True Story Behind 'The Exorcist'

Diary of Fr. Bowdern about the 1949 Exorcism Case and Historical Background


Fall of the Rebel Angels, Gustave Dore

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.
Amen.

Saint Michael Archangel,
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.
-- Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel


Michael the Archangel, Guido Reni


Introduction and Historical Background

text paragraph or so of introduction, talk about the movie and other movies, and the actual case

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Prominent Players in the history:

William Peter Blatty, novelist who published The Exorcist book in 1971 (the movie debuted in December 1973)

R. for "Robbie" is the pseudo-nym (for his real name see the article/book by Opsasick linked below)
     of the exorcised boy, age 13 at the time (January to April 1949)

Fr. Walter Halleron, S. J. a younger priest who assisted Fr. Bowdern in the exorcism

Fr. William S. Bowdern, S. J. an older priest (52 at the time) and primary exorcist (he was pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church until 1956, and died in 1983 at the age of 86)

Fr. Raymond Bishop, S. J. who kept the Diary and was responsible for the report documenting the case sent to the hospital (he spent 22 years at St. Louis University, another 20 years at Creighton Univ in Omaha, Nebraska, and died in 1978 at the age of 72)

Brother Cornelius, the superior/rector of the hospital where R. was eventually brought for the exorcism


Excerpt of Actual Typewritten Letter and Diary (page 1)

Original Letter from Fr. Raymond J. Bishop, S.J. to the St. Louis Alexian brothers who counseled the family involved in the 1949 exorcism, and eventually brought them all into the Catholic Church (the original typewritten letters includes the first page of the Diary of Fr. Bowdern, real names have been redacted -- the full transcript of the Letter and Diary follow . . . .).





Transcribed Original Letter and Diary Complete (1949)

[ This Diary was obtained from Father Walter Halloran, who participated in the exorcism and, many years later, acquired a copy of the Diary under the strange circumstances described in the book Possessed by Thomas B. Allen. Accompanying the 24 pages of the Diary was a Letter, dated April 29, 1949, from Father Bishop to brother Cornelius, the rector of the hospital where the majority of the exorcism took place. The complete transcript of the Letter and the Diary are from this book, in an appendix "The Exorcist Diary" pages 243-291 ].

The complete Letter and Diary are transcribed below, only the names of the family have been redacted:


April 29, 1949

Rev. Brother Rector, C.F.A.
3933 South Broadway
St. Louis 18, Mo.

Dear Brother Cornelius:

The inclosed report is a summary of the case which you have known for the past several weeks. The Brothers' part in this case has been so very important that I thought you should have the case history for your permanent file. We have been informed by the Chancery Office on two different occasions, March 16 and April 27, that the case is not to be publicized. I fear that the news has already broken in various parts of the city through individuals asking for prayers and perhaps though some who took part in the case. The difficulty of keeping some of the acts secret is practically beyond our control right now, but insofar as we are able we should not make this case public until we have a definite statement from the Chancery Office. [Note: No such statement was ever issued].

One of the finest benefits that has come to me as a result of this case is a high appreciation of the work and religious devotion of the Alexian Brothers. The prayerful assistance of your Community was certainly a strong factor in winning the battle against Satan.

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Fr. Bowdern who participated in the exorcismtext

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Fr. Halloran who participated in the exorcismtext

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Washington Post article about the 1949 exorcism

Original newspaper article in the Washington Post about the case (linked below)


Analysis: Skeptics vs. Believers

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Deuteronomy 18:9-12 -- When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

1 Peter 5:8 -- Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.


Books and Sources on the 1949 Exorcism case and related subjects:

Confrontation with Evil by LaChance   Possessed by Thomas Allen   The Real Story Behind the Exorcist by Mark Opsasnick   Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft   Begon Satan by Fr. Carl Vogl

See also these links and books on the subject:

other accounts of demonic possession and related subjects:


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