William S. Bowdern

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Father William S. Bowdern, S.J. (February 13, 1897 - April 25, 1983) was a Catholic priest[1] of the Society of Jesus in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. He was the author of The Problems of Courtship and Marriage printed by Our Sunday Visitor in 1939. He was a graduate of and taught at St. Louis University High School; he also taught at St. Louis University. Bowdern was the lead exorcist in the exorcism of Roland Doe, a thirteen-year-old Lutheran boy, in 1949; the case became the basis of William Peter Blatty's novel, The Exorcist. Bowdern was assisted in the exorcism by fellow Jesuit priest Father Walter Halloran.


The boy allegedly became possessed after being introduced to a Ouija Board by his spiritualist aunt, who was also a very close friend. Following the death of his aunt, the boy — named in records only as "Roland", sometimes referred to simply as "R", and reported as "Robbie Manheim" in Thomas B. Allen's book Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism — began using the Ouija Board on an increasingly obsessive basis. Unusual auditory phenomena began to occur, which according to Allen, sounded like "a dripping tap". The noises continued and seemed to center on the bedroom of Roland's grandmother Wagner. Later the manifestations escalated to scratching noises emanating from the walls of the house. Roland's father allegedly dismantled entire walls in search of the noises' source, which he presumed to be rats nesting. After the family's Lutheran minister advised them to seek Catholic help, two exorcisms were performed on separate occasions. The first exorcism ended dramatically after Roland was restrained in a bed in a Catholic hospital. During the rites, Roland slipped one of his hands out of the restraints; he then broke a bedspring from under the mattress and used it as an impromptu weapon, slashing the priest's arm from wrist to shoulder and causing a wound that required over one hundred stitches.

When author William Peter Blatty was investigating the reported case of exorcism in St. Louis, he received a letter from Father Bowdern saying that, although Blatty's intentions were good, he would not assist in the project because of a vow he had made to protect the boy's identity. He further wrote that "the only thing I can tell you is that the case I was involved in was the real thing. I had no doubt about it then, and have no doubt about it now."

Although Father Bowdern remained convinced until his death in 1983, Father Walter Halloran later gave a statement expressing his scepticism.[citation needed] He claimed that he was unable to either confirm or deny that the boy was actually possessed. According to Allen's book, Halloran is alleged to have said that he saw nothing beyond that capable of a boy of Roland's age: there was no demonstration of super-human strength (even though at one point Roland is alleged to have broken Halloran's nose), and Roland did not speak in tongues because Roland (or the possessing spirit) refused to converse in Latin. On the occasions that Roland did speak Latin, Halloran stresses that he only seemed to repeat words and phrases that he had heard numerous times during the rites of exorcism.

According to Allen, Roland was heard on one occasion speaking Aramaic, but this is not confirmed. The name of the sole witness to the occurrence is not mentioned in Allen's book.

In 2000, a TV-movie titled Possessed, based largely on Allen's book, was made about the case. Father Bowdern was played by Timothy Dalton.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Roman, James W. (2009-02-17). Bigger than blockbusters: movies that defined America. ABC-CLIO. pp. 200–. ISBN 978-0-313-33995-0. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 

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