Spiritan Features

One Spiritan missionary’s life to date!

From school talk to mission in Brazil

Phil DoyleA visiting Spiritan (Holy Ghost) priest “gave one talk, for an hour” in Dublin’s Synge St. CBS where a young Phil Doyle was a student. Phil was interested in “the missions” from that day and corresponded with the priest. However, his mother opened the post that contained literature about the work of the Spiritans and told Phil, who had contracted pneumonia as a new-born baby and who was prone to severe asthma, ‘You know your health will not take Africa. You’ll have to think of something else.’

Accepting his mother’s injunction, Phil worked for seven years in a Dublin business after leaving school but Africa had lodged itself in his heart. A friend who had already entered the Spiritans and who remained in touch suggested that he talk to the director of vocations. Phil was advised to “try it for a year”. He left his job to enter the Spiritan novitiate and was ordained six years later after studying Philosophy and Theology. Meanwhile, Pope John XXIII had requested that the Spiritans, who until then were largely associated with mission in Africa, send missionaries to Brazil. With his friend already there, Phil requested the same posting and it was granted. His new home was very different from Dublin! First up was an intensive course in the Portuguese language spoken across Brazil.

No looking back

Fr. Phil (pictured) recalls that a telegram arrived one day saying ‘Dad died last night.’ The superior, who was very strict, told him to go Rio de Janeiro, “spend a couple of days there and you’ll get over it.”  Months later, the superior again came to Phil’s door, this time to tell him of his mother’s death. Within seven months, his mom and dad – as well as four uncles and two aunts – had died and he was unable to get back to Ireland for any of the funerals. He was, however, comforted by the knowledge that the Spiritans at home would be out in force for his parents’ funerals – and they were. Today he is quick to say that the philosophy has changed since. As he says, the gospel imperative of putting one’s hand to the plough and not looking back was taken literally, but “if you don’t look back when you’re ploughing you won’t have a straight furrow”.

Fr. Phil went on to work in Canada – in parishes, vocations and Portuguese-speaking communities. After ten years, his provincial in Ireland asked him to minister to Portuguese migrants in the Channel Islands who worked in the hospitality industry in the summer and on the farms for the rest of the year. From a huge country he was now in Jersey, an island of only 45 square miles. Those intensive language classes in Brazil stood to him.  After ten more years, he returned to Dublin to nurse his sister who had been diagnosed with cancer. When she passed away, Phil was ready to return to work.

Moving on

“I’m a firm believer in doing a job and then letting the people take over and move on – but you must train people for that. I felt that my job in Jersey had been done because only the very elderly were still speaking Portuguese. Everyone else was speaking English.” 

A sabbatical in Jerusalem preceded a move to Melbourne and then to Western Australia. After 12 years in Mt Barker, a melanoma and three operations led to one further move. Mt Barker’s loss was the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s gain! While a priest in residence, not an assistant priest, Fr. Phil does not spare himself the long distances that the parish covers. He is much loved ? for his warmth, his grounded and uncompromising homilies, his genuine love of his parishioners, and his endless jokes and one-liners; whatever you do, don’t try to out-pun Fr. Phil!

* Adapted from Tracey Edstein’s article in Maitland-Newcastle Catholic News, 12/1/2017. See http://mnnews.today/year-in-review/2017/15382-fr-phil-doyle-cssp-one-talk-for-an-hour/