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Fr. Edward Dowling (1898-1960)

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Fr. Edward Dowling (1898-1960)

Posted: 1062200421000
Classification: Obituary
Surnames: DOWLING
Source: the News-Letter, Missouri and Wisconsin Provinces, May 1960, Vol. 20, No. 8, by (Fr.) James McQuade


Fr. Edward Dowling, S.J.

It is easy to give the statistics on Fr. Dowling. He was born in St. Louis, Sept. 1, 1898. He attended the Baden Public and the Holy Name Parochial School and went on to St. Louis University High School. In 1918, he served as a private in the First World War. The following year he served as a reporter on the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. In 1919 he entered the Order at Florissant and followed the regular course subsequently for philosophy at St. Louis University. His regency from 1926 to 1929 was spent at Loyola Academy, Chicago, Illinois. He was ordained in St. Louis by Archbishop Glennon in 1931. At the end of his theology he was assigned to the staff of the Central Office of Sodalities of Our Lady and, apart from the succeeding year spent in tertianship at St. Stanislaus in Cleveland, has been on the staff of The Queen’s Work until his death on Apr. 3, 1960, at the age of 61.

The estimate of the man, however, is quite another thing. It would be difficult to pick the personality trait that was most characteristic of Fr. Dowling: a genuine simplicity, a real interest in and love of people, a great capacity for friendship, a strong devotion to the cross, an inexhaustible patience and charity - all would be competing for first place.

Fr. Dowling had been under treatment for a heart condition for three years, but for many years he had been suffering from a crippling infirmity which made walking difficult. He was very active in spite of this and engaged in an energetic apostolate, leaning on one of his many friends or on his ever ready cane in the use of which he became quite a master.

It was in this apostolic activity that he died. He had flown to Memphis, Tenn., on Saturday, Apr. 2, to conduct a marriage conference sponsored by Memphis alumnae of Maryille College of the Sacred Heart, St. Louis. He was found dead in bed at 8:00 A.M. the following day at the home of Mr. and Mrs.. Frank Barzizza, where he was staying. The numbers of mourners both at the funeral parlor and at the Mass. and the cortege that wound its way out to Florissant fully justified the headline on the article in the Globe-Democrat, "Father Dowling, Friend of Many, Dies Suddenly."

Fr. Dowling was one of the originators of the Cana Conference, a movement designed to improve marriage and family life. He had conducted well over 300 Cana Conferences in the USA and Canada. His interest in the family, its protection and development, involved him in almost every movement along this line. Monsignor DeBlanc, director of the Family Life Bureau of NCWC, wired, "Fr. Dowling's death an irreparable personal loss." Monsignor Egan, director of Chicago Cana, telegraphed "Our debt to him for what he was and what he did will never be repaid."

He was also a sponsor of Alcoholics Anonymous, and an intimate associate of William G. Wilson, a co-founder of the organization. Mr. Wilson came on from New York for the funeral and, together with the local members, expressed in many ways the sense of loss felt by members of that organization. Mr. Wilson in a formal visit to Fr. Superior expressed the deep gratitude of Alcoholics Anonymous to the Society of Jesus, not only for the work of Fr. Dowling, but also for the generally favorable attitude toward the organization on the part of Jesuits from the beginning. He attributed this in part to the influence of Fr. Dowling.

Fr. Dowling also led in the establishment of the first St. Louis Chapter of Recovery, Inc., an organization begun by the late Dr. Abraham A. Low to enable members to improve their mental health. He, himself, conducted two groups which met regularly for mutual self-help in nervous disorders here at The Queen's Work. This work particularly led to an almost endless stream of visitors to his office and an almost continuous series of telephone consultations. His patient sympathy made him helpful to ever so many in this field.

His most recent project was the formation of a new group which he called the Montserrat Circle composed of people with a tendency to scruples. They met periodically to discuss their problems by way of helping each other somewhat along the lines of die group therapy used by Recovery; Inc.

As a former newspaper man, Fr. Dowling was a member of the American Newspaper Guild and served as a delegate for the St. Louis local at Guild conventions in Toronto and San Francisco. He was a friend of the late Heywood Broun, noted New York columnist, and helped to convert Broun to Catholicism. One of his associates among the newsmen tells a story of Fr. Dowling's entrance to Florissant. The story is characteristic in many ways: "It was in an all-night cafe frequented by Globe-Democrat reporters that he announced he would enter the seminary at Florissant the next morning. As astounded fellow staff member who had an automobile volunteered to drive the young newsman to the seminary. The friend reported that Dowling wore his favorited candy-striped silk shirt for the occasion, and his only luggage was a pair of canvas duck trousers he carried under his arm. En route, the friend unsuccessfully tried to persuade the young man to turn back. Fr. Dowling said that he was startled a few days later when he saw the seminary floors being swabbed with rags including his silk shirt." It was one of Fr. Dowling's characteristics all through his life to concentrate on the essentials and ignore the details. He was thus ideally suited to work with the many movements with which he was constantly concerned. It also made him the despair of those devoted to the cause of "regular order."

Fr. Dowling had also considerable contact with the field of political science, not only through his perennial interest in promoting the system of Proportional Representation, but also through his close connections in the field of St. Louis politics. He was the first president of the St. Louis Housing Authority and honorary vice-president of the National Municipal League. He belonged to the Proportional Representation Society of Great Britain, the American Political Science Association, Public Questions Club of St. Louis, and the Old Baden Society.

His work with the Summer School of Catholic Action over a period of 25 years made him well-known throughout the country for the courses he gave in politics, in marriage, and in family life. He bad developed an interest in the application of the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius to the life of the family and communicated this to his SSCA audiences which were always large.

"Fr. Dowling's shock of tousled white hair," writes one of his journalist friends, "and his bulky figure gave him an added air of authority as he expounded his views at meetings. His opinions and ideas were often unconventional. He was long a proponent of proportional representation as a means of defeating corrupt political machines. He once urged that Missouri's governors be replaced by state managers with powers similar to those of city managers on the municipal level.' As early as 1941, he advocated more democracy in labor unions to protect ‘the rank and file against the usurpations of their self-styled leaders.’ He advocated a new St. Louis city charter in 1936 and in 1958 called for a ‘complete united merger of the entire area of city and county’ with the exception of those areas which vote to stay out. His work in marriage counseling led him to advocate an ‘internship in housework’ for society debutantes and college girls. He once urged married couples to write each other love notes to make up for the lag in conversation. At one Cana Conference he commented, 'No man thinks he's ugly. If he's fat, he thinks he looks like Taft. If he's lanky, he thinks he looks like Lincoln.' "

The editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote on the eve of Fr. Dowling's funeral, which took place Apr. 6: "The Rev. Edward Dowling, S.J., was a kindly man who never allowed kindliness to keep him from speaking his mind. He made friends wherever he went, especially among newspaper people. He left the city room for the Jesuit Seminary, but he was like the old firehorse. Crippling arthritis restricted his activities but a cane always got him to a Newspaper Guild meeting, to a party for a Pulitzer Prize winner, or any journalistic bull session which promised to bring out the 'inside story’ of what made the wheels turn. Eddie Dowling did not vaunt his kindliness; he used it quietly to help those who needed help. They will remember him as long as those who only learned from him that the world is never too gloomy for cheerfulness - even though it always is a little better with a dollop of bourbon and a touch of branch water."

The "image" which the public had of Fr. Dowling was certainly a favorable one, but the "image" in the minds of his Jesuit brethren was no less so. To them, too, he was the patient spiritual director, the frank and kindly guide and counsellor. To them he was a man of true sympathy and an ever ready father confessor. To them he was the spice that added a pleasant flavor to community life. Many indeed will miss his shuffle along the corridors and the click of his cane, but his Jesuit brethren most of all. R.I.P.

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