In an extensive review of demonology from Everett Ferguson’s book, Demonology of the Early Christian World, the sinful world of demons and exorcisms are examined from a Christian point of view. First and foremost, the relationship between God and demons was established at the beginning of mankind thousands of years ago. It is believed that all spirits are created to be good in God’s eyes. However, if those spirits use their free will to rebel against God, they become demons and servants of Satan. This can be seen in Genesis chapter 3 when Eve and Adam wrestle with doubt in the perfect love and knowledge that God has provided them. They ultimately choose to believe Satan and activate the evil and original sin that lives in each of our hearts. In contrast, the defeat of the kingdom of Satan was sealed and assured by the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. According to Christians, with Jesus, all evils and demons can be defeated with the truth of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.
In the early years of the church, demons were blamed for all of the physical evils of the world. They stood behind false religion, induced the persecution of true religion, and tried to attempt men into sinning against God. The power that a demon holds over man is based on man’s selfish decision to walk away from a life of obedience and betray God. The Catholic tradition believes that these evils can be expelled by believers who use the name of Jesus Christ. Whenever the gospel is preached and the influence of Christ is felt, demons are powerless. An exorcism entails the very touch and breathing of a Christian over those who are possessed and the simple command of the demon to exit the body in the name of Jesus Christ. With the use of an authoritative word, the demon obeys. Contrary to popular belief, Christian exorcisms do not use potions, formulas, or material things like some pagan religions. The demons are expelled by Christians for moral purposes and to emphasize the power of God and his Son.
When Saint Louis University students were asked to explain what they think happened during the 1949 Saint Louis Exorcism, the most common response was that a boy was possessed and his exorcism took place in DuBourg Hall at the university. Others were unsure if it was a girl or a boy or where it happened exactly, but they were sure it took place at the university. Some did not know much about it all; they thought it was only a rumor.
Through research, details of the 1949 exorcism have been greater understood. As opposed to some students’ belief, the exorcism was practiced on a thirteen year old boy referred to only as “R." This also differs from the movie, The Exorcist, which is based off of the 1949 Saint Louis Exorcism. The media portrayed the victim of the possession as being a girl to hide Robbie Doe’s identity. Another detail that many people are unaware of is that the exorcism was not performed only at one location. In Troy Taylor’s book, The Devil Came to Saint Louis, he explains that the boy, being from Maryland, was brought to stay at a relative’s house in St. Louis for some time. It is not clear how long Robbie stayed at his relative's house, but it is known that he was taken to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in south St. Louis, possibly for as long as a month, and that portions of the exorcism were also carried out in the rectory of the St. Francis Xavier Church.
Another detail found in Taylor’s book that the public is unfamiliar of is that the boy converted to the Catholic religion during the events that lead to the exorcism. The family felt that his conversion would help strengthen their fight against the entity controlling the body.
While the aftermath of the exorcism strongly affected the boy’s hometown in Maryland, there was not much talk in St. Louis. The exorcism was very much kept a secret; the Jesuits that were present did not speak of it, and any item used or present at any of the scenes was either locked up or demolished.
John Waide has worked in Pius XII Memorial Library for over forty years and knows SLU history forwards and backwards. Waide attended SLU for his undergraduate degree before the book “The Exorcist” came out and came back to SLU to work in Pius after completing his masters degree in history. When Waide returned to SLU the fictional book about the St. Louis Exorcism was published and he began receiving many questions on the subject. Waide thought he might as well become educated on the topic and soon after became fascinated by the mystery behind the exorcism and is now well known for his knowledge on the exorcism.
The first subject Waide wanted tackle when we interviewed him was that the media has ramped up the exorcism a lot over the years. One example of this that Waide gave us is the show Destination America did on the house where Ronald Hunkeler, the original name of the 13 year old boy involved in the St. Louis exorcism, stayed at while he was in St. Louis. Although the exorcism took place in Alexian Brothers Hospital, the people on the show portrayed it differently.
A photograph (see below) of the house is pictured on Destination America’s website with the title, “The suburban home in St. Louis where the attempted exorcism of Ronald Doe took place.” The picture was darkened and contrasted in order to make the house look ominous and perhaps eerie. When the house is seen in proper lighting, it looks like an ordinary home.
In addition, the title of the picture was inaccurate because no part of the exorcism actually took place in the home. “Ronald Doe,” A.K.A Ronald Hunkeler, only slept in this room while he was in St. Louis.
The Exorcist Diary is a book that is based off the diary of Father Raymond J. Bishop. The diary includes several details of what happened during the exorcism. There were many instances that occurred during this event that most people do not know. For example, Father Bishop and some other priests went to visit the boy, simply called “R” in the diary, nearly every night to attempt an exorcism. Throughout this process, the boy would begin fighting them. At the same point during the exorcism, the devil that was possessing the boy would wake up and begin violent reactions. Every night, the boy would fight the priests. He would spit on them and try violently to hit them. When he regained consciousness, he had little to no memory of what he had just occurred. Finally, after several attempts to exorcise the boy, there was a successful exorcism performed and the boy was finally set free from the devil. From that day on, according to this account, there were no further signs of possession. He allegedly went on to lead a normal life.
Allen, Thomas B. Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism. New York: Doubleday, 1993. Print.
Amorth, Gabriele. An Exorcist Tells His Story. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1999. Print.
Bishop, Raymond J., and Christopher Saint. Booth. The Exorcist Diary: The True Story of The Exorcist. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Ferguson, Everett. Demonology of the Early Christian World. Vol. 12. New York: E. Mellen, 1984. Print. Symposium.