Sunday, October 13, 2013

Canonization for a Jesuit exorcist? by Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott column

Matt C. Abbott
Matt C. Abbott
October 13, 2013

Here's one name I haven't heard mentioned in regard to possible canonization, yet it seems he'd be a good candidate: Father William S. Bowdern, S.J.

Father Bowdern, who was born in 1897 and died in 1983, was the chief exorcist in the 1949 exorcism of "Robbie," the teenaged boy whose case inspired William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel The Exorcist, which subsequently was made into a feature film. The exorcism of "Robbie" took place largely in St. Louis, Mo.

Interestingly, Father Bowdern, who had authored a booklet titled Problems of Courtship and Marriage (1944), reportedly suffered somewhat debilitating effects from the exorcism, although it wasn't something that was publicized.

One Jesuit told me years ago that Father Bowdern had been seen stumbling down the hallway in the mornings prior to celebrating Mass. A Jesuit who witnessed this was understandably concerned, thinking it might have been alcohol-related. He went to his superior, who told him that Father Bowdern had been involved in an exorcism, and this "stumbling" was an effect of having (successfully) performed the exorcism. After celebrating Mass, Father Bowdern was fine.

I asked two individuals who are very knowledgeable of the 1949 exorcism – Thomas B. Allen, author of the book Possessed, and Saint Louis University archivist John Waide – if they've ever heard Father Bowdern's name mentioned as a candidate for canonization. Both responded that they haven't.

At any rate, it's something to consider.

On a related note, there was an interesting interview conducted some years ago by Catholic author and journalist Michael Brown of with Father Walter Halloran, S.J. Father Halloran, who died in 2005, was at the time of the exorcism a Jesuit scholastic and had assisted Father Bowdern for a significant portion of the exorcism.
Click here to read the interview in its entirety.

All in all, it's a fascinating case.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at

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© Copyright 2013 by Matt C. Abbott