One of the people whom Doherty S. brought into the program was the first Roman Catholic priest in the United States to join A.A. This was Father Ralph P. He was brought up in Indianapolis and went to seminary at St. Meinrad's in southern Indiana. The bishop of Indianapolis sent him to pastor congregations all the way from Snake Run, Indiana (six miles off the paved highway down in Gibson County) to the nice Indianapolis suburbs. He was a good pastor, he did a very good job every time, and unlike many Roman Catholic priests before Vatican II he could preach a rousing good sermon -- but every time his drinking would eventually create such a public scandal that the bishop would have to pull him out, send him off to a sanitarium to dry him out, then give him a stern lecture and send him to serve as priest of some other parish. He had gone through enough churches that way, that his bishop and the whole diocesan administration were in total despair.
Father Ralph was back in Indianapolis, shaky and about ready to fall to pieces again, when he saw some A.A. literature and telephoned Doherty S. Doherty came over, and Father Ralph said "I'm not an alcoholic, of course, but I'd like to know a little more about this program," and Doherty, a very wise man, just smiled gently and promptly dragged Father Ralph off to his first A.A. meeting.
Dohr continued to be Ralph's sponsor until the end of Dohr's life. Afterwards Ralph -- who was a Roman Catholic priest and understood the standards, and would not have made such a statement lightly -- said simply that in knowing Dohr he had had the privilege of knowing one of the real saints. J. D. H. said something very similar: that Dohr was the only man he had ever known whom he would put on the same level as Dr. Bob. He must have been a truly extraordinary man.
Ralph later organized the Catholic Clergy Conference on Alcoholism, and played a major role in getting the Roman Catholic Church in the United States to appreciate and support the new A.A. movement.
In June 1946 he ran a weekend spiritual retreat for members of A.A. at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, the first of its kind. It was the first major function where A.A.'s from all over Indiana, from the far north to the deep south, were able to get together in one place and get to know one another. It was run in some ways like a Roman Catholic retreat, but without the lectures and references to Roman Catholic dogma and practice. Of the ninety A.A.'s who showed up for this first retreat, eighty per cent were non-Roman Catholics. It worked so well that the retreats continued every year, and Ralph discovered that he could, in effect, take off his clerical collar and speak about the spiritual life in ways that could be understood by anyone who had come to know a higher power through the A.A. program. Each of the fourteen little booklets that made up his Golden Book series was based on Ralph's remarks at one year's St. Joseph's retreat.
They are called the Golden Books because, when they did the first one, they were looking around for a fancy cover to put on it: they found some cardboard covered with gold foil, made the covers out of that, and liked the result so much that each subsequent booklet was published with a shiny, gold-foil cover. In respect for the principle of anonymity, he published them under the pen name Father John Doe, which is the name under which most people know him. He also wrote an autobiography, Prodigal Shepherd, telling about his own battle with alcoholism, which so fascinating that Look magazine published long excerpts from the book in a three-part series.
In terms of people who were themselves members of A.A. and who wrote about A.A. and alcoholism, the four most published authors during the early days were Bill W., of course, with Richmond W. in the number two place.
Rich, who lived in Daytona Beach, Florida, wrote the meditational book called Twenty-Four Hours a Day in 1948. He printed and distributed it himself for many years, until the job became too much for him and Hazelden volunteered to take over the task.
The other two most published A.A. authors were Father Ralph and Ed W.
Ed W., who lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wrote The Little Red Book (1946), Stools and Bottles (1955), Barroom Reveries (1958, a book of humor which was a flop and never reprinted), and Our Devilish Alcoholic Personalities (in 1970, just a year before his death). He and Barry C. called themselves the "Coll-Webb Co., Publishers" and printed The Little Red Book themselves at the beginning.
Father Ralph also printed his own books and distributed them himself in Indianapolis for years, calling his little publishing operation the SMT Guild. Hazelden has now taken over printing and distributing them as a service to the A.A. program, so they're still in print nowadays, and all his writings are still available. They're good stuff.
Father Ralph was the only one of these four who was a professionally trained theologian. His writings were vitally important in keeping A.A. on track during the early period. We sometimes like to think of early A.A. as a time when people were doing everything exactly right, and then we get nostalgic about the good old days, and start talking about how bad things are now. But I had an interesting conversation at the national A.A. archives conference in Chicago last year, with a Chicagoan named Tex who has been in the program fifty-three years, and he started telling stories about some of the A.A. groups that were operating in the Chicago area back in the late 1940's and 50's. There were some absolutely crazy people who were trying to jump on board this movement. There were self-styled gurus who were setting up their own weird interpretations of the program, and Bill W. was driving himself almost crazy at times trying to keep A.A. from self-destructing from their influence.
Tex told about one of these gurus who came to give a speech in which he started proclaiming that Moses had been sent by God to set up the first covenant, Jesus Christ had been sent by God to set up the second covenant and found a new and better religion, and Bill W. and Dr. Bob had been sent by God to set up the new world religion which would replace Christianity and Judaism as the true revelation of God. Tex said that Father Ralph was sitting in the back of the room and started shouting at the man that this was total nonsense and the worst rubbish he had ever heard in his life, and by the time it was all over, the man had to go home without giving the rest of his speech. Father Ralph never let him get another word in uninterrupted!
Father Ralph was one of the people who fought and worked to keep the program stable. He was a trained theologian himself, and in those fourteen Golden Books (and the recordings and other publications he distributed) he laid out the basic principles of the spiritual side of the program with good, solid common sense, based on a lot of practical experience as a pastor -- what really works, how do we keep it simple, how do we actually go about this -- and I think that he deserves a lot of credit as one of the people who helped keep A.A. together during that crucial period before we got the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book out, and that sort of thing.
And he's one of our own Indiana folk here, someone we can be really proud of.