cover image Father Ed: The Story of Bill W.’s Spiritual Sponsor

Father Ed: The Story of Bill W.’s Spiritual Sponsor

Dawn Eden Goldstein. Orbis, $30 (392p) ISBN 978-1-62698-486-8

This thorough biography of Fr. Edward Dowling by former journalist Goldstein (Sunday Will Never Be the Same) homes in on the priest’s friendship with Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson. The author highlights how Dowling’s Christian humility and devotion became integral to the AA movement, positing that Dowling gained sympathy for the downtrodden during his childhood in St. Louis in the early 1900s when his father would tell stories about their ancestors martyring themselves for Irish independence from England in the late 1790s. After Dowling joined the priesthood, he saw a spiritual continuity between AA’s 12-step program and St. Ignatius’s book Spiritual Exercises, which intended to bring Christians closer to God, and in 1940 Dowling arrived unannounced at AA’s Manhattan clubhouse to discuss these similarities with Wilson. They struck up a quick friendship, and the priest’s assertion that “God resists the proud, assists the humble” became an important influence on Wilson, whose later writings emphasized the role of humility in the 12 steps. Meticulous research (Goldstein notes that, contrary to Wilson’s account of the night he met Dowling, weather reports indicate there was no precipitation) and fluid prose capture the nuances of this friendship. This is a powerful take on an often overlooked spiritual influence on Alcoholics Anonymous. (Dec.)