VATICAN CITY – A new film tells the story of Irish Jesuit Father William “Willie” Doyle, who during World War I brought the sacraments to dying soldiers on the battlefield, before he himself died in action on the frontline.
Just over an hour in length, the docudrama, “Bravery Under Fire,” was screened at the Vatican’s “filmoteca” theater Oct. 12. It was written, produced, and directed by EWTN Ireland employee Campbell Miller, a native of Northern Ireland.
Miller presented a copy of the film to Pope Francis Oct. 10 after the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Among those present at the screening were Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh; UK Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy; Father John Dardis, an Irish priest working in the Jesuit General Curia in Rome; and Aidan Gallagher, CEO of EWTN Ireland.
The film combines interviews with family members and historians with dramatic depictions of episodes in Doyle’s life, particularly those on the battlefield, as known through the many letters he wrote to his family and others throughout his life.
Father Willie Doyle grew up in a devout Catholic family in Ireland, and inspired by two older brothers, decided to become a Jesuit priest. After formation and ordination, and serving as a missionary priest in parts of Dublin, he volunteered as a chaplain for the British army at the outbreak of World War I.
As a chaplain, Doyle served at the frontlines as “a soldier without arms,” the film said. He did not spare himself in any way and did not accept the privileges afforded to a chaplain. Instead, he walked among the men of his brigade, even among shellfire, to hear confessions and deliver last rites to the dying.
The film also recalled the Jesuit’s dedication to helping not only his own men, but dying captured German soldiers, to whom he brought comfort and the sacraments.
The priest spent his days in the fields and would often spend his nights praying or writing letters to the anxious families of soldiers from both sides of the war.
Night is also when the priest most often could find the time to bury the dead, moving the bloody and dismembered bodies into graves.
In one letter home, Doyle recalled with special poignancy a Mass he offered on the battlefield for the dead, whose bodies were lying all around him, since they had not yet had time to bury them.
The documentary credits the priest’s many sacrifices on the frontlines to his strong spiritual life, in particular the severe physical penances and deep prayer he engaged in prior to the start of the war. He was killed in action in Belgium in 1917.