StMU Research Scholars

The Exorcism of Roland Doe

In the late-1940s, a boy who was living a normal life had his fate turned around when he went through several near death experiences. He then endured a nearly-two-month process of exorcisms from several priests for the small mistake he had made.  The priests that had performed these exorcisms gave this 14-year-old boy the pseudonym “Roland Doe.” What led Roland to this moment? His beloved aunt had given him an Ouija board as a gift and had taught him how to contact spirits with it. However, she had died shortly after teaching him. Roland, heartbroken about his deceased loved one, decided to contact her from the afterlife. However he contacted a demon instead.1

Priest banishing demons from Roland Doe’s body | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before being possessed, Roland used an Ouija (Wee-gee) Board, which is a board usually made of wood with the alphabet spelled on it, as well as the words “yes” and “no,” and it may have numbers “0-9.” The board comes with a pointer that spirits are able to move onto each letter to make words to talk to you. Although it has been rumored that the Ouija Board had just appeared from nowhere, some say the first one was created in Maryland in the 1890s. After many disputes and law suits over what this board was in the 1920s, it was decided that it was not a religious device, but simply a board game instead. Yet, it was still used by mediums as a professional tool to contact spirits.2 The Ouija Board is also a type of seance, which is a French word for “session,” and this refers to the practice of gathering together as a group to receive messages from ghosts or listen to spirits. However in cases that aren’t led by professionals, they may lead into possession by demons.3

Alexian Brother Hospital where Ronald Doe was held to end his possession | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The teenage boy Roland Doe started getting marks and scratches all over his body while at home, which led his family to realize there was a problem. These scratches ended up turning into words. The first word happened to be “LOUIS,” relating to his worried mother’s hometown of St. Louis. Once there, the family contacted a medium to talk to this demon that was living in her child. However as the medium was conducting a seance, more marks appeared upon his skin. The marks ended up turning into letters again, which bore the words “NO SCHOOL.” Upon seeing this, the medium contacted a Jesuit Priest by the name of Father Raymond Bishop, who happened to be a priest  at St. Louis University, to perform a blessing on the possessed child. However while Bishop was praying to the child, Roland’s bed began to shake and tremble while deep bloody gashes started appearing on Roland Doe’s chest. After witnessing this event, the priest immediately called upon the Archbishop to perform a full exorcism.4

The Catholic Church believes that the devil finds all of the souls he can to torment and bring them to sin. The Church also believes some people will become possessed with demons from hell. A big problem with exorcisms in the eighteenth century to today is that many scientists and skeptics believe that people who become possessed by Satan are faking it and it is just some mental disease. However some cases of exorcisms have shown unbelievable occurrences that have happened while the people are possessed. Therefore, possession, which is a demon taking away your soul and body in order to spread evil and hate, was and still is too difficult and too complex to be equated with any modern physical illness. There is also no space in the Catholic tradition to deny the existence of demons because of the presence of the devil in the Bible and the prayers that expel demons.5 Catholics believe the devil’s existence is rooted in the first story in the Bible, which tells of Adam and Eve disobeying God and giving in to the snake’s (the devil’s) lies and took forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. This temptation to sin is the easiest form that the devil takes in order to make people become less faithful. Catholics also believe in St. Micheal, who is a defender of the church and people and is hated by demons and the devil all over Hell. There are even prayers in the Bible that talk about the Devil and getting rid of him and his temptation. “Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man”(Psalms 71:4) is a scripture in Psalms that is a prayer for those in need of God to come and save them from the wicked hands of the Devil.6

The tantrums that Roland Doe suffered and the exorcisms that followed after Father William Bowdern went horrifically. A crucifix in Roland Doe’s room began to tremble, at the same time his bed shook, and the vial of holy water that was supposed to be protecting the teenage boy shattered into a million different pieces sending glass shards everywhere. All throughout the exorcism there were continuous markings that other priests believed couldn’t have been self-induced. The explicit language that Roland Doe had shouted and babbled at night reeked of sexual abuse as a child. However, the words he was using should not have been known for a child his age. This suggests it couldn’t have just been a mental disease. It became so bad sometimes that the priests believed they needed to baptize the boy. However, while on the way to the church, Roland tried to swerve the car off the road with the intent to crash and kill. The weirdest part about the events that occurred to Roland Doe is that during the morning, he was completely normal, but as soon as night fell, it was almost like he fell into a trance.7

Two crucifixes attached to rosary beads | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ever since creation of the world, in the Catholic view, there has always been the threat of the devil. In fact, Satan even means “opponent,” and it is believed that he is the opponent of God and his children. Many Catholics even believe that if people don’t believe that Satan exists then he has even more power over you. Catholics believe that in order to truly get rid of demons inside of the possessed, they have to acknowledge the demon inside of them and pray to God to get rid of this wicked spirit.8 However for those that are not able to do that by themselves, they need to call upon a priest to undergo an exorcism. The purpose of an exorcism is to dispel or frighten away demons or spirits that were contracted from a seance or another unnatural occurrence. Traditionally, most exorcisms are are carried out by Catholics with the use of holy objects, incense, and loud noises of all kinds (mostly prayer).9 In contrast, Protestants believe that possession is associated with personal guilt so their methods include fasting and many personal prayers. Regardless, whenever a person that is possessed gets to a certain point where they lose control, there is nothing that they can do for themselves any more and they must call upon priests for help.10

Roland Doe was finally cured in 1949 during a lightning storm. He had no memory of what happened over the past months of torture he endured. He did move on past these experiences and had three kids and a successful career. Unfortunately, one of the priests that tried to cure him not only was on the brink of insanity by the end of the exorcisms but had also become possessed as well. On this priest’s death bed it is claimed that he used explicit words against a nurse and tried to choke her to death. Although many researchers of this case believe that this was just a mental illness, it can not be confirmed because of the events that occurred to the young teenager. It is even said that the spot where Roland had the exorcist is permanently cracked into the concrete.11 This case also inspired The Exorcist, which was a novel published in 1971 that was also made into a movie. However instead of a 14-year-old boy, the novel was written with him being a 12-year-old girl. Despite that small change, the events that occurred in the exorcisms were just as gruesome and horrible, including the girl levitating, her head spinning, and projecting vomit at the priests. Nonetheless, the events that occurred on those frightful nights gave many people nightmares for decades, and if Roland hadn’t lost his memory he probably would have lived his life in a mental hospital.12

  1. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  2. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Ouija Boards,” John L. Crow.
  3. Patrick McNamara, Spirit Possession And Exorcism: History, Psychology, And Neurobiology (Praeger, 2011), 34.
  4.  Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  5. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  6. Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version. (American Bible Society, 2010).
  7. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018, s.v. “Satan,” Rebecca Kraft.
  9. Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2019, s.v. “Exorcism.”
  10. Moshe Sluhovsky, “The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, no. 1 (2014): 113.
  11. Caroline Iggulden, “The Exorcists of Roland Doe,” The Sun, February 20, 2017.
  12. Michael Cuneo, American Exorcisms (New York: Broadway Books, 2002), 7-9.

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71 Responses

  1. What an interesting read about demonic possessions. I never heard of Roland Doe or the fact that he had to undergo an exorcism.
    It’s not very surprising to me to see someone get an exorcism done in modern times since there are still people who are very intense when it comes to religion. I wonder if the exorcisms were real or not since there could be some scientific explanation behind this but other than that it was a very interesting article with great pictures.

  2. If I am not mistaken, you mention halfway into your article that scientists and skeptics believe that those who get possessed are faking it, or simply have some kind of mental illness. Technically speaking, this idea could be true, but if this was the case, why haven’t we found anything supporting the idea that possessions by demons are fake? Could it be because we are too scared of finding the truth? The truth potentially being that demons are real, or that there is no such thing as demons. Which at that point the question if God is real would come to be because a lot of religious believers like to think that there is no good without there being bad. So, if there’s no bad… is there any good?

  3. This article was very interesting to read. I have always thought of story’s pertaining to exorcisms to be pretty fascinating. The Roland Doe story is interesting, parts of it I do believe but parts of it makes it hard to. I do feel bad for the priest that took on the demonic possession. Although it is very tempting to experiment with this type of stuff I rather stay out of it and take no part.

  4. I find this article very different from all the ones I have read, I had never heard of a story like this one to be honest, I find it interesting to see everything this poor child had to endure however it makes me question myself a lot of stuff and how much of this is believable… However this is a great article with good research!

  5. A very interesting article for a hard to believe story. It’s interesting how exorcisms were still being performed, even during the beginning of the Cold War. It does make me wonder how much of the occurrences of Roland Doe’s exorcism were real and how much were fake. I do admit, despite holding on to the belief that there is some scientifically explainable phenomenon that occurred, the story of the exorcism still makes me wonder how much of our universe we truly understand.

  6. The article was interesting and very informative I find it crazy that all that had happen but I feel bad for the family that had to endure it all through the pain and probably terrible memoires from it. I’ve never really believe any ghost stories or spirts because I never had any experiences with it but from reading the article I’ve open my eyes to it more with the history and documentary from it. From this I will never attempt to play or experiment with Ouija Boards.

  7. It is very interesting and crazy how such little things that people find harmless can ruin your life with the demonic upbringings. It is saddening hearing about the individual who had to undergo this and the priest who had to endure the possession as well. Roland’s cure from the lightning storm was a true blessing in the end and his story is a lesson to everyone as well.

  8. This article was very interesting and informative. Not only did this article present information on theology and the ides of God and the devil. It also gave an interesting story of what happened with Roland Doe. I also love how un-biased this article is. Not exactly sure if un-biased is a word but allow me to explain: instead of fully and solely focusing on the ideas of demonic possession there is a full and explicit reference that all of this could be phycological.
    Overall, a very good article.

  9. I heard about Roland Doe during a documentary. Yes according to the documentary this was the case which inspired William Peter Blatty to write the bestselling novel upon which the landmark horror film is based.
    One of the problems with Roland was that his family was not Catholic so it took longer for them to get the kind of assistance he required. And as the article says it took more than one request to get a trained and competent priest to perform the exorcism. According to the documentary an exorcism requires the permission of a diocesan bishop.
    The article seems to have been well researched and I hope the author comes back and does more research on the topic,

  10. I have to say that this article was a very interesting read. I’ve always wanted to play with Ouija boards just to experiment with them, but stories like this put things into perspective. I also can’t help but feel extremely bad for what the priests had to endure to cure the boy from demonic possession, and how the family had to endure such pain and torture from it. I also never knew that this case of demonic possession inspired The Exorcist. Note to self, I will not attempt to play or experiment with Ouija boards.

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