The first objective of Patrick Kenny’s blog on this saintly, valiant, Irish Jesuit priest, Fr. Doyle 1873-1917, who was killed in action during WW1, was “to hold up Fr Willie Doyle as a very modern and relevant model of heroic holiness from whom we can learn today”. Fr Doyle’s writings are amazingly inspiring to men and women everywhere, and have also led many generous-hearted young men to discover their vocation to the priesthood. There are now many calling for the opening of Fr. Doyle’s cause for beatification.
“I do not know if I have told you of a scheme which I have in my mind to help poor boys who are anxious to be priests. Before the war I came in contact with a number of very respectable lads and young men, whose one desire was to work for God and the salvation of souls, but who, for want of means, were not able to pursue their studies. I was able to help some of them and get them free places in America or England, with a couple at Mungret, but the number of applicants was far in excess of the resources.
One day having successfully negotiated or missed a couple of shells, I was struck instead by a happy idea. I was coming home on leave and made up my mind to make an experiment with my new idea, which was this. I gave a little talk to the Sodality of the Children of Mary in a certain convent in Dublin on the need for priests at the present time, and what a glorious work it was to help even a single lad to become one of the ‘Lord’s Anointed.’ I told them how many were longing for this honour, and suggested that they should adopt some poor boy and pay for his education until he was ordained. Two hundred girls subscribing 5/- a year would provide £50, more than enough for the purpose. I suggested that this money ought to be the result of some personal sacrifice, working overtime, making a hat or dress last longer, etc., but as a last resource they might collect the 5/- or some of it.
The idea was taken up most warmly: nearly all the money for this year is paid in, though the girls are nearly all factory hands, and the lucky boy will begin his college course in September. I am hoping when the cruel war is over to get the other convents to follow suit; for the scheme is simple and no great burden on any one, and is a ready solution of the financial difficulty and should bring joy to many a boy’s heart. Certain difficulties naturally suggest themselves, but I think we may safely count a little at least on our Blessed Lord’s help, since the work is being done for Him, and go on with confidence.”
COMMENT: Fr Doyle wrote these words in a letter home to his father in July 1917, just three weeks before his death. How remarkable that, even in the midst of some of his darkest days in the war that he was planning future apostolic initiatives. It is even more extraordinary that he launched this initiative when on leave from the Front, when most other people would simply take life easy and enjoy a well earned rest.
Today [26 April] is World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We all have a vocation in life, and our sanctity largely depends on our conformity with that vocation and our fulfillment of the duties that attach to that vocation.
However, this is a day when we specifically pray for priestly and religious vocations. That isn’t because the vocation to the married or single life aren’t important or aren’t paths to sanctity. They clearly are paths to great holiness if they are embraced with fidelity and generosity. Instead, we pray today for priestly and religious vocations because the Church needs these vocations and because Christ still calls people to follow Him in this special way and because this call is often harder to discern and harder to follow (initially at least) in the cultural context in which we live in the secular West.
Fr Doyle was an enthusiastic and effective promoter of vocations. Not only did he provide spiritual direction for those discerning a call, he also provided practical help as well. In addition to the above mentioned fundraising schemes he also helped to place young women in convents. Specifically, found places in convents around the world (including America, Australia and South America) for women who could not find a suitable convent in Ireland due to ill health or other restrictions. Let us remember that this was before the advent of the internet! Fr Doyle’s global efforts show the importance he placed on vocations.
His efforts for female religious vocations were not limited only to overseas convents – he also founded the Poor Clare convent in Cork city, and was a spiritual director to many nuns around Ireland.
Some of Fr Doyle’s most famous pamphlets were on vocations, and links to them can be found here.
These pamphlets sold tens of thousands during his life, surpassing all expectations. What a consolation it must have been for him when he received letters from priests and nuns informing him that his writings helped them discern their true calling.
The impact of these pamphlets was still felt decades after Fr Doyle’s death. Recently I received a letter from a retired English priest. He reported that when he was a soldier in the Second World War his chaplain gave him a copy of ‘Shall I be a Priest’, and that it was this pamphlet that set him on the road to the priesthood. He was ordained in 1953. Years later he met the chaplain again, and was informed that at least 11 other soldiers to whom the chaplain had given this pamphlet went on to become priests.
Perhaps Fr Doyle’s words are still bearing fruit in inspiring vocations to this day…
* These are lengthy pamphlets, but very well worthwhile spending the time to read and meditate on for anyone either seeking to discover their vocation in life, or for those who love the sacrificial priesthood and pray daily for priests to remain holy and faithful.