The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 13

I’ve divided this out into 16 parts in order to keep each post to a reasonable length and allow me to really think about each part.

Traditional Catholic and Twelve Step Programs
by Sean Romer
as written for the Angelus magazine, September 2002


Robert Smith, or “Dr. Bob,” was a proctologist and surgeon in City Hospital, Akron, Ohio, and the second co-founder of A.A. A Vermont-born Yankee like Wilson, Smith repeatedly devoured the Holy Bible-he was particularly fond of the Epistle of St. James, the Sermon on the Mount, and I Corinthians 13-and the writings of Emmett Fox and William James.

A stern, straight-forward, practical, and humble man, Smith and his wife Anne were, like the Wilsons, fascinated by ESP and other occult practices. Smith was also a member of the Oxford Group. He worked regularly with Sister Mary Ignatia, an Akron nun who provided great help in the hospitalization of alcoholics, and who was the source of much spiritual advice that made its way into the Big Book.


Rev. Shoemaker was an Episcopal clergyman, the rector of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in New York during A.A.’s formative years. Rev. Shoemaker was a close friend of Frank Buchman, the founder of the Oxford Group movement. Bill Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings at Shoemaker’s Calvary House. Wilson asked Rev. Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps themselves, but was turned down. Rev. Shoemaker spoke at many A.A. meetings, and his writings were printed in numerous A.A. publications.


A gentle, charming man, Fr. Dowling used A.A.’s Twelve Steps to help overcome his problems with obesity. Recognizing Ignatian components in the Steps, he sought Bill Wilson out, only to learn that Wilson had never heard of the founder of the Jesuits (Wilson had not known of the humble Sister Ignatia’s influence on Dr. Bob). Afterwards Fr. Dowling introduced Bill Wilson to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

A graduate of St. Mary’s Academy and College in St. Mary’s, Kansas,31 Fr. Dowling voiced the opinion that alcoholism leaves an invisible, indelible mark on the man inflicted with it, just as Holy Orders leave an invisible, indelible mark on a priest’s soul.32 Though Fr. Dowling encouraged Wilson to consider becoming Catholic, he never pressed the point. A personable and humble individual, in light of some of his statements and actions (e.g., at Wilson’s request, Fr. Dowling participated in one of Wilson’s LSD experiments), one wonders how orthodox his example could have been. There is no doubt, however, that Bill Wilson admired Fr. Dowling, with whom he took his Fifth Step.

4 thoughts on “The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 13

  1. The publisher introduced a typo into this page: I spelled the third name “Fr. Ed Dowling,” with a “D,” but when the article was printed the name had been changed to “Fr. Ed Bowling,” with a “B.” I have no idea why.

      • Fr. Ed Dowling. It was published as “Bowling” in only one spot; everywhere else it’s correct as Dowling. Your call on changing it. What a surprised to see that article on your blog; after 10 years, I’d thought it had been forgotten. I’m glad it was helpful.

        Have a look at my wordpress blog — — I talk about my project to see the 50 state capitals (with a few Catholic references sprinkled in).

  2. Perfect. I fixed it. Funny I thought your caps web site was a way for people to make punctuation corrections (caps) ha ha that’s my brain. I didn’t realize you were the author! Yay. I love your article! Thank you so much for writing it!

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