Christ and of reparation to the Sacred Heart,
we are presupposing this prolongation and extension of the
Saviour's life into ours.

The first great revelation of the Heart of Jesus is contained
in the seventh chapter of S. Luke's Gospel. " Dost thou
see this woman? " said Christ to Simon. " I entered into
thy house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet — but she
with tears hath washed My feet and with her hair hath
wiped them. Thou gavest Me no kiss — but she, since she
came in, hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with
oil thou didst not anoint — but she with ointment hath anointed
My feet. . . . She hath loved much." This detailed
antithesis, this careful balancing of neglect with service,
this sensitive juxtaposition of Simon and Magdalen in the
Heart of Christ, contains the essence of the idea of reparation.
That is, if our Lord's life and mission is more than a simple
historical event and is still accessible to us who live in these
latter days. 1 Many a Simon nowadays treats Christ with
studied slight and scorn, and we — is the role of Magdalen
closed to us ? Cannot Christ still address the sinner,
' Thou .... but she . . . ? " Cannot our loving
much prevail and repair ? And to the solitary adorer does
there not still from the Tabernacle come the whisper, " The
nine — where are they ? " (5. Luke 17. 17.)

The Gethsemane agony has passed nigh two thousand
years ago. Yet here is the message to S. Margaret Mary :
" Every night between Thursday and Friday I will make
thee share in the mortal sadness which I was pleased to feel
in the Garden of Olives. ... In order to bear Me
company, . . . thou shalt rise between eleven o'clock and
midnight and remain prostrate with Me for an hour, not
only to appease the divine anger by begging mercy for sinners,
but also to mitigate in some way the bitterness which I felt
at that time on finding Myself abandoned by My apostles,
which obliged Me to reproach them for not being able to
watch one hour with Me."' 2
My favourite advice from Fr Doyle :


conventional phraseology, he spoke with homely directness.
Thus he would say : " There are three D's which you ought
to avoid — the Doctor, the Devil, and the Dumps. You
can cheat the doctor and run from the devil, but the dumps
are the divil ! " He did not think that holiness lost by
being conjoined with a sense of humour.

On union, abandonment & the will of God:

With equal soundness of spirituality and accuracy of

insight, Fr. Doyle counselled the elimination of anxieties,

distractions and worries, not so much by direct counter

attack and detailed defence as by the energizing power of

a great ideal. Just as a magnet attracts and orientates a

confused mass of iron filings, marshalling and linking them

harmoniously, so an all-embracing ideal will influence and

direct all our powers and activities. See God everywhere,

he said in effect ; He is behind every event, even what men

miscall accidents ; desolation is but the shade of His hand

outstretched caressingly ; gladness is the sunshine of His

presence. Above all, He is within our souls, often

sacramentally, always by His immanent indwelling ; He

thinks with us, He shares our very consciousness as no other

being can. With the growing realization of this union with

God within us and abandonment to God's acting on us from

without, life will become easier and happier ; all our piece

meal striving and individual troubles will gradually

into one lifelong continuous act of conformity to God's

will. " Abandon yourself completely into the hands of

and take directly from Him every event of life, agreeable

or disagreeable ; only then can God make you really

" Holiness," he wrote elsewhere, " is really
nothing more

than perfect conformity to God's will." " This

over what cannot well be avoided," he said in a letter

cited, " distracts the soul from God ; after all, what

wants from you is love, and nothing should distract you

from the grand work of love-giving." Distractions are

be conquered by one overmastering attraction ; a strong

man will be conquered and dispossessed only if a stronger

than he come upon him. Thus, as Fr. Doyle advocated it,

this ideal of conformity consisted in no mere negative

quiescence or patient resignation 1 ; it was a positive

I. — "This is not to be a kind of resigned, or perhaps
rebellious, conformity,

but a generous cheerful (though not felt) embracing of what
He wills."-(October 1916)

On total abandonment to the will of God:

(L). "A quiet hidden life is not possible for you in

way, and yet perfectly so in another — by building a

in your heart where you can ever live alone with Jesus,

the noise and worry of life, cares and anxieties of the

pass over your head like a storm, which will never ruffle

the peace of your soul. You will enjoy perfect calm and

peace of soul, the requisite condition for a life of union,

keeping Jesus ever with you as a Friend, and remembering

that everything happens by His permission and is in fact

His work. Let this principle soak in and it will make you

a saint. Apply it to every detail of your life, and you will

not be far from what you seek ; in fact humiliations,

annoyances, worries will all disappear, since it is not X,

Jesus, who is trying you in this way."

(June, 1916)

( A Year's Thoughts  and Fr William Doyle by O' Rahilly can be downloaded free at Forgotten Books here )

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3 Responses to Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ on Remembrance Sunday

  1. Tony Flavin says:

    Wow! Where did you find all this ?

  2. Check the link above for exerpts above. For spiritual noursishment you have to read Fr William doyle by O' Rahilly – I got mine off Amazon – Forgotten Books. There is also a book of daily thoughts which you can read online – will try & find the links. Glad you liked it!

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