“A long awaited and much-needed biography of one of the most influential, yet most unknown, spiritual figures of modern times. Anyone who has benefited from the insights of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program that led to millions of freer lives, owes a debt of gratitude to Dawn Eden Goldstein for her carefully researched and lovingly told story of Father Ed.”
—James Martin, S.J., author,
Learning to Pray
Since its founding in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has had an incalculable effect on tens of millions worldwide who have recovered from alcoholism through its Twelve Step Program. Among those who played a significant role in bringing A.A. to international prominence was a Jesuit priest, Father Edward Dowling (1898-1960), who befriended A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson and became his close spiritual advisor.
Dawn Eden Goldstein’s Father Ed is the first biography of this remarkable figure, beginning with his Irish-American upbringing, his youthful athleticism — which caused him to toy with a career in baseball — and his decision to enter the Jesuits. Goldstein paints a fascinating picture of his austere formation in the Society of Jesus. Rather than pursue an academic course, Dowling was assigned to journalism, but underlying his work he was always drawn to those who were suffering, a sympathy eventually enhanced by his own crippling infirmities.
After learning of a friend’s success in achieving sobriety through A.A., Father Ed went to New York to seek out Bill W. He was particularly struck by the similarities he recognized between the spiritual principles of A.A. and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits.
The meeting with Bill W. would prove life-changing for both men. Of the Jesuit, Wilson would later say, “He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet.”
Father Ed would go on to devote himself wholeheartedly to the cause of A.A., and his advocacy would do much to overcome Catholic suspicions of the movement. But much of his contribution came through his constant friendship with Bill W., and his ongoing spiritual counsel.
Beyond A.A., the range of Dowling’s ministries was incredibly wide, extending to people in troubled marriages (as a leader of the Cana Conference movement) and those suffering from nervous disorders. He was also a champion of social justice, ecumenism and civil rights.
But apart from his commitment to big issues, Father Ed’s trademark was his intense interest and care for individuals. In so many ways his interests anticipated the agenda of the Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II era. Truly a “shepherd with the smell of the sheep,” he embodied Pope Francis’ call for a Church that goes out to the margins and peripheries in the spirit of mercy and social friendship.
The author of Father Ed, Dawn Eden Goldstein, began life as a rock and roll historian and worked in newspapers before converting to Catholicism, earning a doctorate in sacred theology and a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America. Goldstein has previously written books on healing from trauma and other spiritual themes. In Father Ed she has written a riveting and inspiring story of a priest and the difference that one person can make.