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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73 Responses

  1. I wonder why people insist on playing with an Ouija board; as you pointed out, bad things happen if misused. Playing with something humans are not meant to mettle with, despite how far we advanced. Such as Roland Doe, whose intention was good, wishing to talk to his aunt once more, but ended up with a much darker creature. I also do think that it is interesting how two of the main branches of Christian practice exorcisms.

  2. This was a very interesting article to read about Roland Doe. Reading about stories like the one you have written scare me, but at the same time engage me as a reader to keep reading. I used to not believe in people getting possessed and thought they were just faking it. However, after reading stories of people getting possessed, I think I may believe it could happen. For example, you mentioned that Roland Doe used explicit language throughout his exorcism. Language that a child should not know. This proves that he was not faking it.

  3. The author Mitchell Yocham did very well explaining the events that happened to Roland Doe, as well as the background behind the creation and use of a Ouija board. This article was very intriguing and informative about exorcisms, I also thought it was interesting that the book and movie, “The Exorcist” is the adaptation of the story about Roland Doe a 14 year old boy instead being about a 12 year old possessed girl.

  4. This article was very well written as it kept me engaged while reading but also has me wanting to ask my parents and priest lots of questions. I was raised Catholic and was kept from horror films and witchcraft. I think because of this I have a strong want to learn more about this topic and its relation to the Church. I found it very interesting to read that the Church can’t deny possessions but it also doesn’t accept them. To me, demons and possessions have always felt like a taboo but I would like the Church to answer my questions. On the other side scientist and doctors can accept or deny it either. It’s not a mental illness because as the author stated it does not share any of those qualities. I would like to look more into other possessions of priests as this is something I have never heard of. Thank you to the author for sparking my interest in going deeper into this topic. Wonderful job on this article!

  5. An incredibly well-written story about an event that I had never heard about. Exorcisms are an incredibly complicated topic, and the author does an excellent job fully explaining the topic. It is incredibly unfortunate what happened to Roland Doe and it is a slight comfort that he has no memory of the events he endured in his youth. Overall a phenomenal and well-researched article about a tragic series of events.

  6. As a big fan of anything paranormal or horror, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I really enjoyed the descriptions about how the Catholic church handles exorcisms and the rationale behind using an Oujia Board. We as humans like to think that we understand everything and that we are untouchable. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially when it comes to the occult or demonic things. We know far too little about these things to be actively messing around with them like Roland did. It’s tragic that Ronald only dabbled in this stuff because he wanted to talk to his aunt again, but unfortunately, malevolent things don’t make exceptions. Despite being such a big fan of horror, I will personally never mess with Oujia Boards; I’ve watched one too many horror movies to do that.

  7. This was quite a spine-chilling story to read! I appreciate the origins included about the Ouija board and how the Catholic church handles exorcisms. It is crazy to think that anybody at any age can be possessed by a demon. Roland was so young and it was unfortunate he was affected by what he thought was a harmless way to contact his deceased aunt. I would personally not play with a Ouija board myself because of several freak accidents that I have heard of and this further confirms why I will not be playing with one in my future. Great article Mitchell!

  8. This article was very interesting. I enjoyed reading it, it kept me engaged with how chilling the story about the boy was. Its mind-blowing that this was because of a simple broad with numbers that appeared from out of nowhere caused a child to have random bruises and marks that were shaped in words on his body. Which caused him to have mediums and priest try to fit him but failed he was finally cured during a lighting storm and had no recollection of what he was doing or going through.

  9. This article was so thrilling to read and I recommend it for any historical thinkers to reading during this month of halloween. It is incredible to think that a childs board game that is linked with demonic possession, as shown in this article, is STILL sold in toy stores for kids with no warning! In the conclusion it is mentioned that a story is written about his experience I wonder if it is the exorcism.

    1. This article was very interesting and I liked how it kept me engaged while I was reading the whole thing. I think that it’s really great that you decided to write an article on a topic that isn’t really acknowledged. What happened to Roland Doe is very unfortunate and it’s especially tragic that a family member was the one who introduced him to the ouija board. Overall, this was a very well written article and I really enjoyed reading it. Nice Work!

  10. The topic of the occult is very integral to the American religious movement of the late 1800s. Many today dispute these claims of spirits and demons as mere tomfoolery or deception. With access to technology, the youth of today are perhaps overconfident of their knowledge of the world, or too naive or proud to admit that there is something beyond our perception. Regardless, one will not know for sure until it is too late. I’m not looking to find out, that’s for sure.

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