Author: (Jay Mullin)
Don Eden Goldstein

Even before COVID-19, alcohol-related disorders were a scourge in New Jersey and elsewhere, and the pandemic has only made things worse. Number of alcohol-related death rate increased by about 25% just in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people struggling with alcohol addiction have found refuge in Alcoholics Anonymous, a long-standing community of people who come together in anonymous networks to help each other overcome their addiction. As of December 2021, there were an estimated 64,541 AA groups in the United States alone.

Best known as AA, the movement began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, after a meeting between Bill Wilson, a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob Smith, an Akron surgeon. Both Wilson and Smith were alcoholics. Some attention is now being paid to a third key player in the birth of AA.

New Jersey native Dawn Eden Goldstein’s new biography tells the story of Father Edward Dowling, a Jesuit priest who was Bill Wilson’s “spiritual advisor.” As Wilson’s advisor, Dowling showed him how the rules of spiritual discernment developed by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, could help alcoholics better follow the Twelve Steps, a set of guidelines that determine a course of action for overcoming alcohol addiction.

NJ Spotlight News spoke with Goldstein about her inspiration for the book, the personal setbacks in Dowling’s life that led him to work with Wilson, and Goldstein’s hopes for the new biography.

Portions of the interview have been edited for space and clarity.

New Jersey News: What inspired you to write this book?

Goldstein: “I was definitely intrigued when I first learned about Father Ed from a friend who was an alcoholic. At the time, the only book about him was a book called The Soul of Sponsorship, which compiled much of his correspondence with his close friend Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. And when I read his letters to Bill W., I was very impressed by how this Jesuit, who was not an alcoholic himself, (dedicated) his life to helping alcoholics and anyone who has this problem.

“This was at a time when many people were embarrassed to even visit conventional therapists, especially in the Catholic world. There was quite a bit of suspicion about psychology. So for a priest to make it his business to study psychology, sociology, and so on, so that he could know all the aspects of how to help the people who came to him, you know, that was very impressive. And so the more I learned about Father Ed, the more I wanted to know about him. And since there was no real biography of him, I decided to write it.”

NJSN: How did Father Ed’s personal setbacks in his early life lead him to Bill Wilson?

Goldstein: “Father Ed experienced great loss and suffering in his early life. One major tragedy for him occurred when he was 19. In 1918, Father Ed, fresh out of college to become a reporter, lost his younger brother, then 15 and in high school, to the influenza pandemic. . And so I think anyone who has lost a younger sibling, or who has lost someone close to them at a young age, can understand that it really leaves a hole in your life. For the rest of your life, you walk around feeling like something is there, someone should be there, and someone isn’t.

“And then, when he was 23 years old, one day he was walking with another Jesuit seminarian and felt pain in his leg. And it turned out to be the beginning of a disease called ankylosing spondylitis, a particularly severe form of arthritis. And in a fairly short time it caused Father Ed’s spine to calcify. And he also had calcification on one leg. Not having reached the age of 30, he had to move with a cane. And if you can imagine what that was for someone who was always, you know, the most athletic among his friends and classmates, you know, it was shocking. It was a kind of premonition of death when he was only in his 20s. So he must have gone through a lot of suffering. And that was one of the reasons why he connected so well, not only with Bill Wilson, but with everyone who had problems, there was a sense of shared suffering.”

“Well, about the time Father Ed met Bill Wilson, A big book (the main text of AA) had already been written, but AA had not yet taken off.’

“So at that time Father Ed heard about AA and got a copy of the Big Book from the Chicago chapter of AA. At the time, in the early 1940s, when Father Ed opened it, there were very few AA chapters in the country. When he tracked down Bill Wilson and visited him for the first time in November 1940, although, as I mentioned, The Big Book had been published, thousands of copies were just sitting in storage. Because when Bill and other early AA members published The Big Book, they were promised print in Reader’s Digest. This did not happen. The press had other options, but it didn’t get the attention they were hoping for… By the time Father Ed found him, Bill was very disappointed in what he would later call a drunkard. felt that he hadn’t been drinking, but he still had that “stinking mindset” as they say, or that he was still thinking like a drunk because he was thinking in categories “Why am I not enjoying myself?” Why am I not getting what I want?’

NJSN: What do you hope to tell about Father Ed in this book?

Goldstein: “I guess what I would like to say is that we live in a time when the shortcomings of Catholic priests are written a lot in the media, as well as in people’s personal experience with the Church. As you know, the media did not create the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, they only exposed it. The media is helping Catholics safely begin to openly discuss the crisis, and sexual abuse is not the only crisis facing the Catholic priesthood. There are also now problems with abuses of power and other types of failings among Catholic priests being exposed. And so, in researching Father Ed, I was very interested in writing the story of a priest who did not fail in the end.

“While I was writing this book, I tried very hard to find fault with Father Ed, because I personally hope that one day he will become a saint of the church. And it would be wrong of me to keep silent or lie about failures in any case….

“I talk in the book about certain things he did wrong in his life that he seems to regret. Nothing too outrageous, but definitely things that show he was human. But ultimately, in researching his life, I found a man who, being human, really worked with every ounce of his energy to cooperate with grace in overcoming his shortcomings and growing in goodness and virtue throughout his life.”

“Father Ed: The Story of Bill W’s Spiritual Sponsor.” now available. For more information on Dawn Eden Goldstein and a new biography visit the author’s blog or Twitter @dawnofmercy.

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