Friday, 9 November 2012
Laying wreaths at the Cenotaph - November 2010
(photo Creative Commons)
This coming weekend will see the annual Remembrance Sunday Commemorations, and it is salutary to remind ourselves that in World War 1, a total of 1,115,600 servicemen from Great Britain and the Colonies died for their country, and in World War 2, a further 384,000 gave their lives. Added to these are the many thousands who have died for their country in subsequent hostilities in Palestine, Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, N Ireland, and other areas of conflict. The vast majority of those who died were young men and women, who did not want war and certainly did not want to die, but accepted that for the world to have peace, the ultimate price might have to be paid.
“Eternal rest give unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace”
“ Mary, Mother of God and Mother of mercy, pray for us and for all those who have died in the horrors of war”
My wife owns an excellent book, ‘Father William Doyle S.J.’ by Alfred O’Rahilly, a biography first published in 1920 by Longmans, Green & Co. – this edition 1936.
Father Doyle was born in Dublin in 1873 and died on the ‘Western Front’ at the battle of Ypres in 1917.
The book is an absorbing account of this holy priest’s life, beautifully written and eminently readable. At this time of year I inevitably think of this courageous and inspirational Irish priest, whose faith, bravery and devotion to his men on the field of battle, was truly outstanding.
Father William Doyle S.J. - Army Chaplain
The following passage is from a letter of General Hickie, written to a friend on 18th November, 1917:-
“Fr Doyle 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. On the day of his death, 16th August, he had worked in the front line, and even in front of that 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. ………. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross by his Commanding Officer, by his Brigadier, and by myself. Superior Authority, however, has not granted it, and as no other posthumous reward is given, his name will, I believe, be mentioned in the Commander-in-Chief’s Despatch. ….. I can say without boasting that this is a Division of brave men; and even among these, Fr Doyle stood out.”.
Possibly the fact that he was an Irish Roman Catholic priest influenced the decision of the ‘Superior Authority’. Beyond the tributes of this world, numerous favours and cures have been attributed to his intercession, and to the use of his relics.
This biography includes many incidents in Fr Doyle’s life which reveal his extraordinary charity.
One such event, originally published in the ‘Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart’ in August 1931, is included in Appendix IV of the book, and is reproduced below.
‘Snatched from the brink’
‘A telegram for you, Father,” said the Sister, laying the envelope on the table. Father Doyle looked up from his writing with a smile. “Thank you Sister” he said, “I was expecting one.”
Having finished the letter he was writing, Father Doyle opened the telegram placed by his side. As he read it a slightly puzzled look passed across his face. He thought for a moment, and picking up a railway guide, studied it. Then he crossed to the electric bell and pressed the button.
“Sister” he said, when the Lay Sister appeared, “I wonder could I see Reverend Mother for a moment.” “Certainly Father, I’ll get her at once” was the answer.
In a few moments Reverend Mother entered the room. “Mother” said Father Doyle, “I have just got a telegram from my Provincial telling me to return to Dublin by the first available train, as I am to cross to England this evening. I find I shall have time to give the Community the last lecture of the Retreat, if I may give it now. I’m sure the Parish Priest will say Mass for you tomorrow in my place and give you Benediction.”
“Of course Father, we can have the lecture at once,” said Reverend Mother, “but I am sorry you have to rush off like this. Were you expecting this news?” “No indeed,” replied Father Boyle. “I was expecting a telegram it is true, but not from the Provincial, nor with an invitation to take a trip to England. Perhaps the Provincial thinks I want a little rest and is sending me to Blackpool for a week,” he added with a laugh.
A couple of hours later the Limited Mail was carrying Father Doyle swiftly to Dublin, which was reached well up to time.
"Here I am, Father,” he said, as he entered the Provincial’s room, “ready for marching orders.”
“Well,“ replied the Provincial with a smile, “your marching orders are to go to prison! Here is a telegram I got this morning from England, from the Governor of D…. Prison. ‘Please send Father William Doyle SJ, to D….. Prison. Woman to be executed tomorrow asks to see him.’ “ Can you throw any light on the summons?” Father Doyle shook his head. “No” he said, “I don’t know of any of my friends who are going to be hanged!” “Well,” said the Provincial, “in any case you had better go. You will just have time to catch the night boat for Holyhead. You will get to D….. at 5 a.m., and you will have time to see this poor woman before she is executed.”
Day was dawning when Father Doyle reached D….. Prison. He was shown at once to the office of the Governor, who welcomed him courteously. “It was good of you sir” he said, “to come all this way at such short notice. This poor woman has been asking for you earnestly, and it will comfort her to see you.”
“But,” said Father Doyle, “the whole thing is a mystery to me. Who is this woman, and why does she want to see me?” “Her name is Fanny Cranbush,” was the answer. “She is a girl of the unfortunate class who was convicted for her part in that poison case you may have seen in the papers. When brought here after her trial, she was asked in the usual way if she would like to see some minister of religion. She replied that she had no religion and had no need of priest or parson. A few days ago, however, she sent for me and said she had changed her mind and would like to see a certain priest.
‘What is his name?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘But how can I get you a priest whose name and address you don’t know? Can you give me any information at all about him?’ ‘All I can tell you,’ she replied, ‘is that this priest was in Y…. about two years ago. I was told he was from Ireland and was giving what is called a Mission in a church there. For God’s sake get him for me. I want to see him so much before I die.’ ‘I’ll do my best of course,’ I said, ’and perhaps I shall be able to find him for you.’
“I at once got into communication with the police of Y….., and inquiries were made at the different churches of the place, if a clergyman from Ireland had given a Retreat or Mission there a couple of years previously. The address of your Superior was obtained and the telegram sent him that has brought you here.”
“I’m still in the dark” said Father Doyle. “Well” replied the Governor, “I’ll take you to her, and she will be able to clear matters up, doubtless. There are some hours yet before the execution takes place, and if you wish, you may stay with her to the end. Will you please come with me,sir.”
The Governor led the way up two flights of stairs and down a long corridor, at the end of which he stopped before a cell, and producing a bunch of keys, unlocked the door. “This is her cell, sir,” he said, “and I shall leave you alone with her.” Then beckoning to the warder on guard inside to leave, he stepped back and let the priest enter.
Father Doyle saw a girl still in the twenties, sitting with bowed head on the edge of a narrow bed. As he came towards her, she looked up with a drawn, weary face. But next instant her look was transformed as she sprang to her feet, exclaiming: “Oh, Father, thank God, you are come!”
“I’m glad I’ve come, my child,” said Father Doyle, as he took her by the hand and led her to a chair. “And now you must tell me why you have sent for me. Have we ever met before?” “Yes Father, but of course you don’t remember. Two years ago you stopped me in the street in Y…... I was a bad girl, have been all my life, and was out on my work of sin.
You said to me, ‘My child, aren’t you out very late? Won’t you go home? Don’t hurt Jesus. He loves you.’ You said this so gently, so appealingly, and then you gave me a look that seemed to go right through me.”
Father Doyle nodded. “I remember,” he said half to himself, “I had been hearing confessions late that night and was on my way home.”
“Your look and words stunned me,” went on the girl. ”I actually turned back, and went home in a dazed state. All that night I lay awake. The words: ‘Don’t hurt Jesus, He loves you,’ kept ringing in my ear. Had I hurt Jesus, did He love me? Who was He? I knew very little about Him. I had had little schooling and less religion. I had never prayed, I had never been baptized. Mother told me that before she died. Yet, ’Don’t hurt Jesus, He loves you,…’ seemed to find an echo in my heart. I felt He was in some way within me.
I saw you once again Father, after that night. I was with another girl and you passed on the other side of the street. ‘Who is that clergyman?’ I asked my companion. ‘I hear he is from Ireland,’ she replied ,’and is giving a Mission or something here.’
For weeks after that I kept off the streets, but then want and hunger drove me out again. I sank lower and lower, until now I am to be hanged. I came here hard, defiant and unrepentant, and wanted to have nothing to do with priest or parson. Then one day your words came back to me. ‘Don’t hurt Jesus, He loves you.’
Something seemed to snap within me and I wept – the first time for many years. I felt changed, softened, and there came a great longing to see you and to learn more about Jesus. Now that you have come, won’t you tell me more about Him? Won’t you set my feet on the road that goes to Him?”
“Do you mean my child, that you wish to know about the one True Faith, that you want to become a Catholic?” “Yes Father, I do, with all my heart.”
The essential articles of faith were quickly explained and drunk in with eagerness by a soul that thirsted for the truth. Then the waters of baptism were poured for the first time upon her head, and all the wicked past was washed away.
“I shall leave you now for a while, my child,” said Father Doyle. “I am going to try to get permission and the requisites for Mass here, when I shall give you Jesus in Holy Communion.”
Father Doyle hurried off to the nearest Catholic Church, and without much difficulty obtained the necessary leave and outfit for saying Mass. A tiny altar was erected in the cell, and Fanny heard her first and last Mass and received her God for the first and last time. She refused the breakfast offered her. “I have just eaten the Bread of Life,” she said with her smiling thanks.
As she walked to the scaffold with Father Doyle beside her, she whispered to him, “I am so happy, Father! Jesus knows that I am sorry for having hurt Him, and I know that Jesus loves me.”
A moment later and Fanny Cranbush, with her baptismal robe unspotted, was in the arms of Jesus
On 19th October, 2008, I posted briefly about Father William Doyle S.J., on the ‘whitesmokeahoy’ blog. (see link below)
Father William Doyle S.J. (1873-1917)
After this appeared I received a communication from a lady in the south of England, to say that she was in possession of an army overcoat which she believed to have belonged at one time to Father Doyle. She further stated that her father had worn it throughout various military campaigns of World War II, and had attributed his survival to the protection of Father Doyle.
Certainly, numerous favours and cures were attributed to Father Doyle’s intercession after his death, and many are listed in the book
For those who would like to learn more about this brave and holy priest, I recommend the following website dedicated to his life and memory. http://fatherdoyle.com
Memorial window, St Finnians Church, Dromin, Co. Louth
“Another very severe pain for the holy souls is caused by the thought that, during life, God showed them so many special mercies not shown to others, after they had by their sins compelled Him to hate them, and to condemn them to hell. He, nevertheless, through His pure mercy, pardoned and saved them.”
(Daily thoughts from St Alphonsus - November 9th)