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May 1, 2015

Father Ed Dowling

Father Ed Dowling

Bill Wilson’s Sponsor

Glenn F. Chesnut
“The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.” Edward Dowling, Chicago Daily News, July 28, 1941.
Father Ed rejoiced that in “moving therapy from the expensive clinical couch to the low-cost coffee bar, from the inexperienced professional to the informed amateur, AA has democratized sanity.”1
“At one Cana Conference he commented, ‘No man thinks he’s ugly. If he’s fat, he thinks he looks like Taft. If he’s lanky, he thinks he looks like Lincoln.’”2
Edward Dowling, S.J., of the Queen’s Work staff, says, “Alcoholics Anonymous is natural; it is natural at the point where nature comes closest to the supernatural, namely in humiliations and in consequent humility. There is something spiritual about an art museum or a symphony, and the Catholic Church approves of our use of them. There is something spiritual about A.A. too, and Catholic participation in it almost invariably results in poor Catholics becoming better Catholics.” Added as an appendix to the Big Book in 1955.3
“‘God resists the proud, assists the humble. The shortest cut to humility is humiliations, which AA has in abundance. The achievements of AA, which grew out of this book, are profoundly significant. Non-alcoholics should read the last nine words of 12th Step, page 72.’ — Edward Dowling, S.J., The Solidarity of Our Lady, St. Louis, Mo.” A quote from Fr. Dowling on the book jacket for Alcoholics Anonymous, beginning with the ninth printing of the first edition in January 1946.4
Bill W., A.A. Grapevine (Spring 1960), “Father Ed, an early and wonderful friend of AA, died as this last message went to press. He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet. I was closer to him than to any other human being on earth.”
Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Father Dowling’s Early Life
1. The Route to Becoming a Priest: 1898-1931

2. The Queen’s Work and the Cana Conference

3. Cognitive Behavioral Psychology and Small Group Therapy

4. Father Ed Receives a Gift of Grace: 1940

Father Ed and Bill Wilson: Two Spiritual Masters
5. Discovering A.A. and Meeting Bill W: 1940

6. Pain and Suffering: (1) Emmet Fox

7. Pain and Suffering: (2) Matt Talbot

8. Pain and Suffering: (3) Ignatian Spirituality

9. Bill Wilson’s First Great Epiphany: November 1934

10. Bill Wilson’s Second Great Epiphany: December 1934

11. Bill Wilson’s Third Great Epiphany: December 1940

12. Richard Maurice Bucke’s Cosmic Consciousness

13. Characteristics of Cosmic Consciousness

14. Panentheism, Nature Mysticism, and Walt Whitman

15. Father Dowling’s Version of Cosmic Consciousness

16. The Radical Wing of the Jesuits

17. Jean Daniélou S.J. and St. Gregory of Nyssa

18. Gregory of Nyssa: the Transcendent Realm

19. Gregory of Nyssa: The Spiritual Life as Perpetual Progress, from Glory to Glory

20. Two Kinds of Catholicism

21. Aldous Huxley and the Perennial Philosophy, Gerald Heard and the LSD experiments

22. The Intersection of Four Major Religious Movements

23. Ignatian Spirituality

24. Consolations: Feelings, Visions, Voices, and Contact with Saints and Heavenly Beings

25. Bill W. Does His Fifth Step with Father Dowling: 1940
Father Dowling’s Later Life
26. Bill Wilson and A.A. from 1941 to 1945

27. Making Moral Decisions: An Ignatian Pro vs. Con List in Father Ed’s 1945 Queen’s Work article

28. Bill W. Takes Instructions in Catholicism from Fulton J. Sheen: 1947

29. Bill W. and Father Ed on Papal Infallibility: 1947-1948

30. Ratifying of the Twelve Traditions and Dr. Bob’s Death: 1950

31. Spooks and Saints

32. Spiritual Experience and Poulain’s Graces of Interior Prayer

33. Father Ed Has a Retinal Stroke in 1952 and Bill W. Works on the Twelve and Twelve

34. Father Dowling’s 1953 Article Comparing St. Ignatius’s Ascetic Theology and the Twelve Steps

35. Father Ed’s 1954 Article: How to Enjoy Being Miserable

36. Father Dowling in 1955: Appendix to the Second Edition of the Big Book

37. Father Dowling in 1955: The A.A. International in St. Louis — Part I

38. The 1955 A.A. International in St. Louis — Part II

39. The 1955 A.A. International in St. Louis — Part III

40. Bill Wilson and Father Dowling Take LSD: 1956

41. Father Dowling’s Last Years: 1957-1960

42. From Substance Abuse, Insanity, and Trauma to Gays and Gluttony: 1960

43. Death: April 3, 1960



Father Dowling’s
Early Life
Chapter 1
The Route to Becoming a

Priest: 1898-1931

Father Edward Patrick Dowling, nicknamed “Puggy” as a schoolboy, was born on September 1, 1898 in St. Louis, Missouri. 5 Many Jesuits were moved around to varying locations over the course of their years in the order, but Fr. Dowling spent nearly his entire life in or near the great riverboat city. St. Louis was at that time the fourth largest city in the United States, an energetic, ambitious, bustling town which in 1904 (the year young Ed turned six) hosted both the World’s Fair and the Olympic Games. His grandfather had come to America shortly before the American Civil War, forced by the great potato famine to leave his Irish homeland (the Dowlings came from Ballagh, Kilroosky in County Roscommon6), but the family prospered after settling in St. Louis. His grandfather started a railroad construction company, which was later managed by Ed’s father Edward P. Dowling (1871-1956). Ed’s mother, Annie Cullinane Dowling (1866-1934), belonged to an Irish family which owned a livery stable and an undertakers establishment.7

Childhood and youth: Ed’s family lived on 8224 Church Road, just two city blocks west of the Mississippi River, in the tiny suburb of Baden on the north side of St. Louis.8 The first church to be established in Baden had been Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, which was just one block south of where he lived: dominated by German immigrants, the church’s parochial school even had its classes in German.

The Irish had felt very uncomfortable even attending mass there, and eventually split off in 1873 to form their own parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel (located three blocks north of where the Dowling family lived), with their own parochial school added the next year.9 Ed was baptized at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

But from the résumé which Father Dowling put together later on, it appears that his parents did not wish to send their son, while he was very young, to either of the nearby parochial schools, the German or the Irish, and instead sent him at first to the Baden public school.10 And yet they were an extremely religious family: Ed’s mother went to 8 a.m. mass every morning.

There were five children in all: Father Ed (Sept. 1, 1898 – Mar. 30, 1960) was the oldest. His sister Anna (Nov. 21, 1899 - March, 1980), the second oldest, never married and took care of Father Ed at the end of his life when he was left blind and severely crippled from arthritis; she acted as his reader and his secretary, and traveled with him. The next child James was born in 1903 and died in October 1918 at the young age of fifteen while he was a student at St. Mary’s College in Kansas, a victim of the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. The next-to-youngest child, Paul Vincent Dowling (May 12, 1905 – Nov. 10, 1955), tried the Jesuit novitiate but decided not to stay, and became a newspaper reporter. In 1939 he married Beatrice F. (1909-2003), they had two children (Paul and Mary), and then he died at the young age of fifty while his children were still not out of their teens. Beatrice however survived down to almost her ninety-fourth birthday. The youngest child Mary (Feb. 17, 1907 - Dec. 16, 1976), became a Religious of the Sacred Heart and librarian at Maryville College. This institution was originally located in south St. Louis, but in 1961 moved to a new campus over on the far west side of St. Louis, and is now called Maryville University. Mary and Anna established the Dowling Archives at the new campus, a collection of material which is important for Father Dowling studies: nearly all of the surviving letters between him and Bill Wilson are preserved there.11

As a child, Fr. Dowling came under the influence of Jesuit ideals at a very early age. Although he went to public school when he was very small, as soon as he was old enough to take the streetcar by himself, he was sent to Holy Name Parochial School in the College Hill neighborhood (on the north side of town, like Baden, but over where the St. Louis University College Farm was located). This parochial school was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, a women’s order founded by the Jesuit priest Jean Paul Médaille. Young Ed Dowling then continued his education with three years at the St. Louis Academy (now called the St. Louis University High School), which is located on the campus of the Jesuit’s St. Louis University (an excellent academic institution, the oldest American university west of the Mississippi river).12

It was a quite academically oriented educational track which the young Ed Dowling was taking, but in later years, he nevertheless made a point of mentioning in his résumé that he had also spent the summers during his high school years (1913-16) doing factory labor. At all points during his adult life, Fr. Dowling identified with the problems of ordinary working people, and he wanted everyone to know that he had first hand experience of factories and manual labor.13

He traveled around during the summer of 1916 playing as a semi-pro catcher in exhibition baseball games, and tried out unsuccessfully for two major league teams (the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Browns), before giving up on his dream of becoming a professional baseball player.14

He did two years of undergraduate work— presumably for the 1916-17 and 1917-18 academic years—at St. Mary’s College, the school where both his father and grandfather had gone. Located in St. Mary’s, Kansas, twenty-five miles west of Topeka, the college was operated as a Jesuit institution from its beginnings as a mission to the Potawatomi Indians until it was closed in 1968.15

Newspaper reporter and brief military service: Direct United States involvement in the First World War began on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, and continued down to the Armistice on November 11, 1918. It is not clear how this affected young Ed Dowling’s plans. But instead of finishing his degree at St. Mary’s, he went back to St. Louis in 1918 and got a brief job as a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (working for ten dollars a week). The other reporters called him “Eddie.”16 But then he went into the Army as a private on October 28, 1918, just two weeks before the war ended. It appears as though he served six months however, in a student army training program at St. Louis University. He then went back to the reporter’s job at the Globe-Democrat, but again for only a short time.17

For most of its history, the Globe-Democrat was St. Louis’ conservative newspaper. The liberal voice for that part of the Midwest was provided by Joseph Pulitzer’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One cannot help but wonder if young Ed Dowling would have simply stayed in the newspaper business if he had gotten his first job on the Pulitzer paper, whose editorial philosophy matched so much more closely with his own spirit. Joseph Pulitzer, in his retirement speech on April 10, 1907, had said that he wanted the newspaper to continue to adhere to the platform he had tried to live by all his life: 18

I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.
Entered the Jesuit order in 1919: his seminary years. At any rate, whether it was in part because of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s conservative philosophy, or for other reasons, Dowling recognized fairly quickly that working for this newspaper was not where God wanted him to devote the rest of his life, and made the decision to enter the priesthood. We can note a whole host of other things which could also have been involved—his World War I experiences may have played some role, or perhaps the death of his fifteen-year-old brother James in October 1918—but in 1919 (the year young Ed Dowling turned twenty-one) he decided to join the Jesuit order. He entered St. Stanislaus Seminary, which was located in Florissant, a small town of 680 people, historically mostly French-speaking, located just north of St. Louis.19 One of the other people at the newspaper later told how his friends got the news:
It was in an all-night cafe frequented by Globe-Democrat reporters that he announced he would enter the seminary at Florissant the next morning. As astounded fellow staff member who had an automobile volunteered to drive the young newsman to the seminary. The friend reported that Dowling wore his favorite candy-striped silk shirt for the occasion, and his only luggage was a pair of canvas duck trousers he carried under his arm. En route, the friend unsuccessfully tried to persuade the young man to turn back. Fr. Dowling said that he was startled a few days later when he saw the seminary floors being swabbed with rags including his silk shirt.20
The Florissant seminary’s central structure was the Rock Building with its three-foot-thick walls, built in 1840 and still standing today, constructed of limestone quarried from the banks of the Missouri river and walnut logged by the Jesuits on the property. The seminary was originally completely self-sufficient, like a medieval European Benedictine monastery, surrounded by almost a thousand acres where they raised cattle and chickens, and maintained large wheat fields and an orchard. They had a bakery, a creamery, and a butchery for preparing the food.21 Back in those days the meals were hearty; as one older Jesuit remembered it: “Three times a week, we had corn bread and stew for breakfast. The number of square feet of corn bread and the number of barrels of stew consumed over the course of a year would probably astonish even” the editors of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The cornbread was either mashed up into the stew, or eaten on the side, slathered with syrup.22

And of course, soon after he entered the seminary, young Ed was led for the first time through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,23 the great spiritual masterpiece which lay at the heart of the Jesuit understanding of the spiritual life. The author of the book, Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), had been a Spanish soldier, a knight from an aristocratic Basque family, whose military career was brought to an end after a serious wound from a cannon ball at the Battle of Pamplona in 1521 left him crippled (like Father Ed Dowling) in his legs. But the next year, Loyola had a vision of the Virgin Mary at the shrine at Montserrat and God gave him a new career: he went live in a cave close to the nearby town of Manresa, where he began praying for many hours a day while putting together the fundamental principles of his Spiritual Exercises, and eventually formed the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious order which devoted itself for centuries to going into places too dangerous for any other priests to venture.

The Exercises, among other things, made heavy use of a method of prayer called contemplation. We were asked to spend hours visualizing a scene such as the crucifixion of Jesus, filling in all the physical details in our minds to as great a degree as possible, and also imagining inside our minds the inner emotions and feelings of all the participants. What would we have done in that situation? Would we have eagerly hammered the nails into his hands and feet? Would we have stood on the side, jeering and making fun of him? Or would we have at least tried to help him carry the cross? Would we have at least attempted to wipe the sweat and blood off his face with a clean cloth? Or if forced to stand helpless in mute horror, would we have at least helped lift his body down from the cross afterwards, and participated in giving his body a decent burial? What were all these people actually feeling, and what was our own emotional reaction?

Real life is made up of continual choices, and one of the central goals of Ignatian spirituality was to help us practice discernment about the true nature of these choices. When all was said and done, did I want to be one of the people who laughed and jeered and went for what was popular and easy and made them lots of money, and involved no pain or suffering on their part? Or did I want to be one of the people who did what was right, no matter how they appeared in the eyes of the world? Who were my real heroes? In the New Testament—and in fact in the entire Bible, and throughout the history of the Christian Church—the real heroes were the ones who carried out God’s work regardless of how much pain and suffering it brought them. But when, on the other hand, we refused to serve God and rebelled against him and cursed him because we could not tolerate a world in which real pain and suffering occurred, it turned us into despicable human beings.

The idea that God would reward those who faithfully served him by continually giving them lives of ease and prosperity, where neither they nor their parents or children or other loved ones ever fell ill or died or was the victim of gross cruelty and injustice, was a purely pagan fantasy that had nothing to do with the Bible or the faith of the Catholic Church or even elementary common sense and simple observation of real life.

But we need to study more than just the Spiritual Exercises in order to fully understand the Jesuit way of life: we also need to listen to the stories they told within the order. For example, the seminary at Florissant was named for the patron saint of Jesuit novices, St. Stanislaus Kostka, a Polish lad who, at the age of fifteen, had a vision of Mary visiting him and placing the baby Jesus in his arms, which he regarded as a divine call to enter the Society of Jesus. The older members of the order would tell his story to the new people who were just joining. Young Stanislaus trudged 450 miles on foot, penniless, to apply to the order. After additional struggle, suffering and self-sacrifice, but still humbly and obediently following the divine vision which had assigned him to his task, he was finally accepted into the Jesuit novitiate at Rome on his seventeenth birthday. Even though he died only ten months later, he was “obedient unto death” (as it says in the great Christ Hymn in Philippians, the foundational statement of so much traditional Catholic spirituality) to the divine vision he had been granted.24

As we think of the way in which this story would have been embedded in the young Fr. Dowling’s mind at a formative level, we can see what lay behind some of the impact on him later on, when he first encountered Bill Wilson’s story of visions and penniless struggle. It also helps us to better understand the kind of the pastoral advice which he gave to Bill, when the A.A. leader was feeling especially beset by his struggles: embracing any necessary suffering was a necessary part of true obedience to God and “pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress.”25 Whether Bill succeeded or failed, he was not going to be released by God from the task of attempting to help the alcoholics of the world. It was not just the Spiritual Exercises, but the entire Jesuit ethos and understanding of the spiritual life which enabled Fr. Dowling to identify with Bill Wilson’s life mission, and which in addition allowed him to give such good spiritual advice to Bill.

Beginning of Father Ed’s health problems: crippling arthritis develops c. 1920-1928. It was also during this same general period, while young Ed was at the Jesuit seminary at Florissant, when the great physical burden of his life first appeared. He was walking along the Missouri River when he started feeling pain in one of his legs. When he went for a medical check, it was discovered that he had incurable arthritis, which was actually centered in his back, although one of his greatest pains came from walking. When he reached thirty, his spine would “turn to stone,” as he put it. It was not rheumatoid arthritis, but some other form of severely crippling arthritis.26 It should be remembered that in spite of this, all the way to the end of his life, he remained busy traveling around the country, hobbling along on a cane, in spite of the enormous pain that he must have experienced doing things like climbing up the metal stairs into a train carriage, or walking the length of a railroad station. And there were very few elevators in the United States in those days.

When Fr. Dowling came to visit Bill Wilson for the first time, it caused him enormous pain to climb the stairs to the second floor room where Bill was staying: nevertheless, he walked up to meet the A.A. leader, one laborious step at a time, instead of asking him to come downstairs. But this was part of the message of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits which Fr. Dowling had come to deliver to Bill. If it was God’s mission which we were carrying out, then it was our duty to do our best, regardless of any personal suffering or agony that might be involved. God gives us real tasks, requiring real heroism.

Crisis of faith c. 1920: Young Ed Dowling had to learn suffering himself at first hand, and not only through the constant pain from his arthritis. In the second year of his novitiate he underwent a major crisis of faith which took him two years to work himself out of. As he later described it, in his own words:
But here tonight, I am discussing a problem to which I am not entirely alien. Up to the age of 21 my spirituality, my religion, my faith was a comfortable, unchallenged nursery habit. Then over a course of some months, the most important months of my life saw that faith, that religion, drift away. It began to make demands. And as it ceased to be comfortable and comforting to big and important I, when it ceased to “yes” my body and soul, I found that I moved away from it. I am not utterly unacquainted with atheism. I know and respect agnosticism and I have been a bed-fellow with spiritual confusion, not merely the honest and sincere kind, but the self-kidding kind.27
Earning his degrees at St. Louis University (1921-1925): But to go on with the story of Fr. Dowling’s early life, men who entered the Jesuit order were ordinarily expected to do a certain amount of graduate study in both philosophy and theology, and those who had no completed college degree were required to finish a bachelor’s degree first, usually in philosophy. So after finishing his two-year-long novitiate (1919-1921), young Ed Dowling spent three years (1921-1924) taking the coursework for a major in philosophy at the Jesuit’s St. Louis University. He was awarded his A.B. degree in 1924, and then spent an additional year at the university earning a master’s degree, which he was awarded in 1925.28

Regency teaching at Loyola Academy (1926-1929), involvement in Catholic Action and Christian Family movements. After the period of their Novitiate and First Studies, the young men who were preparing to be Jesuits then went through a three-year period called their Regency, when they were most usually (in those days) assigned to teaching at a secondary school. In Fr. Dowling’s case, he taught from 1926 to 1929 at Loyola Academy, which in those days was located in Rogers Park on the far North Side of Chicago, on the Loyola University campus. The academy was a typical exclusive prep school, where students were required to wear coat and tie at all times. They were also forbidden to talk when walking about the campus, and had to attend the academy’s weekly mass.29

In spite of the formal atmosphere, however, Fr. Dowling began what were to be lifelong friendships with his students there. One of these was a young man named Pat Crowley, who eventually married a woman named Patty. In later years, Pat and Patty Crowley (along with Burnie Bauer and his wife Helene in South Bend, Indiana) founded the Christian Family Movement.30

Loyola in those days was a small, intimate school whose students came from prosperous Catholic families all over the city .... The Jesuits ran a tight ship, but there were men like Father Brooks and Father Ed Dowling, for whom the students had great admiration. Father Dowling, in particular, had enormous influence on Pat’s circle of friends—and on all the students at Loyola .... Even after he moved to St. Louis, Dowling kept alive a network of graduates whom he visited and counseled whenever he could. His meetings with the Loyola graduates who remained in Chicago led eventually to his association with the Cana Conference, a movement for married Catholics that blossomed in the late 1940s.31

Burnie Bauer, when he was a student at the University of Notre Dame, had been a member of the first Catholic Action group started by Father Louis Putz, C.S.C. All of them—Pat and Patty, Burnie and Helene—had been involved in both formal and informal lay Catholic groups which used what was called the Jocist method. They were linked, in other words, to that side of early twentieth century Catholicism which believed in social involvement and strong social activism. “Jocism” referred to a Belgian priest named Joseph Cardijn, who started a group called Young Trade Unionists in 1919. In 1924, the name of his group was changed to Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (“young Christian workers”) or JOC for short, which was why the movement came to be referred to as “Jocism.” Dorothy Day described her Catholic Worker Movement as an only slightly more radical version of Father Cardijn’s Jocist movement. It was with this kind of background that Pat and Patty Crowley met Helene and Burnie Bauer at the Cana Convention in August 1948, and laid the foundations of the Christian Family Movement.32

Pat and Patty Crowley spent the 1950’s and 60’s traveling about preaching a new kind of message about the Christian family. A good Catholic marriage ought to be a special gift of God’s grace, they proclaimed, to both the church and the world. The Christian Family Movement made major breaks with a number of traditional ways of doing things: it was the first major Catholic movement in the United States, for example, to be started by laypeople. The group was made up of men and women working together, at a time when Catholic organizations tended to be same sex. Because of their prominence in this movement, the Crowley’s were invited to Rome in 1966 to serve on Pope Paul VI’s Birth Control Commission. Patty later on stated her position in the Chicago Tribune (in 1994): “I think women should have the choice to use contraception. They want to have children, but they want to have them responsibly.” She presented the members of the Commission with a large collection of correspondence from Catholics begging the church to stop forbidding artificial birth control. The Commission’s majority report ended up agreeing with her, but the small number of members who remained unconvinced went separately to the pope, and persuaded him to continue the ban on artificial contraception.33

The well-known Catholic novelist Fr. Andrew Greeley, who was also a longtime friend of the Crowleys, made the bold assertion that “In terms of lay activism, Patty was the most important woman of her time, and CFM [the Christian Family Movement] was the most important movement of the pre-conciliar church.”34 Those who know Greeley’s novels are well aware of the way that they continually emphasize the positive role of romantic love and sexual passion in a good Catholic marriage.

Monsignor John Joseph Egan, who eventually ended up heading the Cana Conference program in the Chicago archdiocese from 1946 to 1959, described Dowling as “a man of great generosity who would take the train from St. Louis to Chicago, sit with a couple in difficulty, and get on the midnight train back to St. Louis for work the next morning.” Msgr. Egan, it should be said, was one of the great Catholic social activists of that period, a good priest who cared about the poor and the helpless, and believed that taking the gospel seriously required us to make radical changes in the structure of human society. He served as chaplain not only to the Christian Family Movement (from 1947 to 1953) but also the Young Christian Workers (from 1943 to 1955).35 It is important to note that these are the sort of people whom we encounter over and over again when writing about Fr. Dowling’s life: people like Pat and Patty Crowley and Msgr. Jack Egan and Fr. Andrew Greeley, who cared deeply about their fellow human beings.

When Father Ed first encountered the new Alcoholics Anonymous movement in 1940, alcoholics bore a terrible stigma. They were considered the lowest of the low, people who refused to take even the most basic moral responsibility for themselves, people who deserved only to be punished, lectured at, fired from their jobs, and thrown in prisons or insane asylums. But Dowling believed in a Lord who had also been despised by the proud and arrogant, as the Spiritual Exercises emphasized, and this was a Lord who commanded that we help the poor and despised segments of society instead of condemning them and discriminating against them (cf. James 2:1-7, 2:15-17, and 5:1-6).

And then by the autumn of 1940, Father Ed seems to have come to the conclusion that something even more amazing was going on. These poor drunks, whom everyone derided and scorned, had been given a special spiritual key to the godly life which they would cheerfully share with everyone around them. As it said in Isaiah 53:2-5,
He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
When Alcoholics Anonymous first came to public attention, it took someone like Father Ed, a courageous Jesuit who was not afraid of ideas and movements simply because they were new and different and unconventional—or even perhaps looked dangerous to some people—if it looked like they might help any of God’s people, no matter how humble or disregarded and ignored.

Theology at St. Mary’s College in Kansas in 1929: Dowling is failed out of the academic track in philosophical theology. After finishing his Regency, which (as we have seen) he spent teaching high school at Loyola Academy in Chicago, Fr. Dowling was sent to spend four years studying theology at St. Mary’s College in Kansas.36 This was in 1929, the year he turned 31. It was a two-tiered system: those who were considered the academically brighter students were enrolled in the “long course,” and if they did well, had a chance at earning a Ph.D. somewhere and then coming back to a prestigious teaching position in a Jesuit university. Those they regarded as the less able students were enrolled instead in the “short course.”

Father Dowling did not arrive at St. Mary’s with completely glowing recommendations from his three-year Regency period. His superior at Loyola, a man named Father Moran, sent an evaluation letter saying rather cautiously:

He is ambitious, wants to get ahead, and possesses a good deal of shrewdness in getting what he wants from people and from circumstances …. He is eccentric and has a very distinctive and original personality. He is careless about small things, and is very absent-minded. He is self-conscious at times and somewhat sensitive.37
Nevertheless, they enrolled him in the upper level theology course work at St. Mary’s College, which in those days meant the study of Thomistic philosophy and theology, studied in the context of general medieval scholastic thought. Young Fr. Dowling lasted until the second year, when he failed the Latin oral exam thesis on the question of whether angels have bodies.38 Now the question itself was a simple one, which anyone who had been paying attention in class should have been able to answer easily. An angel according to Thomistic doctrine is composed of pure form (it is a completely ideal being), and has no material body. This means that the answer, for example, to the famous question about “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” is that this question is meaningless, because beings which have no matter cannot have a spatial location. Any moderately intelligent student should have been able to answer that question.

It was not a completely trivial question, incidentally, because it was closely tied to the question of whether the human soul could enjoy any kind of individual immortality after death. Aristotle had said that the soul was only the form of the body, so that when the material body died and decomposed, there was no longer anything for the soul to be “the form of.” Some of the medieval Muslim philosophers used this argument to deny the immortality of the human soul, while others allowed only for the survival of the part of the human intellect which knew universal intellectual truths (such as that two plus two equals four, the Pythagorean theorem in mathematics, and so on). St. Thomas Aquinas tried to work out a way that he could accept at least a modified Aristotelian doctrine of the soul without automatically denying the possibility of any kind of life after death, and his theories about angels’ bodies were linked to the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul.

So it was a question which a good seminary student should have been able to answer at either a simple level or a more complicated one, but apparently whatever the young Fr. Dowling did, his examiners were not pleased, and not only removed him from the advanced academic track, but reprimanded him for spending too much time on what they regarded as triviality—working to keep other priests-in-training aware of important events going on the world around them.
Both the rector and the provincial reprimanded him for spending too much time on a bulletin board with news items and not enough time on his theology. He wrote to both that he had learned much from this exchange, listed how much time he spent on theology, and added frankly that the thesis was a footnote and not really covered in class. The bulletin board took little time; he merely put up news items others had received in their mail.39
As a result of Dowling’s being flunked out of the advanced theological curriculum, some of his fellow Jesuits, who admired the skilled scholastic theologians among their order, tended to write him off as “a disorganized, intellectual lightweight.”40 But one of his friends, Father Ben Fulkerson, who was much more perceptive, remarked that:
Dowling was a kind of knave in the king’s court. He would grunt. But he was smarter than all the king’s councilors. His manners and ways of expressing himself went against him. He seemed disorganized, a bit slap-happy, a roughneck.41
And there was something even more important going on here. By this point in the 1930’s, the younger Roman Catholic theologians were beginning to become more and more dissatisfied with the straightjacket of medieval Thomist orthodoxy. Some of Father Ed’s contemporaries began quietly becoming involved in patristics studies instead (like Jean Daniélou, S.J. 1905-1974) or in New Testament studies. Others became directly involved in social activism (joining people like Dorothy Day, 1897-1980, in working for a better society). At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which began only two years after Fr. Dowling’s death, the overwhelming majority of the citations listed in the conciliar decrees were from Biblical and patristic sources, not medieval scholastic sources. After Vatican II was over, to give just one typical example of the effect of the council on Catholic education, no member of the Theology Department at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana—one of the top ranking American Catholic universities at that time—taught any course on Thomistic theology at all for many years.42

Young Fr. Dowling refused to take medieval Thomistic theology seriously—even if it meant being bumped off the track to a university professorship—because he believed it was no longer relevant to the twentieth century church. He threw himself instead into supporting the Catholic social activists, making sure the new Alcoholics Anonymous movement was a safe place for Catholics, and other missions of that sort.

Ordination as a priest in 1931, early stages of the black civil rights movement, Dred Scott’s grave. On June 25, 1931, at the age of 32, Dowling was ordained in St. Louis by Archbishop John Joseph Glennon.43 This prelate was an Irishman, born in Kinnegad, County Meath, who served as Archbishop of St. Louis from 1903 until his death in 1946. He became involved in major public furor when he began trying to block certain members of the Jesuit order who were attempting to bring racial integration to the Catholic schools of the city. In spite of the Archbishop’s opposition, the racial barrier was finally broken in the summer of 1944 when St. Louis University admitted its first African American students.44

There were some members of the Catholic clergy who were strong defenders of black Americans. Monsignor John Joseph Egan, for example (whom we mentioned before) was one of the clergymen who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1965 protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.45 The desegregation of St. Louis University in 1944 came ten years before the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 outlawed segregated public schools.

In 1956 Fr. Dowling stood up as one of the Catholic clergy who were working to bring honor and dignity to the black community. 1957 would mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision.46 Scott was an African-American slave who, while living in St. Louis, had sued to obtain freedom for himself and his wife and two daughters on the grounds that they had lived for a while in areas where slavery was illegal. When the legal battle eventually rose to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices rendered the decision that since slaves were private property, the federal government could not declare slaves freed simply on the basis of their having lived at some point in a free state or territory (Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory in this case), and that furthermore, any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the United States, so that Scott had no right to sue in federal court. This decision, issued by the Supreme Court on March 6, 1857 helped catalyze public outrage over the institution of slavery during the four years which followed, culminating in the outbreak of the great Civil War in 1861.

Dred Scott had died in St. Louis in 1858, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Fr. Dowling used his skills as a genealogist to locate the gravesite in Calvary Cemetery, whose trees and green lawns, dotted with tombstones, began just three streets south of his childhood home. There is a wonderful photograph of him standing with Scott’s great-grandson John A. Madison on March 6, 1957, with Dowling pointing with his cane to the section of grass where the former slave was buried and announcing their plans: “We have in mind putting up only a simple monument. Then if someone some day wants to put up a better monument it will at least be known where Dred Scott lies.” A descendant of the white family which had originally owned Scott carried out Fr. Dowling’s wishes and paid for a gravestone. For a long time afterward, people who visited the gravesite would leave Lincoln head pennies on top of the stone, to honor both Scott and Lincoln.47

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