Bravery Under Fire
Brian Milligan, Dr. Patrick Kenny
Run time: 90 min
Unrated • Distributed through
Ignatius Press, www.ignatius.com
The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I has focused attention upon the courageous heroes of that tragic conflict. Among these we can count Father Willie Doyle, an Irish Jesuit and British army chaplain who was killed in Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.
Bravery Under Fire is an effective docudrama featuring sepia-toned dramatizations of Father Doyle’s life. Among the commentators is Patrick Kenny, whose biography To Raise the Fallen was published last fall by Ignatius Press.
Father Doyle (played by Brian Milligan) was sustained by his Catholic faith from his youth. Despite suffering chronic digestive troubles and a nervous breakdown while attending seminary, Doyle was ordained in 1907 and quickly became a popular retreat master, homilist, and confessor.
When war overtook the continent, he volunteered for the British chaplaincy corps. Insisting upon staying on the front lines of battle, he offered the sacraments, consoled the wounded, anointed the dying, and buried the dead. His frequent forays into “no man’s land” to minister to the injured or drag them to safety earned him the respect of all. It was on one such excursion that he was killed by a German shell, his remains never to be recovered.
Those bullet points of Father Doyle’s life are impressive enough, but the smaller anecdotes and details are also striking. In Bravery Under Fire we learn how even as kids he and his brother Charlie exhibited particular compassion for the poor, collecting and polishing coins to distribute to the needy. From a young age he practiced self-denial and mortifications, which no doubt helped prepare him for the deprivations he would later face in battle. He was determined to go “straight for holiness,” resolving to become a saint and to inspire others to do likewise. We hear the story of a prostitute who, having heard his gentle word of admonition in passing, years later calls upon him to hear her 11th-hour confession. We see Father Doyle at a makeshift altar celebrating a Mass for the Dead on a battlefield strewn with corpses.
We come to know Fr. Doyle through his letters and diaries, revealing a man whom many believe should be considered for sainthood. This film provides compelling evidence.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.