Fr Willie Doyle S.J.

Published on December 17, 2023

Fr Willie Doyle SJ

Among the holy people who lived in Rahan-Mucklagh-The Island parish is the Jesuit priest Fr Willie Doyle whose cause for beatification and canonisation was opened within the Diocese of Meath in November 2022.

Fr Willie was born in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, on 3 rd March 1873. Raised in a devout Christian family, as a child he was precocious in the practice of charity. Educated privately at home and from 1884 at Ratcliffe college in Leicestershire, England, he entered the Society of Jesus at the St Stanislaus Jesuit College, Tullabeg, Rahan, on 31 st March 1891. Those two years of initial formation in the Society were one of the most spiritually significant periods in his life. In November 1892 he suffered a nervous breakdown after fire broke out in the college, but he recovered and never suffered from psychological or mental issues again. On 1 st May 1893 he made an offering of his whole life to Our Lady as an act of living martyrdom, hoping one day to die as a Jesuit martyr.

Making his first profession on the 15 th August 1893, he continued his formation at Clongowes College, where he founded The Clongownian magazine and was involved in founding the Clongowes Union. He later studied at Enghien in Belgium, Stonyhurst in England, and Milltown Park in Dublin.On 28 th July 1907 he was ordained a priest at Milltown, in the same  ceremony as Blessed JohnSullivan SJ.

From 1908 to 1915 Fr Willie served on the Jesuit Mission team, giving missions and retreats all over Ireland and Britain. He was renowned for his preaching, good humour, and obvious holiness. He spent many hours hearing confessions and had a gift of touching the hearts of those who were alienated from God and the Church. He promoted lay sanctification and was involved in the attempts to establish retreats for working men. He wrote a number of pamphlets which proved popular; two on vocations sold hundreds of thousands of copies and influenced many young people to give their lives to serve God in the priesthood and religious life. He also helped found a Poor Clare monastery in Cork.

With the outbreak of World War I, seeing so many young men sign up to fight, Fr Willie offered himself for service as a military chaplain to be with them and help them deal with the horrors which lay ahead. He was called into service in November 1915 and was sent to the Front in February 1916. Enduring great hardships and suffering, he carried out an intense ministry among all the soldiers, on both sides, forming the men spiritually and administering the sacraments, caring for the injured, giving Last Rites to the dying, and burying the dead. His heroism on the battlefield seeking out the fallen astonished all, and he was admired by soldiers and commanding officers alike. He served at the battles of The Somme, Messines Ridge, and Passchendaele. It was during this last battle, on the 16 th August 1917, he was killed: seeing two injured men on the battlefield, he ran out to help them when all three were struck by a shell. The men, both Anglicans, were Second-Lieutenants Charles Marlow from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, and Arthur Green, from Belfast. Fr Willie’s body was never recovered. Immediately following his death, devotion to Fr Willie emerged among the soldiers. When a biography was published in 1920 and translated into numerous languages, that devotion spread
worldwide and calls for his canonisation began. Numerous favours were reported down the years. In 2020 the Father Willie Association was founded to promote his life and serve as the official petitioner for the cause of canonisation; it is an approved private association of the faithful in the Diocese of Meath. On 20 th November 2022, Bishop Tom Deenihan formally opened the cause. For more information on Fr Willie, see the Association website: