Father Ed Dowling, SJ

excerpt taken from “Traditional Catholic and Alcoholics Anonymous” printed in the Angelus Magazine in 2002 by Sean Romer


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, 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. 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, 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.

10 thoughts on “Father Ed Dowling, SJ

  1. A key person in my decision to convert was Jennifer Fulwile. I ran across her interview with Marcus Grodi on EWTN. She made so much sense! Today when I tune in to some of the TV evangelists, like Joel Olstein or Joyce Meyer, it’s like I’m watching an entertainment production on motivation. Nothing against Joel or Joyce, I like what they have to say, but found their brand of religion unfulfilling.

  2. Interesting note on father Dowling and Bill Wilson – Bill was in total agreement with the Catholic Church but had a hard time with the Pope and his infallibility. Story goes that AA was almost called the James club after the Book of James. I urge anyone in AA to read the Book of James – they will find many similarities to what is taught in AA (“Faith without works is dead”, which Martin Luther removed from the Protestant bible.)

  3. Jennifer Fulwile and I communicated several times. I told her how she influenced my decision to convert to Catholicism. I also shared my journey in recovery and how the Church has been a key in my spiritual life.

  4. It was in “The Soul of Sponsorship” (p. 51) I read that Wilson believed in Divine intervention that could be confirmed by experiences, such as the Resurrection and miracles of healing. What he would not accept were miracles that he said were beyond human experience – what could not be demonstrated inductively – such as the Virgin birth, the True Presence, and papal infallibility. From the same book: in 1947 Wilson took instruction from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, but later hebroke off his investigation into Catholicism with the quip, “The thing that irks me about all religion is how confoundedly right they all are.” Wilson later added that, had he converted, it would have been perceived as an endorsement of Catholicism by a co-founder of A.A., which he believed would jeopardize the fellowship (see Bill’s letter to Joe Dingles, October, 1957). I read the Blue Book, and I appreciated Fr. Pfau’s observation that it is possible to break all 12 steps and stay sober; very sensible.

  5. Understanding addiction is simple…..just watch behaviour.

    The addict tends to forget their recent behaviours.

    Explaining the obsessions and compulsions to a sane person, is similar to describing colours of the rainbow to a blind person.

    Take care. Be well.

    • watching behavior doesn’t help me understand addiction at all. i know i am an entirely different person when i’m in my addiction and not sober. as a sober person, I’m the real me. yes, normal people don’t get the obsessions and compulsions part of us. i guess we don’t have to have them get it. i’m so glad you wrote! sorry for the late reply. I have 8 hidden comments i didn’t see until now!

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