A Memorial Mass is scheduled August 30, 10:00 a.m. at Holy Angels in Arcadia for Father Stuart Long, 50, who died June 9 in Helena, Montana after a long illness. Father Stu joined Holy Angels through the RCIA and was a longtime parishioner there before becoming a priest.
Father Stu felt a call to the priesthood as he was baptized in 1994 at Holy Angels by Monsignor Norm Priebe, and decided to teach religion at Bishop Alemany High School in Mission Hills for three years before entering the seminary. Father Stu also coached wrestling.
Father Stu graduated from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, playing Saints football for two years and developing a passion for boxing, in which he excelled. He won the 1985 Golden Gloves heavyweight title for Montana and was runner-up in 1986, the year he graduated from Carroll, having earned a degree in English literature and writing.
Although Father Stu studied at a Catholic college, at the time he wasn’t a believer. His indignant attitude toward faith was often a disruption on campus, antagonizing priests and fellow students. Father Stu described himself as the “quintessential anti-Christian” who carried a “huge grudge” as he wasn’t afraid to take his frustration out on others.
After graduation, Father Stu channeled his aggression to plan a career as a prizefighter, but that was nipped in the bud by reconstructive jaw surgery after a fight, so at his mom’s suggestion he moved to Los Angeles intent on breaking into the movies. As Father Stu once described in retrospect (quoting from St. Augustine’s Confessions), “God was working behind the scenes. He was within me but I was outside”.
Though he made some commercials and had a few bit parts, Father Stu became disillusioned with the seedy industry and eventually took a position with the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where he rose to become manager.
Riding his motorcycle home from the museum one evening, he was struck by a car at freeway speed, then run over by another. The emergency room doctors left little hope for survival. His father and girlfriend were summoned to pay their last respects.
It was at this fragile point of his life, as it was hanging by a thread, when God finally got Father Stu’s attention. He later described an “out of body experience” as his soul hovered above the hospital gurney with “mysterious encounters” which would change his life forever. This close brush with death was the turning point that prompted an exploration of a religious faith he once deplored, leading to his baptism as a Roman Catholic. He left the hospital one week later and approached the nearest Catholic Church. There Stu met a holy priest who took him under his wing and guided him through RCIA.
During his conversion Father Stu was influenced and deeply moved by the lives of the saints especially St. Francis, St, Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Padre Pio. He developed a deep love for the tradition of the Church and appreciated the spirit of the martyrs. He joined his parish Legion of Mary, acquiring a Marian spirituality while participating in door to door, pro-life, hospital and homeless ministries. He also spearheaded a community effort and effectively stopped the construction of a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic in the city of Monrovia CA.
Father Stu flourished, absorbed with the love of Christ and graced with a desire to share it; he brought the faith to others. He accredited effective evangelization to sound Church teaching often quipping, “People are ultimately drawn to the Truth”.
His mentor, Father Benedict Groeschel, fostered his devotion to St. Francis, but Stu was too old at that time in his life to join the Franciscan community. So at his spiritual director’s suggestion (and insistence for an orthodox formation) he enrolled at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
There Father Stu earned a Master’s degree in philosophy and then received his priestly formation for the diocese of Helena at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas on Dec. 14, 2007, at the cathedral of St. Helena.
While a seminarian at Mount Angel, Father Stu underwent surgery to remove a tumor discovered on his hip. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a rare autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and for which there is no cure. By the time of his ordination, Father Stu was walking with the aid of crutches. Father Stu found his great love serving as a priest, administering the sacraments and counseling his flock.
As his illness weakened him the diocese of Helena brought him home in 2010, where Father Stu took up a new life and ministry at Big Sky Care Center. Now using a power chair, and with the assistance of his dad, Bill Long, Father Stu spread the faith throughout Helena’s parishes. He celebrated Mass regularly at St. Mary’s and Big Sky Care Center, as well as traveling wherever asked to perform the duties of his calling. His Masses were known to be devout and his homilies faithful to Christ and His Church.
Father Stu brought a servant’s heart to each and every minute of his ministry, his love increasing in power as physical strength declined. Father Stu became a beloved priest, confessor and friend to countless people. He taught by example, accepting the pain and weakness each day brought; Stu said it was the best thing that ever happened to him, because it allowed him to shed the pride he had felt for most of his life.
Father Stu’s physical suffering sanctified him. He endured his pain without complaint, giving thanks to God always. Father Stu’s witness brought dozens (if not hundreds) of Montanans into the Church as was evident by the overflow crowd and personal testimony of those who attended his funeral.
To watch Father Stu on video, click here.