Crucifix belonging to WWI chaplain Fr Willie Doyle comes to London for first time

William Joseph Gabriel Doyle (3 March 1873 – 16 August 1917) was an Irish Catholic priest who was killed in action while serving as a military chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during the First World War. He was born in Dalkey, Ireland, the youngest of seven children, and was educated at Ratcliffe College in Leicester.

Fr Willie Doyle as he is more commonly known, is currently a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church, thanks in large part to the tireless work of Patrick Kenny of the Father Willie Doyle Association.

The Association was established to promote awareness of the life and spirituality of Fr Willie Doyle SJ and to work towards his beatification and canonisation. In canon law it has the status of a Private Association of the Faithful, approved by the Most Reverend Bishop Tom Deenihan, Bishop of Meath.

Fr Doyle laid down his life as a martyr of charity on 16th August 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele. At some time in the late afternoon a group of soldiers lead by Lieutenants Marlow and Green got into trouble beyond the front line, and Fr Doyle ran to assist them. It seems that Fr Doyle and the two officers were about to take shelter when they were hit by a German shell and killed. His body was never recovered. Marlow and Green were Protestant soldiers from Northern Ireland making Fr Doyle an ecumenical martyr of charity.

All who knew Fr Doyle were devastated at his loss, and many tributes from those who knew him poured in. These tributes especially emphasised his good humour, his shining faith and in particular his stunning courage, a trait made all the more remarkable given that he suffered a nervous breakdown as a novice.

What was the source of this remarkable transformation and seemingly limitless courage?

There was much more to Fr Willie Doyle than most people suspected. In his room back in Dublin were his personal papers, with a note asking that they be destroyed if he died. Thankfully, his superiors did not consent to this destruction.

Fr Doyle’s diaries revealed the intensity of his prayer, his intense personal austerity (often offered up to make reparation for the sins of priests) and his dogged pursuit of holiness. They show him to be a spiritual tactician of the highest order, primarily focussed on the primary duties of his state in life. His heroism on the field of battle was the fruit of that earlier daily pursuit of holiness in little things.

Extracts from these diaries and letters of spiritual direction that he wrote are posted every day on the Association’s website in the section on Daily Thoughts from Fr Doyle.

By the 1930’s there was a truly global devotion to Fr Doyle – biographies and prayer cards were published in all of the major languages and over 50,000 letters were received by the Irish Jesuits testifying to this devotion. Amongst these letters are thousands that report alleged favours through his intercession. Several canonised saints held him in high esteem, including St Teresa of Calcutta, St Josemaria Escriva, St Alberto Hurtado and St Rafael Arnáiz Barón.

Serious consideration was given to the opening of Fr Doyle’s Cause in the 1930’s, but for various reasons it was decided to wait and to leave the matters in the hands of Providence.

The members of the Father Willie Doyle Association believe that that time has now come and on this coming Sunday (16th June) Patrick Kenny will not only be giving a talk about Fr Willie in London, but individual blessings will be available with Fr Willie’s crucifix. This is the first time that the relics of Fr Willie will have been brought to London.

The meeting takes place at St Bede’s RC Church, Thornton Road, Clapham, starting at 1.45pm, and everyone is welcome.

St Bede’s Clapham Park
58 Thornton Road, Clapham Park SW12 0LF
t. 020 8674 3704