He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at the Battle of the Somme and a divisional merit award for bravery during a poison gas attack. He was nominated for both the Distinguished Service Order and the Victoria Cross, the latter being the most prestigious military honor in the British armed forces.
Kenny noted that the priest who went on to be known for courage and heroism had “a complete nervous breakdown” at the age of 20 when his novitiate caught on fire.
“It had a big effect upon him. And he was healed from that,” Kenny said. “We see him 20 years later as this hero in the war that people flocked to. He was so courageous, but he was also so serene in the midst of the dangers of war. This, I think, is a very attractive part of his personality for us today. He shows us that this kind of healing and transformation is possible.”
The cause for Doyle’s beatification and canonization will be formally opened with a Nov. 20 Mass at Christ the King Cathedral in Mullingar, County Westmeath, the seat of the Diocese of Meath.
Bishop Deenihan’s decree stressed the “serious responsibility” of any decision on Doyle’s beatification cause. He invited anyone aware of “any matters relating to the reputation of holiness” of Doyle, positive or negative, to submit them to the bishop or to the postulator of the cause. The decree invites anyone in possession of Doyle’s writings, including diaries, letters, and manuscripts, to submit them to the postulator.
The investigation process will include diocesan tribunals, theological review, and efforts to evaluate any reports from the faithful.
Kenny said the Doyle association will work to advance the sainthood cause by giving talks, distributing prayer cards, and raising funds to support the case.
Because a Church-approved miracle is often necessary for beatification, the association is especially encouraging people to pray for the intercession of Doyle if they have particularly sick friends or family members or are sick themselves.
“Pray to Father Willie for a miracle and healing,” Kenny said.
Kenny said that devotion to Doyle was “very much a global phenomenon” after the priest’s death.
By the early 1930s, more than 50,000 letters attesting to his personal devotion were received by Church authorities. Of these, 6,000 reported healings and favors through his intercession. Several canonized saints had a devotion to Doyle, including Teresa of Calcutta, Josemaria Escriva, Alberto Hurtado, and Rafael Arnaiz Baron. In the 1930s, there was serious consideration given to opening his cause for canonization, but this was delayed.
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For Kenny, the fact that Doyle died while trying to save two non-Catholic soldiers helps make him “an icon of peace and reconciliation on an island that for a long time has been divided between Catholics and Protestants. There’s been division between Ireland and England, too, and here’s a man that spans all those divides.”
Hogan, the cause’s postulator, said that St. Oliver Plunkett is the only Irish person to have been canonized in the last 500 years.
“Ireland has many great candidates for sainthood, and Father Willie Doyle is one of the most fascinating of all. His attractive personality and his love for God and for others shines through his writings,” Hogan said. “He is also a tremendously relevant figure for the Church today, especially in Ireland.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.