Father Stu: Self-destructive boxer turned secular priest is Hollywood's latest redemption movie  1

Father Stu: Self-destructive boxer turned secular priest is Hollywood’s latest redemption movie 

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He was once a troubled man with a promising boxing career, but whose luck never quite turned around – until he found his faith.

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Stuart Long’s promising boxing career was cut short in 1986 after a blow to the jaw left him needing reconstructive surgery. He was a 24-year-old college graduate at the time and hot off winning the Golden Gloves in Montana the previous year.

Long instead decided to try his hand at acting but quickly became disillusioned after starring in only a few commercials.

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When that failed, he became a bouncer at night clubs and comedy bars in Los Angeles to pay the bills. A crushing motorcycle accident in 1998 while he was on his way to work at a museum led him to the hospital. Long, who didn’t describe himself as a religious man for most of his life, saw a vision of God – and decided to become a priest.  

He took up the cloth and spread the word before dying of a terminal illness  – inclusion body myositis, a rare autoimmune disease that mimics ALS – in 2014. 

Now, Hollywood is set to release its latest redemption movie about Long’s life, aptly titled ‘Father Stu,’ on Good Friday, April 15. It stars Mark Wahlberg, who will portray Long. 

‘Father Stu’s journey from troublemaker to clergyman was inspiring to many, including me,’ Wahlberg, who worked six years to get the movie made, told Variety. 

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‘I hope that with this film, we keep his spirit alive and continue his good works.’ 

The film is also set to star Mel Gibson, Jacki Weaver and Teresa Ruiz, and was written and directed by Gibson’s girlfriend, Rosalind Ross.  

Father Stuart Long was a self-destructive boxer turned failed actor, then later a bouncer who became a priest and died of a terminal illness

Father Stuart Long was a self-destructive boxer turned failed actor, then later a bouncer who became a priest and died of a terminal illness

Mark Wahlberg, left, is set to star Father Stuart Long in a biopic of the boxer turned priest. Wahlberg had been working for six years to get the movie made

Mark Wahlberg, left, is set to star Father Stuart Long in a biopic of the boxer turned priest. Wahlberg had been working for six years to get the movie made

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Father Long, left, is revered for his coming to his faith and maintaining his beliefs while battling a terminal illness that took his life at age 50

Father Long, left, is revered for his coming to his faith and maintaining his beliefs while battling a terminal illness that took his life at age 50

Although he attended Carrol College, a private catholic university, Long admitted he was not a religious man and only cared about playing on the school’s football team, according to a 2011 interview with the Diocese of Helena. 

‘I wasn’t Catholic. I always felt like kind of an outsider,’ Long said as he reflected on the awkwardness he felt whenever the team had to attend mass together. 

Long said he liked to question his teacher at the college and stir up trouble, but everything changed when one professor, Father Jeremiah Sullivan, found a way to direct Long’s apparent yearning for conflict. 

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Sullivan brought Long to the school’s gym and introduced him to boxing, which lit a spark in Long, who found it even more fulfilling than football. 

‘The individual sport fit with my personality better than the team sport. I was a little rambunctious back then,’ Long said.  

Immediately excelling at the sport, he won the 1985 Golden Gloves heavyweight title in Montana during his third year in college and was the runner-up the following year. 

After graduating with a degree in English Literature and Writing, Long was hoping to begin a long boxing career before a fight left him needing reconstructive jaw surgery. 

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At the behest of his family, Long quit the sport and moved to Los Angeles with the intent of becoming an actor, but he quickly became disillusioned after starring in only a few commercials.   

Headshots Father Long that he used when looking for acting jobs in LA

Headshots Father Long that he used when looking for acting jobs in LA

Before the motorcycle accident that brought a vision of God and a conversion to the priesthood, Stuart Long was an aspiring actor, pictured above in a series of headshots

Before the motorcycle accident that brought a vision of God and a conversion to the priesthood, Stuart Long was an aspiring actor, pictured above in a series of headshots

Despite his battle against inclusion body myositis, an extremely rare and terminal autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS, Long continued to be active in his duties as a priest until his death

Despite his battle against inclusion body myositis, an extremely rare and terminal autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS, Long continued to be active in his duties as a priest until his death

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He moved on to working as a bouncer at night clubs and comedy bars to pay the bills, and he eventually found steady work at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where he became a manager. 

In the 2011 interview, Long said he was riding to work one day on his motorcycle, which he bought when he was acting, when he smashed headfirst into a car in the next lane.  

‘The witnesses told the sheriffs and reporters that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me,’ Long said, ‘And here I am.’

Long said his miraculous survival was coupled with a ‘religious experience,’ where God talked to him and renewed his faith. 

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 When he was baptized in 1998, he felt the call to priesthood, quit his job, and left to teach for three years in Mission Hills, California. 

He went on to serve in New York City before going to earn his master’s degree in philosophy at Franciscan University, in Steubenville, Ohio. 

During that time, he had hip surgery, where doctors found a fist-sized tumor in his body and diagnosed him with inclusion body myositis, an extremely rare autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and for which there is no cure. 

Wahlberg gained 30 pounds to portray Long during the ups and downs of the priest's life

Wahlberg gained 30 pounds to portray Long during the ups and downs of the priest’s life

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He was ordained in 2007 alongside his friend, Father Bart Tolleson, who said Long’s perseverance and story was a source of strength and inspiration for many. 

‘His conversion is phenomenal, from being an agnostic trouble maker to having a mystical encounter with God,’ Father Tolleson told The Catholic Telegraph. 

‘That cross of his disease was the most powerful way to serve people,’ Tolleson added. ‘He was tireless in his service and the Lord gave him many beautiful gifts, of counsel, of providing the sacraments. He was fearless even though he was limited.’

Although Long’s priesthood lasted less than eight years, Bishop George Thomas, who ordained Long, told Patheos he was ‘stunningly effective,’ even when he was admitted to the Big Sky Care Center, in Montana, in 2010. 

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‘I’d go to visit him at the rehab center, which was really a rehab nursing home. And it would not be unusual to have six or eight or 10 people lined up outside his room waiting to go to confession,’ Thomas said. 

The bishop added that he was contacted by Wahlberg a few years ago so that the actor could learn more about Long. The bishop said he gave the movie his blessing. 

‘I am actually very excited that he has chosen to move this forward. The potential for good is just remarkably high,’ Thomas told Patheos.

‘This is a vehicle to reach un-catechized people, un-evangelized people, to stir in them, I guess I would say, an awareness of the fragility of life, an awareness of our own mortality and our awareness of our capacity to do good … and certainly Father Stu embodied all of the above.’

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