Photos of Father Ralph Pfau

From the Archdiocesan Archives in Indianapolis

  Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe), a Roman Catholic priest in Indianapolis, Indiana, was one of the four most read A.A. authors in the early days. He was born in that city on November 10, 1904, and on November 10, 1943 (his thirty-ninth birthday), became the first Catholic priest to get sober in A.A. He died on February 19, 1967, while on his travels across the United States and Canada, spreading the message and leading spiritual retreats for A.A. members.  

  He was most famous for his fourteen Golden Books:  Spiritual Side (1947), Tolerance (1948), Attitudes (1949), Action (1950), Happiness (1951), Excuses (1952), Sponsorship (1953), Principles (1954), Resentments (1955), Decisions (1957), Passion (1960), Sanity (1963), Sanctity (1964), and Living (1964).  

A.A. history: Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe), author of the Golden Books

  Father Ralph also published three longer books: Sobriety and Beyond (1955), Sobriety Without End (1957), and an autobiography, which he entitled Prodigal Shepherd, in 1958 (a shorter version of this ran as a three-part series in Look magazine). He also issued a set of thirty recordings in which he spoke on various issues, including No. 11 “Father John Doe—Alcoholic,” No. 22 “The Lord’s Prayer,” No. 2 “Alcoholism—Sin or Disease,” and Nos. 23–26 “The Twelve Steps.”  

A.A. history: Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe), priest in Indianapolis

  When Ralph joined the fellowship, A.A. in Indiana had only been established three years earlier and was still very new. In September 1936, J. D. Holmes got sober in Akron, the eighth person to join A.A. after Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob founded the movement.  J. D. later moved to Evansville, Indiana, where he started the first A.A. group in that state in April or May 1940. Within a few months, he had shown Doherty Sheerin in Indianapolis how to form an A.A. group there, and in the years that followed, J. D. and Dohr worked together to spread A.A. over most of the rest of the state.

It was Dohr (an Irish Catholic businessman) who made the twelfth-step call on Father Ralph in 1943 and became his beloved sponsor. After Dohr's death, J. D. Holmes said that Dohr was the only man he had ever met whom he would put on the same level with Dr. Bob, and Father Ralph said simply that he believed that Dohr had been one of the genuine saints.

Father Ralph Pfau as a young boy in Indianapolis

Ralph as a young boy in Indianapolis

Ralph Pfau (Father John Doe) as a student at St.Meinrad Seminary

Ralph as a student at St. Meinrad Seminary
preparing for the priesthood

St.Meinrad Seminary

St. Meinrad Seminary in southern Indiana