The Catholic Church has begun a cause for canonisation of the former Irish Jesuit priest Father William Doyle.

In a homily at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar this evening, Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan described Fr Doyle's "cult or following" as "strong and widespread".

A website outlining Fr Doyle's history has been established by an association working towards the beatification and canonisation of the Jesuit.

Born in Dalkey, Co Dublin, in 1873, Willie Doyle entered the Jesuit novitiate in Tullabeg, Rahan, in the Diocese of Meath at the age of 18.

In November 1915 he was appointed chaplain to the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (part of the 16th [Irish] Division).

Despite having the rank of Captain, he "lived and suffered alongside his men", experiencing all of the dangers and trials of life in the trenches.

As an army chaplain he ministered to soldiers - some of whom were Catholic, others Anglican - and was killed on the battlefield.

In his homily this evening, Bishop Deenihan relayed a story contained in Alfred O'Rahilly’s biography of Father Doyle, written almost a 100 years ago.

After Father Doyle’s death, his father’s house was being burgled. The burglar came across a photograph of Father Doyle on the dresser and asked who it was.

Fr Willie Doyle's father, who was in the house at the time, said that it was his son who lost his life as an Army Chaplain.

The burglar responded that he knew him. He was a soldier and Doyle was his chaplain. He said Doyle was a good man, dropped his bag of stolen property and walked out empty handed.

Bishop Deenihan questioned tonight if this could have been Fr Doyle's first miracle.

A step towards beatification involves a miracle being attributed to prayers made to the individual after their death.

The prayers being granted are seen as proof that the individual is already in heaven, and hence able to intercede with God on others' behalf.

Canonisation is the final step in declaring a deceased person a saint.

To reach this stage, a second miracle normally needs to be attributed to prayers made to the candidate after they have been beatified.

The Bishop of Meath concluded his homily expressing "hope" that Fr Doyle will soon be "counted among those whom we publicly venerate and implore".

This evening, the Father Willie Doyle Association welcomed the opening of the canonisation.

President of the Association Patrick Kenny said it was evident that there was a strong affection for Fr Willie "out there".