Walter Halloran

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Walter Halloran SJ (September 21, 1921 – March 1, 2005) was a Catholic priest[1] of the Society of Jesus who, at the age of twenty-six, assisted in the exorcism of Roland Doe, a thirteen-year-old Lutheran boy in St. Louis, Missouri[2] This was the case that William Peter Blatty was inspired by when he wrote his novel The Exorcist.


Halloran was born in Jackson, Minnesota in 1921.[1] He was the oldest of nine children. He became a student at the Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1934.[3] He was a member of the school's football team. In 1941, he became a member of the Jesuit community. It was while studying at St. Louis University, in 1949, that he would be asked by Father William S. Bowdern to assist in the exorcism rite on a case, which would become famous, concerning a thirteen-year-old boy. The exorcism would go on for a month before coming to an end in the psych ward at Alexian Brothers Hospital.[4]

Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter gave the approval to proceed with the rite of exorcism on the possessed boy in the Roman Ritual, as stated in the Catholic prayer book.[4] Father Bowdern asked the young priest to hold down the violent boy as the rite of exorcism was read but the boy lashed out and broke his nose. Halloran would later relate that he saw lines and words written on the boy's body including the word, "hell,"[1] that the boy's bed was jumping up and down and that a bottle of Holy water flew off a table and smashed against the wall.[5] Halloran spoke with friend and Pastor Kevin Ingalls regarding the 1949 case in taped conversations, and always regarded the case as a true case of possession. Halloran was interviewed by writer Thomas Allen for his book about the 1949 case and repeated his conviction that the boy had been possessed by evil spirits. Although the three weeks[6] in which he helped with this case of possession would make him a reluctant minor celebrity, he regarded the exorcism as just one event in his life. In 1954, Halloran was ordained and two years later began teaching theology and history at his old school the Campion Jesuit High boarding school in Prairie du Chien. While teaching there he also coached football.

In 1963 he moved to Marquette University where he taught history until 1966 when Halloran volunteered for chaplain duty with the United States Army. He first served in Germany, but in 1969, at the age of 48, he volunteered for paratrooper training and then for duty in Vietnam where he would say he saw more evil than in the boy's hospital bed back in 1949.

According to his brother John Halloran, he really wanted to work with the men. Halloran would helicopter in to the fighting zones, sometimes staying for days on end ministering to the soldiers. By the end of his service as a paratrooper chaplain in 1971, he had earned two Bronze Stars.[1] After his service was over, he went back to St. Louis in 1972 to teach at St. Louis University High and to serve as assistant director of campus ministry and then as alumni director at St. Louis University.

Halloran would have a variety of assignments from then on, such as being an associate pastor in his hometown of Jackson, Minnesota and running a parish ministry in San Diego, California. In 1988, Halloran was an assistant director of the alumni office at Creighton University in Omaha.[6] In the 1980s and 1990s, Fr. Halloran was being extensively interviewed by reporters, researchers and students alike, regarding the 1949 exorcism case. Fr. Halloran's cooperation in these interviews is well known and has been helpful down the years.

Although Father Bowdern remained convinced until his death in 1983, Halloran later gave a statement expressing his skepticism.[citation needed] He claimed that he was unable to either confirm or deny that the boy was actually possessed. According to Allen's book, Halloran is alleged to have said that he saw nothing beyond that capable of a boy of Roland's age: there was no demonstration of super-human strength (even though at one point Roland is alleged to have broken Halloran's nose), and Roland did not speak in tongues because Roland (or the possessing spirit) refused to converse in Latin. On the occasions that Roland did speak Latin, Halloran stresses that he only seemed to repeat words and phrases that he had heard numerous times during the rites of exorcism.

According to Allen, Roland was heard on one occasion speaking Aramaic, but this is not confirmed. The name of the sole witness to the occurrence is not mentioned in Allen's book.

In 2000, a TV-movie titled Possessed, based largely on Allen's book, was made about the case. Father Bowdern was played by Timothy Dalton.


In 2003, Halloran was diagnosed with cancer and retired to the St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, where he died on March 1, 2005.[1] At the time of his death, he was the last surviving Jesuit who had assisted in the 1949 case.

Related books[edit]

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  1. ^ a b c d e Washington Post, "Jesuit Priest Walter Halloran," March 9, 2005; p. B06
  2. ^ A Faraway Ancient Country. Lulu. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  3. ^ Campion Graduate Notables...
  4. ^ a b Garrison, Chris. "Hell of a House". River Front Times. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 
  5. ^ A Faraway Ancient Country, 2007, ISBN 0-615-15801-3, page 70
  6. ^ a b The Washington Post, Chuck Conconi, May 11, 1988.

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