Friday, October 30, 2009

The Saint Louis University Exorcism of 1949

THE TERRIFYING POSSIBILITY of demonic possession is a matter of Catholic Faith. Our Lord Jesus cast out demons, and His apostles cast out demons in Jesus' name. The writings of the Desert Fathers are filled with anecdotes of the actions of demons, and how the life of a holy monk is one of spiritual warfare. The need for exorcism is seen throughout the liturgical life of the Church, with the various blessings of objects and Baptism: there was also a Minor Order of Exorcist.

But as it happens, actual demonic possession is very rare. The contemporary church greatly values the work of scientific psychology, and many exorcists have training in psychiatry. These phenomena are indeed psychological, but what is the psyche, and what is the nature of reality in which our psyches inhabit? According to exorcists, while demonic possession is very rare, demonic obsession is distressingly common, and is becoming more frequent. Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!

The lurid Hollywood film The Exorcist was very popular when I was attending Lutheran Sunday school, and the students questioned the pastor about that. He told us that we had to “go to the Catholics” for exorcism. As it happens, The Exorcist was very loosely based on events that happened in Saint Louis in 1949, and in that case, the Lutherans indeed referred this matter to the Catholics.

Yesterday, I picked up a flyer at Saint Louis University's Saint Francis Xavier church:

Join us
Friday, October 30, 2009
As we look back 60 years at the famed
...another part of our history and
Our 125th Anniversary

A 45-minute film documentary
will delve into the mysteries and myths
surrounding this notorious event.

Pertinent background and personal
accounts from known Jesuits offer

Doors open at 6:30 — showing at 7:00

I assume this screening is in the hall beneath the church. As I haven't seen the video, I don't know its content. However, the subject of demonology ought not be taken lightly, and we should in general be not curious of such matters; in fact, exceptional holiness is needed for those involved to avoid harm.


  1. To the best of my knowledge, these presentations are done with pastoral sensitivity and scholarly restraint. John Waide, a research librarian in the Vatican Film Library of SLU's Pius Library, has given talks on this subject before and I suspect he is involved in this one as well. His presentations are based in historical fact and go a long way in dispelling myths and misunderstandings of this rare spiritual occurrence.