Masters of Mystery – Father Dowling



Welcome to Masters of Mystery Monday, where each week we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre.  You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.

Starting today, we’ll look at the “clergy” detectives – priests, nuns, monks, rabbis – who act as amateur sleuths.  Think of how efficient such a sleuth can be:  he/she not only catches the crooks, but can save their souls, too!

Our first cleric:

Ralph McInerny’s Father Dowling

book covers from 2008 and 2009


Some interesting facts about Ralph McInerny and the Father Dowling series:

1.  Ralph McInerny was a philosophy professor at Notre Dame for over 50 years.  He had considered becoming a priest, but decided he couldn’t handle the celibacy requirement.

2.  McInerny wrote 28 Father Dowling books, between 1977 and 2009.

3.  McInerny wrote several other mystery series (one series set at Notre Dame, where he taught), poetry, and scholarly non-fiction.

4.  The books were adapted as a television series.  More information on this below.


Father Dowling’s appeal:

1.  As a priest, he has lots of insight into the human psyche, and secrets of the confessional.

2.  His close friend, Phil Keegan, is a detective at the local police station (and he’s the chief, so that’s handy).  Having a professional ally keeps Dowling from having to do too much in the way of technical/legal stuff.

3.  He lives in Chicago, so you don’t have to go too far to find a crime he can investigate.

4.  Although Dowling is a priest, he’s not a paragon of virtue.  He has an alcoholic past, and run-ins with superiors from time to time.


Beyond the books: television series

An ad from the pilot episode in 1987


The Father Dowling Mysteries ran for three seasons.  It started on NBC in as a 2-hr pilot in November of 1987, then suffered delays in its weekly series format because of the 1988 writer’s strike.  The series then switched to ABC, where it ran for two more seasons.

Cast:  Tom Bosley (Fr. Dowling), Tracy Nelson (Sister Steve), Mary Wickes (Marie Murkin, rectory housekeeper), and James Stephens (Fr. Phil Prestwick).  Tom Bosley also played Fr. Dowling’s “evil twin” (I kid you not), Blaine, a con-artist and criminal, who appeared in a couple of episodes.  Apparently, ABC decided to go all soap-opera on Father.








Here’s a clip of the opening credits/music theme:


Great sites for more info:

Father Dowling

Father Dowling Mysteries (television)


Want the answers to last week’s quiz?

Locale quiz:  the city makes the detective.  It’s his element, the source of his contacts; he knows all the seamy back alleys.  Can you match the following detectives with their cities?


1.  Sam Spade – San Francisco

2.  Spenser – Boston

3.  Sherlock Holmes – London

4.  Charlie Chan – Honolulu

Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!

This week, let’s match the side-kicks/associates with the detectives:

1. Sherlock Holmes

2.  Spenser

3.  Nero Wolfe

4.  Charlie Chan

5.  Hercule Poirot


a.  Archie Goodwin

b.  Captain Hastings

c.  number one son

d.  Hawk

e.  Watson


Hope you’re enjoying the quizzes.  Do you remember the Father Dowling t.v. series?  Do you have a favorite religious detective?  What do you think of the combination of crime and religion?  We’d love to have your input.

Thanks for joining me today.  See you soon!


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8 thoughts on “Masters of Mystery – Father Dowling”

  1. Jill KemererJill Kemerer

    I remember the Father Dowling series but never watched them. Now you make me want to give them a whirl!

  2. Loree HuebnerLoree Huebner

    I remember the Father Dowling series. Mr. Cunningham (Happy Days) was great.

  3. Ellie AnnEllie Ann

    I really enjoy the Dowling mysteries. I read them in high school, and I thought they were very smart. 🙂 great write up!

  4. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    I LOVED the Father Dowling Mysteries! I remember it aired on Sunday nights, and I’d watch at my grandmother’s house while we had family dinner. Being a Catholic school girl myself, I loved Sister Steve. I wanted to know why our nuns weren’t nearly as cool….

    Tell me, I’m a big Irish fan. How’s the mystery series set at Notre Dame? I may have to check that out!

  5. DennisDennis

    I’m waiting more then 3 years for season 1 of Father Dowling to come out here in Europe.

    I hope it will come but i’m afraid its wishfull thinking 🙁


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