The events surrounding this exorcism, which was performed in St. Louis in 1949, formed the basis for the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, and the 1973 film of the same name, considered by many to be the most frightening motion picture of all time. The film marks its 40th anniversary this year.SLU Exorcism 1949 Panel Discussion – YouTube
The Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections, in a joint program with the University’s Office of Mission and Ministry, presented a guest lecture and panel discussion on the Saint Louis Exorcism of 1949 on Oct. 29, at Pius XII Memorial Library.
The events surrounding this exorcism, which was performed in St. Louis in 1949, formed the basis for the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, and the 1973 film of the same name, considered by many to be the most frightening motion picture of all time. The film marks its 40th anniversary this year.
The novel and the film tell the story of the demonic possession of a twelve-year-old girl and the exorcism performed to free her of the demon. Both the novel and the film portray these events as occurring in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with two Jesuit priests on the faculty of Georgetown University conducting the rite of exorcism.
However, the real-life events on which the novel and film are based involved a fourteen-year-old boy living in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. Between January and March 1949, a series of strange and bizarre events took place in or near the boy’s home, but the actual exorcism was performed in St. Louis on the campus of Saint Louis University and at the Alexian Brothers Hospital (no longer standing) from March to April 1949, by Jesuit priests associated with Saint Louis University.
The guest speaker, Thomas B. Allen, is the author of Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism (Doubleday, 1993), which is considered the most comprehensive treatment of the events associated with the 1949 exorcism. Allen provided a chronological account of these events and also discussed his friendship with Father Walter Halloran, S.J., the young seminarian who assisted at the exorcism and whom Allen met when beginning research for his book in 1990.
Father Paul Stark, S.J., Vice-President for Mission and Ministry, moderated the program and provided an overview of the modern rite of exorcism.
University Archivist John Waide spoke about the individuals involved and the continuing interest in these events and their subsequent reporting and retelling. Noted Jesuit historian and scholar, Father John Padberg, S.J., discussed the history of exorcism in the Church and recounted his recollections of the participants.