Those who Died in Battle
Today is Remembrance Sunday when we not only remember those who died for their countries in battle, but we also pray for them and offer Mass for them. Many suffered severe injuries and died with little or no preparation to meet their Maker. They need our prayers. We remember also all the clergy who died ministering to the soldiers under their pastoral care. Their bravery too is very humbling.
Fr Willie Doyle (1873-1917) was an Irish Jesuit and educated at our own Ratcliffe College. He was called to the front line of battle during the First World War. As a young boy in Ireland he would spend hours praying for the conversion of sinners, and on one occasion spent eight hours praying by the bedside of a dying man who had refused the Last Rites, and then just before he died he asked for a priest. Such acts of charity characterised his whole life.
Ordained in 1907, he volunteered to be a war chaplain in 1915 and was called up about a year later. He had the privilege of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx hung around his neck. He would regularly spend nights in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament even when he was exhausted at the end of the day. Officially, all he had to do was to look after the wounded and dying in the infirmary, but so great was his love of souls that he would often run out on the open battlefield like “an angel of mercy” to anoint dying soldiers and bring back the wounded. Whenever there was a particularly heavy shooting, soldiers would flock to him because they were convinced he had special protection. And this wasn’t without good reason as bombs would often fall a few feet away from him, killing everyone else instantly, whereas he would be without a scratch. But he had offered his life to the Sacred Heart of JESUS, and Heaven eventually accepted his offering as he was killed during the Battle of Ypres on 16th August 1917, when he was carrying a wounded soldier to the infirmary. Once he was in Heaven he wasted no time in getting to work, as after only fourteen years, around 6,423 favours had been reported through his intercession.
There are countless priests in history who have ministered to soldiers at great risk to their own lives during wartime. While praying for the repose of the souls of those brave soldiers, let us also remember all the brave chaplains who risked, and in many cases, lost their lives in ministering to and trying to secure a happy death in God’s grace for those in their care. “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC