When 21-year-old Edward Dowling entered Florissant—or St. Stanislaus Seminary, because the Jesuits’ novitiate in Missouri was formally named—on Sept. 23, 1919, he hoped to seek out the peace of thoughts that might come from the sure information of whether or not or not he was referred to as to the Jesuit priesthood. However what he truly discovered was fairly totally different.
Crossing the brink of Florissant’s venerable Rock Constructing marked the beginning of the best non secular disaster the younger man identified to pals as “Puggy” would ever expertise. The following two years would see him spiral downward to a degree when, simply previous to professing his first vows, he felt totally bereft. Within the very place the place he had hoped to seek out his path to heaven, he descended as an alternative into a private hell.
But in years to come back, as Ed Dowling, S.J., immersed himself in ministry to alcoholics, he would seek advice from his time within the novitiate as “crucial months of my life.” For it was there that he had his personal private expertise of what his future buddy Invoice Wilson would name “deflation at depth…a cornerstone precept of A.A. [Alcoholics Anonymous].” From then on, for so long as he lived, the reminiscence of that have would floor the deep sense of empathy that empowered his ministry to alcoholics, drug addicts, spouses in troubled marriages, individuals with anxiousness problems, the incarcerated and anybody with an issue. Greater than anything—much more than the crippling arthritis that might calcify his backbone—that reminiscence would allow him to talk with authority about how God awaits us within the depths of our struggling.
His obligation now was to submit his character—and certainly his entire self—in all humility to God underneath the judgment of his superiors, in order that the Jesuits’ formation course of would possibly rework him into the priest he hoped he was referred to as to be.
Not My Will, however God’s
Per week after Puggy entered Florissant, he noticed somebody utilizing his prized silk shirt—the one he had worn upon his arrival—to shine picket flooring. The picture would stay with him, viscerally impressing upon him that, as a member of the Society of Jesus, his life was not his personal. No matter qualities he possessed within the exterior world that made him stand out amongst his friends—be they his athletic prowess, his journalistic abilities, his debating abilities or his reward for friendship—none might outline him anymore. His obligation now was to submit his character—and certainly his entire self—in all humility to God underneath the judgment of his superiors, in order that the Jesuits’ formation course of would possibly rework him into the priest he hoped he was referred to as to be.
Virtually definitely unbeknownst to Puggy, on the identical time that his Jesuit formators have been serving to him study to develop into small, the Society of Jesus was telling the world it had reeled in a serious catch. On Sept. 27, the very day he was clothed in his novice cassock, the Missouri Province’s press workplace despatched an merchandise to Catholic newswires in regards to the Society’s achieved new recruit. Dozens of newspapers all through the world picked up the story: “Edward P. Dowling, Jr., former member of the [St. Louis] Globe-Democrat workers, has entered the Jesuit novitiate at Florissant, Mo., to check for the priesthood.” The story additionally famous Puggy’s achievements as “an athlete of some native prominence.”
Certainly, the onetime reporter had left behind an thrilling life on the earth for the austere lifetime of a Jesuit-in-training, and nobody was extra cognizant of the distinction between his outdated and new dwelling conditions than Puggy himself. For starters, he needed to forsake his nickname throughout the novitiate. He might not be referred to as Puggy, nor even Eddie or Edward. Till he reached the juniorate degree of formation, he was to be addressed underneath a Latin title: Carissime (“Beloved”) Dowling. To an Irish populist like Dowling, the aristocratic-sounding honorific was embarrassing.
The best problem Dowling confronted within the novitiate arose not from exterior guidelines however relatively from his personal inside fears.
At the same time as Carissime Dowling’s title positioned a layer of undesirable formality between him and his fellow novices, the unforgiving schedule at Florissant—and the plethora of guidelines that ruled it—militated in opposition to his having something resembling a standard social life. All his life, his best pleasure had been the nice and cozy companionship of his pals. However at Florissant, he and his fellow novices needed to keep silence, save for 2 hour-long recreation durations every day. And even these recreation durations couldn’t be taken solely as free time; they have been subdivided into smaller durations when novices had particular duties to meet.
Dowling additionally needed to preserve “modesty of the eyes,” which had a large which means within the Jesuit understanding. It encompassed not solely avoiding taking a look at girls (not that there have been any to see at Florissant) but additionally avoiding making eye contact with males if potential. As if that weren’t constricting sufficient, the Society’s guidelines barred bodily contact of any variety between novices.They might not even shake arms or pat each other on the again. For a person as gregarious as Dowling, it should have felt isolating to be surrounded by “brothers” and but forbidden from making pals.
Even so, the best problem Dowling confronted within the novitiate arose not from exterior guidelines however relatively from his personal inside fears. When he thought of his fellow novices, he assumed they have been assured within the information that they have been referred to as by God to belong to the Society of Jesus. However he himself felt no such safety. In February 1922, 5 months after his novitiate ended along with his occupation of vows, he wrote to his sister Mary from his new quarters in Florissant’s juniorate:
I got here right here fairly almost satisfied that I’d not keep for a number of weeks. In a way I got here to fulfill myself that I didn’t belong right here. Even to today, I’ve not a trunk right here, as for almost two years I nonetheless couldn’t convey myself to consider that I belonged right here.
Reinforcing his sense of being misplaced have been the various alternatives the novitiate gave him to find his faults. Like each novice, he was assigned an “admonition companion”—a fellow novice who would meet with him briefly as soon as every week to advise him on easy methods to right his habits so he would possibly higher comply with the foundations. One admonition companion handed him a observe that included the next:
Don’t relaxation your chin upon your breast.
Maintain erect and preserve your eyes lowered. 2. Consuming
Don’t play with something on desk.
See what you are able to do for others. Be alert.
Don’t eat something that has fallen out of your lips, particularly if it has fallen in your cassock. 3. Gown
Be extra cautious about your hair. Rearrange your underwear in order that it’s not seen, particularly over your trousers. That is inexcusable.
Dowling evidently positioned nice worth within the admonitions he acquired, for he preserved them for the remainder of his life.
An Unstained Holiness
Why did Dowling discover it so exhausting to consider he belonged at Florissant? From his correspondence and private papers, this a lot at the least is obvious: Dowling envisioned the Jesuit priest as possessing an unstained holiness that was, humanly talking, all however unimaginable to realize. Simply previous to coming into the novitiate, he wrote to his buddy Tony Harig, “The top of each Jeb’s thought is a excessive one, the best potential, or our perception is a sham.” He might keep such an elevated view of the “Jeb,” or Jesuit, thoughts so long as he felt he was merely attempting out the Jesuit vocation. Nevertheless, as soon as he started to appreciate God actually was calling him to be a priest of the Society of Jesus, he was confronted with a disaster of religion.
The issues he had loved on the earth—reporting for a newspaper, enjoying baseball, monitoring the trivia of native and nationwide politics, and hanging out with pals in all-night diners—none of those have been sinful in themselves, however they have been incompatible with the Jesuit priesthood. If he have been actually referred to as to the Society of Jesus, he must sacrifice his hopes of having the ability to do these and a thousand different issues he loved. But right here he was within the novitiate, eager for the issues he left behind. How, then, might he actually be referred to as to the Jesuit priesthood if “the tip of each Jeb’s thought” was “a excessive one, the best potential”? Underneath the boundaries of his personal logic, he was compelled to confront the likelihood that Catholic perception was “a sham.”
Dowling would carry his expertise of the through negativa into his work with A.A. One of many first items of non secular steerage he gave Invoice Wilson the night time they met in November 1940 was, “Should you can title it, it’s not God.”
Dowling shunned revealing the depth of his anguish to his household on the time. However later, each in private correspondence and in talks, he typically mirrored upon the years when he doubted his vocation and even religion itself. To him, it was the crucial development interval of his life. In April 1944, he gave a chat at an Alcoholics Nameless gathering through which he likened the inside battle he endured throughout the novitiate to that of alcoholics who struggled with the notion of surrendering to their Greater Energy:
However right here, tonight, [I am] discussing an issue to which I’m not solely alien. As much as in regards to the age of twenty-one, my spirituality, my faith, my religion was a snug, unchallenged nursery behavior. After which, over a course of some twenty-four months—crucial months of my life—I noticed that religion, that faith, drift away. It started to make calls for. And when it ceased to be snug and comforting to large, necessary I—when it ceased to “sure” my physique and my soul—I discovered I moved away from it. I’m not totally unacquainted with atheism. I do know and respect agnosticism, and I’ve been a bed-fellow of non secular confusion—not merely the trustworthy, honest variety however the self-kidding variety.
Solely his novice grasp, William Mitchell, S.J., was aware about the extent of his sufferings. Dowling later described to his sister Mary how a mild phrase from Father Mitchell supplied him with the beginnings of the hope that he was searching for:
One night time, issues got here to a disaster and the Religious Father instructed me I must cease going to the sacraments except I might throw off the concepts I had. I instructed him it was hopeless and he let the entire thing hinge on my reply to 1 query: “Do you consider in God?” I instructed him that I couldn’t truly say that I did, however I used to be afraid to say that “I truly didn’t consider.” In different phrases, I doubted the existence of God, however I wasn’t able to say that “I used to be positive there was no God.” The priest instructed me to maintain praying and, in view of my nervous and confused situation, that my reply was passable.
Progressively Dowling opened as much as the likelihood that God was not actually absent however relatively was patiently awaiting his “sure.” On this method, his journey to a mature religion started by means of what theologians name the through negativa—that’s, the destructive path. He needed to develop the knowledge to acknowledge the darkish locations the place his personal thoughts and can had excluded God, and acquire the humility to ask God to light up them.
Dowling would carry his expertise of the through negativa into his work with A.A. One of many first items of non secular steerage he gave Invoice Wilson the night time they met in November 1940 was, “Should you can title it, it’s not God.” The identical sentiment would underpin Dowling’s deal with on the 1955 Alcoholics Nameless Worldwide Conference, when, commenting on A.A.’s use of the phrase “we agnostics,” he stated: