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Meet the reverend who participated in the 1949 exorcism that inspired The Exorcist

Reverand Walter H. Halloran, the last surviving Jesuit who participated in a 1949 exorcism that inspired the book and movie The Exorcist, recounts the supernatural incident.

 Rev. Walter H. Halloran
Rev. Walter H. Halloran
Image: (AP Photo/The St. Louis Post Dispatch, File)

IN 1949 THERE was a month long demon-purging ritual at Alexian Brothers Hospital, now St. Louis University in the USA.

The events are said to have inspired William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist that went on to be an infamous movie.

Just in time for Halloween, Jesuit scholars have joined a whole new generation of horror buffs in St. Louis to recount the supernatural incident. The university hosted a panel discussion this ween on the exorcism, which involved the treatment of an unidentified suburban Washington DC boy.

Discussion

About 500 people crammed into Pius XII Library, with some spilling into the library aisles, leaning against pillars or sitting on desks.

The university scholars and guest speaker Thomas Allen, author of a 1993 account of the events at the school’s former Alexian Brothers Hospital, emphasiSed that definitive proof that the boy known only as “Robbie” was possessed by malevolent spirits is unattainable. Maybe he instead suffered from mental illness or sexual abuse — or fabricated the entire experience.

Like most of religion’s basic tenets, it ultimately comes down to faith.

The devil

“If the devil can convince us he does not exist, then half the battle is won,” said the Reverand Paul Stark, vice president for mission and ministry at the 195-year-old Catholic school. He opened the discussion with a prayer from the church’s exorcism handbook, imploring God to “fill your servants with courage to fight that reprobate dragon”.

Some of the non-students in the audience spoke of personal connections to an episode that has enthralled generations of St. Louis residents.

One man described living near the suburban St. Louis home where the 13-year-old boy arrived in the winter of 1949 (his Lutheran mother was a St. Louis native who married a Catholic).

Another said she was a distant cousin of Father William Bowdern, who led the exorcism ritual after consulting with the archbishop of St. Louis but remained publicly silent about his experiences — though he did tell Allen it was “the real thing.”

Bowdern died in 1983.

His assistant

Bowdern was assisted by the Rev. Walter Halloran, who unlike his colleague spoke openly with Allen and expressed his skepticism about potential paranormal events before his death a decade ago.

“He talked more about the boy, and how much he suffered, and less about the rite,” Allen said. “Here was a scared, confused boy caught up in something he didn’t understand.

“He told me, ‘I simply don’t know,’ and that is where I leave it,” the author added. “I just don’t know.”

Allen zealously protects the anonymity of “Robbie,” despite others’ efforts to track him down to this day.

Gary Mackey, a 59-year-old accountant who left work early to attend the campus event, said he also is unsure whether “The Exorcist” was a work of fiction or instead a riveting real-life account of barely comprehensible forces.

He does know this: He cannot forget the movie that he saw with a buddy four decades ago.

“I saw the movie when I was 19-years-old and it scared me to death,” Mackey said. “I think it’s the scariest movie ever made.”

Here’s a reminder of the 1973 movie. Happy Halloween… what’s that behind you?


(Via YouTube/ryy79)

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Associated Press

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