Harvesting the "Red Vineyard": Catholic Religious Culture in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919.
Historical Studies 1998, Annual, 64
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After only six months of service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a chaplain, Father Bernard Stephen Doyle of Toronto was clearly unimpressed with the spiritual exercises of the men in his care. "I have become more firmly convinced," he wrote to Archbishop Neil McNeil, "that war and soldier's life do not promote the welfare of religion. The ordinary man is not any more fervent out here than he was at home." (1) Doyle complained of fairweather Catholics who seemed to eager go to the sacraments before the heat of battle but who also "forgot their good resolutions afterwards." Soldiers, according to Doyle, were mired in irreligion, immorality, and blasphemy, and many were remiss in making their Easter duty during the war, continuing what seemed to be the bad habits they possessed well before they ever donned khaki. Such rotten fruit in the "red vineyard," was, in Doyle's mind the harvest of a domestic Church that had failed to nurture young men in the faith. His only words of hope came when he described Catholic youth from the Maritimes and the Ottawa Valley. (2) What are we to make of Doyle's observations? Did they reflect accurately the religious lives of Catholics serving in the Canadian Expeditionary force? One might attribute Doyle's diatribe to his limited experience in the variety of postings typical to the life of a CEF chaplain. (3) Perhaps his observations were evidence of the disappointment and shock experienced by a zealous young priest who, ordained less than four years, received a strong dose of reality in his first significant pastoral assignment. (4) Whatever the difficulties of filtering Doyle's comments through the unrequited expectations of an eager and committed priest, his observations prompt some rather significant questions about the spiritual life of priests and Catholic laity in the CEF. How did priests serving as chaplains understand the nature of their ministry? How can one characterize their relations with the lay men and women serving in the CEF? How ardent were Catholic service persons in their reception of the sacraments? How closely did soldiers and nursing sisters maintain strict Catholic moral norms?
- Category: History
- Published: 01 January 1998
- Publisher: The Canadian Catholic Historical Assn.
- Print Length: 42 Pages
- Language: English