On a rainy November night in 1940, a visitor came to see Bill Wilson in New York. The visitor was Father Edward Dowling, S.J., from St. Louis. He came to inquire about the origin of the twelve steps found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Fr. Dowling revealed to Bill the twelve steps were very similar to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Thus it is easy to see why Alcoholics Anonymous is viewed as a spiritually based, albeit non denominational program of recovery. Perhaps Sr. Ignatia’s efforts in Akron and that region’s influence on the writing of the twelve steps might shed some light on the correlation of the steps and the Ignatian influence.
Eventually Fr. Dowling convinced leaders in the Catholic Church that there was nothing about AA that was contrary to the Church’s doctrines. This removed any obstacle for members of the Church from benefiting from the recovery program of AA. Fr. Dowling started an AA group in St. Louis which is remarkable in that Fr. Dowling himself was not afflicted with alcoholism.
It’s not clear what influence Fr. Dowling had on Wilson’s spiritual growth. What is clear is that Wilson eventually took instruction from Archbishop Fulton Sheen and met with him every Saturday for guidance. In his darkest hours, Wilson found solace in the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. Bill W never converted to Catholicism and remained adamant that doing so would damage AA’s reach. AA has been useful in helping alcoholics from all walks of life to get sober, and remaining independent from all religious organizations has allowed it to cast a wider appeal.