Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Catholic Mysteries

Father Dowling’s Final Season

By David Luhrssen
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  It’s fortuitous: as millions of eyes turn toward a chimney at the Sistine Chapel, “Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season” is finally out on DVD. The five-disc set represents episodes from 1990-1991—nostalgia for people looking back fondly on the last years before cell phones and the Internet overtook the world, and even more resonant for Roman Catholics remembering when their church was the subject of theological disputes, not lawsuits for sexual abuse.

The plots were thinning by Season Five, but the series, based on the novels of Ralph McInerny, was always carried more on the charm of its characters than the strength of the stories. Father Dowling (Tom “Mr. Cunningham” Bosley) is a working class priest whose gruffness dissolves easily into compassion; Sister Stephanie (Tracy Nelson) is a resourceful kid from the wrong side of the street. Dowling encounters more than the usual cleric’s share of mobsters and murderers—and most of them outside the confessional. But then, Chicago, where the series is set, was always a rough town.

Needless to add, the only scandal associated with Dowling might be the amount of time spent outside the parish devoted to tasks normally left to the police. Well, why not let his talent for sleuthing shine? One imagines that Milwaukee’s former Catholic archbishop, now Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is a fan.

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