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Born: 03 March 1873, Dalkey, County Dublin
Entered: 31 March 1891, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 28 July 1907, Milltown Park
Professed: 02 February 1909
Died :16 August 1917, Ypres, Belgium
◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Educated by the Rosminians at Ratcliffe, Leicstershire, England.
After First Vows he studied Philosophy at Enghien and Stonyhurst.
He was then sent for Regency teaching at Belvedere College SJ, and later also as a Prefect at Clongowes Wood College SJ.
1904 He was sent for Theology to Milltown Park, Dublin and was ordained there after three years.
1905 He was sent to Drongen, Belgium for Tertianship.
He then became Minister at Belvedere, and was put on the Mission Staff, where he displayed outstanding qualities, especially as an orator in the pulpit.
He was something of a literary person as well. He founded the “Clongownian”, wrote regularly in the “Messenger” and wrote some booklets and a life of the French Jesuit Paul Ginhac.
In the early years of the Great War he volunteered for service as a Military Chaplain. 15 November 1915 he wrote “Received my appointment from the War Office as Chaplain to the 16th Division”. 01 January 1916 He moved with his regiment (8th Royal Irish Fusiliers) from Whitely to Bordon. he remained with this group until he was killed 16 or 17 August 1917 near Ypres.
Notice in the “Irish Independent” 25 August 1917 :
“When Irish troops advanced at Ginchy, Father Doyle was in the thick of the fighting ministering to the wounded, and for conspicuous bravery then, was awarded the Military Cross. The story of his Priestly devotion in the advance at the Zonnebeke River, when he met his death while administering the Last Sacraments to his stricken countrymen, has been borne testimony to alike by Northern Orangemen and Catholic Nationalists, and it is admitted by all who witnessed his courage and indifference to danger that his heroism will rank among the great unselfish, self-sacrificing deeds of the war.”
Mr Percival Phillips writing on his death in the “Morning Post” :
“The Orange will not forget a certain Catholic Chaplain who lies in a soldier’s grave in that sinister plain beyond Ypres. he went forward and back on the battlefield, with bullets whining about him, seeking out the dying and kneeling in the mud beside them to give the Absolution, walking with death with a smile on his face, watched by his men with reverence and a kind of awe, until a shell burst near him and he was killed. His familiar figure was seen and welcomed by hundreds of Irishmen who lay in that bloody place. Each time he came back across the field he was begged to remain in comparative safety. Smilingly he shook his head and went again into the storm. He had been with his boys at Ginchy and through other times of stress, and he would not desert them in their agony. They remember him as a Saint - they speak his name with tears.”
Sir Philip Gibbs KBE wrote :
“All through the worst hours and Irish Padre went about among the dead and dying giving Absolution to his boys. Once he came back to HQ, but would not take a bite of food or stay, though his friends urged him. he went back to the field to minister to those who were glad to see him bending over them in their last agony. Four men were killed by shell fire as he knelt beside them, and he was not touched - until his own turn came. A shell burst close and the Padre fell dead.”
A Soldier writing :
“Father Willie was more than a priest to them, and if any man was loved by the men it was he, who certainly risked every danger to try and do good for their bodies as well as their souls.
A Fellow Chaplain wrote 15 August 1917 :
“Father Doyle is a marvel. They may talk of heroes and Saints, they are hardly in it. he sticks it to the end - shells, gas, attack. The first greeting to me of a man from another battalion, who had only known Father Doyle by sight was ‘Father Doyle deserves the VG more than any man who ever wore it. We cannot get him away from where the men are. If he is not with his own, he is in with us. The men would not stick half of it were it not for him. If we give him an orderly, he sends the man back. He doesn't wear a tin hat, he is always so cheery’.”
An Officer writing :
“Father Doyle never rests, night and day. he finds a dead or dying man, does all he can, comes back smiling, makes a little cross, goes out and buries him. It would be the proudest moment of my life if I could only call him VC.”
(cf Father William Doyle SJ, by Professor Alfred O’Rahilly ISBN 9782917813041)
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
Doyle, William Joseph Gabriel
by David Murphy
Doyle, William Joseph Gabriel (1873–1917), Jesuit priest and military chaplain, was born 3 March 1873 at Melrose, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, youngest child of Hugh Doyle, registrar of the insolvency court, and Christine Doyle (née Byrne). He was educated by the Rosminian Fathers at Ratcliffe College, Leics., and entered the Society of Jesus in Ireland (March 1891). On completing his novitiate he taught at Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare (1894–8), founding the college magazine The Clongownian (1895). He then studied philosophy at Enghien, Belgium, and Stonyhurst College, England, before returning to Ireland to teach once more at Clongowes and later Belvedere College, Dublin. His final theological studies were taken at Milltown College, Dublin (1904–7), and he was ordained in July 1907. After completing his tertianship at Trenchiennes, Belgium, he began to work as an urban missionary and retreat-giver in Dublin. Due to his positive attitude he was a great success at this work and also travelled around England, Scotland, and Wales. Recognising that urban labourers were in great need of spiritual direction, he proposed that a special retreat house be opened in Dublin to cater for the needs of the working classes. He also wrote several best-selling pamphlets including Retreats for working men: why not in Ireland? (1909), Vocations (1913), and Shall I be a priest? (1915).
At the outbreak of the first world war he volunteered to work as a military chaplain and was posted (November 1915) to 8th Bn, Royal Irish Fusiliers, 16th (Irish) Division. Arriving in France early in 1916, he soon gained a reputation for bravery and was recommended for the MC (April) for helping to dig wounded men out of a collapsed shelter under fire. Present at the battle of the Somme from its beginning in July 1916, he was awarded the MC (January 1917) for his work with casualties during the battle. He was transferred to 8th Bn, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, in December 1916 and greatly impressed the men of his new unit. The CO of the battalion, Lt-col. H. R. Stirke, later said that Fr Doyle was ‘one of the finest fellows that I ever met, utterly fearless, always with a cheery word on his lips, and ever ready to go out and attend the wounded and dying under the heaviest fire’. He was killed in Belgium, along with two other officers, while going to the aid of a wounded man on 16 August 1917 during the third battle of Ypres. His body, supposedly buried on the spot by men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was never recovered. He was recommended posthumously for both the VC and DSO, but neither was granted.
Personal papers, opened after his death, were the basis of Alfred O'Rahilly's biography of Doyle (1920), and he became a focus of popular devotion in Dublin. The papers also revealed that Doyle had inflicted extreme physical punishments on himself since his novitiate, perhaps since childhood. In August 1938 the cause for his canonisation was proposed and relevant documentation sent to Rome. The cause subsequently fell silent. There is a substantial collection of Doyle papers in the Jesuit archives, Leeson St., Dublin.
Fr W. Doyle papers, Jesuit archives; Alfred O'Rahilly, Fr William Doyle, S.J.: a spiritual study (1920); Henry L. Stuart, ‘Fr William Doyle S.J.’, The Commonweal, no. 8 (11 Nov. 1925), 11–14; Sir John Smyth, In this sign conquer (1968); Louis McRedmond, To the greater glory: a history of the Irish Jesuits (1991); Tom Johnstone and James Hagerty, The cross on the sword: catholic chaplains in the forces (1996)
◆ Jesuits in Ireland : https://www.jesuit.ie/news/commemorating-willie-doyle-sj/
Fr Willie Doyle SJ – a lesson for Europe
In a lengthy article for the UK Independent, renowned British writer and journalist Robert Fisk has used the exemplary life and death of Irish war chaplain Fr Willie Doyle SJ as an anti-Brexit morality tale. “The image of an Irish Catholic going to the aid of a (Protestant?) German in little Catholic Belgium, wearing the battledress of a British soldier,” Fisk writes, “is surely the finest image of what the EU was supposed to embrace and redress: that there should never again be a European war.” He concludes with a stern reproof of the British Prime Minister: “Theresa May, hang your head in shame.”
Fisk was prompted to write the article by a talk on the life of Fr Doyle, given in Dalkey Library on Tuesday, 15 August, by Damien Burke of the Irish Jesuit Archives. The talk, which was attended by more than 60 people, was one of a number of events to mark the centenary of Fr Doyle’s death at the Battle of Passchendaele in Flanders in August 1917.
The fact that Fr Doyle was himself a Dalkey native added poignancy to Damien’s account of his life and his death in the trenches. The slides which Damien presented of Fr Doyle’s letters, writings, and personal belongings, which had been preserved for many years in Rathfarnham Castle, were also touching.
At the same event in Dalkey Library, Dr Patrick Kenny discussed his book on Fr Doyle, entitled To Raise the Fallen. Amazingly one of the parishioners present was a 105-year-old woman who remembered the news of Fr Doyle’s death!
RTE’s Morning Ireland covered the Dalkey event. Damien Burke and Fergus O’Donoghue SJ of the Irish Jesuit Archives were interviewed for a package about Fr Willie Doyle, which you can listen to here. A commemorative Mass for Fr Doyle was celebrated on 16 August in Dalkey Church. Since his remains were never found some people considered this to be his real requiem, albeit one hundred years after his untimely death. At the Mass, Fr McGuinness referenced the self-sacrificing love that Fr Doyle had for the men who engaged in the horrific war.
Centenary events to mark Fr Doyle and the other Jesuit chaplains of the First World War continue in the coming months. This Friday, 1 September, a documentary by Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy entitled, ‘The Irish at Passchendaele’, featuring the story of Jesuit chaplain Willie Doyle, will be screened at Veritas House, 7-8 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1, at 1pm.
And in October, there will be a Dalkey-themed RTE Nationwide programme in which Fr Doyle will feature. Material from the Fr Willie Doyle exhibition currently on display in Dalkey Library will be incorporated in an exhibition on ‘Jesuit chaplains and Rathfarnham Castle 1917’ at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, 2 November- 3 December 2017.
There will also be an exhibition on ‘Fr Michael Bergin SJ and Australian Jesuit chaplains’ at Roscrea Library, Tipperary, from 2 to 27 October 2017.
Also worth noting is the attention garnered by the remarkable graphic short entitled ‘A Perfect Trust’ by Alan Dunne, which is displayed in the Dalkey Library exhibition. It has been nominated for an Irish Design Award
A champion at the front
The third of March marks the birthday anniversary of Willie Doyle, who was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele, Flanders in 1917. He was one of thirty-two Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War. His life and the lives of his fellow-chaplains were commemorated, around the centenary date of his death on 16 or 17 August (exact date of death unknown), at a number of events in Dublin in 2017. The exhibition ‘Jesuit chaplains in the First World War’ continued its tour in April 2018 at Stillorgan Library, Dublin where material relating to Jesuit chaplains in 1918 and Fr Doyle was on show.
To us today the First World War can only be seen as an indescribable waste of life, a cause which served no purpose other than the decimation of an entire generation. Willie Doyle served and died in the Great War; he willingly put himself forward again and again to help those with him, and in the end it cost him his life.
Willie Doyle was born in Dalkey, just outside of Dublin, in 1873, the youngest of seven children. His education took place both in Ireland and at Ratcliffe College, in Leicester. At eighteen he joined the noviciate for the Society of Jesus, a decision he reached after reading Instructions and Consideration on the Religious State by St Alphonsus. In 1907 he was ordained as a priest, and spent several years following as a missionary, travelling from parish to parish all across the British Isles.
With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Doyle volunteered, knowing that many would be in need of guidance and assistance in the time to come. He landed in France in 1915 with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, serving as chaplain. He went to the front, serving in many major battles, including the Battle of the Somme. Out on the battlefield Doyle risked his life countless times, seeking out men where they fell dying in the mud to be with them in their last moment and to offer absolution; those who served with him described him as fearless. His selflessness was not just given to those who shared his faith; Doyle was a champion too among the Protestant Ulstermen in his battalion.
In August 1917 he was killed by a German shell while out helping fallen soldiers in no man’s land. Three other Irish Jesuits were killed in the war along with two who died from illness. Doyle was awarded the Military Cross, and he was put forward for the Victoria Cross posthumously but did not receive it. According to the National Museum of Ireland, this was arguably due to the “triple disqualification of being an Irishman, a Catholic and a Jesuit”.
The commemoration in 2017 by the Irish Province took the form of an exhibition on Fr Doyle, which was launched at Dalkey library, and the National Museum of Ireland exhibited some of his chaplain effects from the front. Bernard McGuckian SJ told his story as part of a collection of essays in the book Irish Jesuit chaplains in the First World War.
Watch the trailer below for Bravery Under Fire, a docudrama on his life.
Film on ‘forgotten hero’
Details of a docudrama about the life of wartime hero Fr. Willie Doyle SJ have just been released by the Catholic network EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network).
The docudrama already dubbed Ireland’s Hacksaw Ridge, has the working title Bravery under Fire. It will explore the life of Fr. Doyle, showing his bravery as an army chaplain in World War I when, disregarding the advice of his superiors and his own personal safety, the Irish Jesuit saved many lives, repeatedly going into no man’s land to drag soldiers back to safety.
EWTN say the story is an ‘inspiriational’ one and they have appointed Newcastle Co. Down man Campbell Miller to direct it. He is filming on location in Passchendaele, Ireland and England.
In April 2018, for the very first time, the historic events will be brought to the big screen and will include readings from Fr Willie’s personal diaries, historical footage and re-enactments of his many brave actions.
Producer Campbell Miller said, “I accepted this project as I believe Fr Willie Doyle is a forgotten hero. While other soldiers have got the Victoria Cross for showing one act of bravery, Fr. Doyle performed miraculous acts of bravery each day he was on the front line. In this secular age there is a lot to be learned from his actions, his teachings and his respect for all others regardless of their creed.”
The high budget docudrama is the first of its kind for EWTN Ireland, and it will bring significant job opportunities for local cast and crew, when it goes into production here in Ireland next month.
Speaking about the movie and its producer, the CEO of EWTN Ireland, Aidan Gallagher said, “We are absolutely delighted to be producing this movie. It will bring the story of Fr Doyle and his selfless heroism to a wider audience. It is a new opportunity for EWTN and I wish Campbell every success..”
Campbell, who studied film at Ball State University in Indiana, brings to the project over 10 years of experience directing documentaries and short films and a proven track record in producing award winning films — receiving accolades in film festivals around the world, including Orlando, New York, New Jersey, and London, to name but a few.
Campbell’s award winning films, Respite at Christmas and Family, were pivotal in EWTN selecting him as the Director of the film.
The film will be shot in London and Belgium, with the majority of its World War I re-enactments taking place in Ireland.
A sparrow to fall
A BBC Northern Ireland documentary, Voices 16 – Somme (BBC 1 NI on Wednesday 29th June,
9pm) explores the events of 1916 through the testimony of the people who witnessed it and their families. Documentary makers and relatives of Jesuit chaplain Willie Doyle were shown his letters, postcards and personal possessions kept here at the Irish Jesuit Archives. In the 1920s, Alfred O’Rahilly used some of these letters in his biography of Fr Willie Doyle SJ. Afterwards they were given to Willie’s brother, Charles, and were stored for safekeeping in the basement of St Francis Xavier’s church, Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin in 1949. In 2011, they were accessioned into the archives.
Fr Willie Doyle SJ was one of ten Irish Jesuits who served as chaplains at the battle of the Somme (1 July- 18 November 1916): seven with the British forces; three with the Australian. Their letters, diaries and photographs witness their presence to the horror of war.
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Pamphlet by Fr Willie Doyle SJ entitled Vocations, ‘Irish Messenger’ Series, ‘26th Edition – 340th Thousand’.
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The Irish Jesuit Archives are open only to bona fide researchers. Access by advance appointment. Further details: email@example.com
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No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the Archivist. Copyright restrictions apply. Photocopying is not available. Digital photography is at the discretion of the Archivist.
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- Doyle, Willie, 1873-1917, Jesuit priest and chaplain (Subject)
- Irish Messenger Office, 1888- (Subject)
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