"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Tuesday, November 11, 2003 'Saintly priest of Passchendaele'
Fr Willie Doyle, SJ
The headline above is taken from a Guardianpiece on Chaplain William Doyle, SJ, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, killed at Ypres in 1917 after having run "all day hither and thither over the battlefield like an angel of mercy."
It's said Fr Doyle would have won the Victoria Cross had not the British High Command been loath to so decorate an Irish Jesuit. His cause for sainthood was promoted in the years following the Great War, and he remained much venerated in Ireland: Liam Clancy of the Clancy Bros writes of going through boyhood called Willie after the hero chaplain. A pamphlet by Fr Doyle on discerning a vocation still circulates on the Web.
An excerpt from his battlefield diary conveys a powerful image of faith amidst the horrors of war:
By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice - but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten. Fr Doyle's diary: 11 October 1916 at the Somme.
If ever you're feeling besieged, it couldn't hurt to ask Fr Doyle to help. Maybe he will. Today we remember his story, but it would be a fine thing to reignite his cause.