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Exorcism in St. Louis & Tips to Fight Demons

"The seventy-two returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.'" Luke 10:17 In 1949 when Robbie Mannheim used a Ouija board to try and contact his dead Aunt Tillie strange things began to happen around his house.

Strange Occurrences

  • Robbie and other family members heard what sounded like water dripping in their home. Despite checking the whole house, the family found no leak.

  • The family began to hear other sounds - scratching like claws scraping wood. Brushing the noises off as mice or squirrels, the family called in pest control. Despite removing part of the home's floor and a piece of a wall, the exterminators found no pests.

  • New noises began to bedevil the household, growing more intense in Robbie's room. The family heard squeaking shoes. Then footsteps.

  • During one episode, the boy and his grandmother saw a picture of Jesus Christ hanging on a wall begin to shake.

  • Robbie's mattress began shaking and the bed's covers flew out from beneath the mattress.

  • At school, the boy's desk began sliding into aisles, banging into the desks of other students.

  • Coat hangers, books, and fruit flew across rooms to land near the boy.

  • Other furniture and items began to fly across rooms, smashing into walls.

  • Robbie, his mother and grandmother felt a claw-like sensation running along the underside of his mattress.

  • During an early visit from a local priest, Robbie began to speak in a Latin, a language the boy had not studied.

  • Eventually, scratches appeared on the boy's arms, legs and chest, sometimes forming letters but not recognizable words until the events of the exorcism in March and April 1949.

Obviously if you were a member of this family you would've been freaking out. So they took the boy to see a medical professional, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. Eventually they sought help from a Lutheran minister who witnessed Robbie's bed shaking and objects flying across the room. The Lutheran then recommended the family seek help from the Catholic Church.

The family approached a local Catholic parish, St. James, for help. The church's assistant pastor, Rev. Hughes, prayed with the family and offered holy water and blessed candles for use in their home if the events began again. Robbie's mother attempted to use these blessed items but, the holy water flew across the room and the candles either blew out on their own or flames shot up dangerously. There is no evidence that Hughes tried to perform the Catholic Rite of Exorcism. Hughes did contact the Archbishop of Washington D.C. after being shaken what he witnessed with the boy Robbie.

At the same time Robbie underwent physical and psychological testing at the Georgetown University Hospital, but the tests failed to turn up anything wrong. His mother believed that the answer to all of this lied with the late Aunt Tillie, who was from St. Louis. So, the family packed their bags and moved to Missouri, where the strange occurrences still followed them.

When the family arrived in St. Louis, Raymond Bishop, a Jesuit priest teaching at SLU, visited Robbie, witnessed his bed shaking, but it stopped when the priest sprinkled holy water and made the sign of the cross. Bishop then sought out William Bowdern, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. Bowdern then visited Robbie, where he witnessed long scratches along the boy's body in the shape of a cross and objects, such as holy water, flying across the room.

Bowdern and Bishop then sought permission from St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter to perform the formal Rite of Exorcism. Ritter agreed.

The Exorcism

Father Bowdern lead the Rite of Exorcism while Father Bishop kept a journal of the events. They visited Robbie nightly through the months of March and April in 1949 praying over his body.

As the priests prayed, Robbie's reactions became extreme. Writing in his diary on March 18, 1949, Bishop noted, "The prayers of the exorcism were continued and R was seized violently so he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of R had to be held by three men. The contortions revealed physical strength beyond natural power. R spit at the faces of those who held him and at those who prayed over him. He spit at the relics and at the priests' hands. He writhed under the sprinkling of Holy Water. He fought and screamed in a diabolical, high-pitched voice."

St. Francis Xavier Church where Father Bowdern was Pastor during the exorcism

Other Instances Occurred:

  • During one evening session, Bishop reported that a picture of the devil appeared on the boy's leg.

  • On another, the word, "HELL," manifested on Robbie's chest.

  • The boy punched Halloran in the face, breaking his nose and resisted the rite through cursing, speaking in tongues and by other physical means.

  • The process moved from the St. Louis house to other locations in the city including the rectory of College Church, Alexian Brothers Hospital and Jesuits' White House Retreat Center.

  • While making the Stations of the Cross outdoors at the retreat center, Robbie attempted to jump off a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. A priest managed to tackle him before the boy jumped off the cliff.

On Easter Monday, April 18, 1949, Robbie awoke in a fit at the Alexian Brothers Hospital. According to Bishop's diary, the exorcist, Bowdern, then demanded to know the name of the demon possessing Robbie. The priest demanded the demon leave the boy in peace.

The fit continued. According to Bishop, the demon mocked Bowdern, saying, "He has to say one more word, one little word, I mean one BIG word. He'll never say it. I am always in him. I may not have much power always, but I am in him. He will never say that word."

Bowdern and the priests assisting him persisted. Shortly before midnight, the priests heard a different male voice come from Robbie, Bishop's diary noted, "Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael, and I command you Satan, and the other evil spirits to leave the body in the name of Dominus, immediately. Now! NOW! NOW!"

"St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle. Be our protector against the snares and wickedness of the Devil."

Shortly after, Robbie awoke. The boy told the priests, "He's gone," telling them that he had dreamt St. Michael the Archangel battled the Devil and demons to free him. Other reports claimed a loud noise like a gunshot sounded and could be heard coming from the part of the hospital where Robbie had been staying. This sound was heard blocks away as well.

Neither the archdiocese or the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus spoke publicly about the events, to protect Robbie's identity and because the matter was finished from an ecclesiastical standpoint. Eventually the leaked journals and stories from witnesses would inspire the creation of the 1973 film.

Tips to Fight the Demonic

As Anthony Hopkins' character in the 2011 film The Rite says, "Choosing not to believe in the Devil will not protect you from him." The Catholic Church's standpoint is that Spiritual Warfare definitely exists and that we must know how to combat evil spirits. Obviously dabbling in the occult such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, astrology, yoga, and witchcraft can leave you open for demonic attack as was in Robbie's case. Here are 6 other tips to combat the demonic:

  1. Remain in a state of grace: This guarantees God’s protection. Fr. Amorth says, “The demon keeps his distance from the one who nurtures his faith, who frequents the sacraments, and who wishes to live devoutly.”. As Fr. Ripperger puts it, “Never fall into mortal sin ever!” Demons do not like to get involved with us if we are in a state of grace.

  2. Frequent Confession & Holy Communion: Fr. Ripperger says that Confession “is one of the most effective things to ward off or break demonic influence”. Confession, for example, drives out evil from the soul, while the exorcism only drives evil out of the body. And with the Eucharist, Fr. Fortea says, “Our body is like a home or tent in which He comes to dwell. Nothing destroys demonic influence more powerfully than worthy reception of the Body of Christ.”.

  3. Prayer & Meditation: A regular life of prayer and meditation is both a requirement of justice and a necessary instrument to achieve the strength and stability necessary to avoid and remove demonic influences. Demons attack us on the level of the intellect, which is where prayer occurs. The Rosary, in particular, has a powerful influence against the forces of evil. Also, devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. Exorcists have learned through experience, as noted above, that Our Lady is the most powerful instrument against the diabolic. When Our Lady shows up during an exorcism, the possession is over. She has, as Fr. Ripperger puts it, “perfect coercive power” over demons. When the devil was asked by an exorcist why he feared the Blessed Virgin Mary more than God Himself, Fr. Amorth says the devil responded, “I feel more humiliated being conquered by a simple creature than by God Himself.”

  4. Binding prayers: “In the name of Jesus, I bind you, spirit of N., and I cast you to the foot of the Cross to be judged by our Lord.” Whenever you sense a diabolical influence against you, even as a simple temptation, you can speak directly against the demon in the Name of Jesus. It is important to name the behaviour in which you are tempted. You can also pray binding prayers for those within your authority (eg. spouses for each other, parents for children, priests for parishioners). Our Lord’s own words, “Get behind me, Satan!” is also a simple and direct binding prayer.

  5. Ignore the devil: The devil and the demons, though they prefer to go unnoticed, also crave attention and glory, so the best course is to ignore them. Ignore them first and primarily by loving God and staying in a state of grace. Ignore them second by dismissing their suggestions and ignoring their presence. There is a famous story of St. Teresa of Avila that demonstrates this approach. She was lying in bed and sensed a spiritual presence above her. Fearing it was God, she rolled over to see who it was. Instead of God, it was the devil who had manifested above her bed. In response, she simply said, “Oh, it’s just you,” and she rolled over and went to sleep. The best thing to do is to treat the demons like bad thoughts: ignore them and take your mind off of them. The spiritual advice that Fr. Ripperger gives is to not spend so much time thinking about and analyzing yourself and your sin but, instead, to think about God as much as possible (ie. this is true humility! which the demons hate). As the exorcist Msgr. John Esseff states, “Sin is far worse than Satan.” It is our disconnect from God that leads us to rely on ourselves, which necessarily leads to sin and the loss of God.

  6. Use all the Catholic Church has to offer: Sacramentals, medals (especially St. Benedict & Miraculous), holy water, blessed candles, sacred images, relics, fasting, devotion to our patron saints and guardian angels are very effective in spiritual warfare.

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