…As the film shows, it took Father Stuart Long a while to find his grounding in life. He went from being a boxer in Helena to a struggling actor in Hollywood to eventually discerning a call to the priesthood. While in seminary, Long was diagnosed with a rare degenerative muscular disease that only worsened as he progressed through seminary. When it came time for his ordination, the seminary did not recommend that Long be ordained a priest.
“I received Stu’s evaluation from the seminary, and because his illness was so advanced at that stage of the game, they correctly advised against his ordination,” Bishop Thomas explained. “Priesthood is so physically demanding, mentally demanding, and he was already on crutches. He was very weak at that time. So they recommended against [holy] orders. And I was just so saddened to receive the recommendation. And for almost two full weeks, I would pray morning and night for guidance and the same theme in my prayer life kept coming back: that there is power in suffering, bring him forth.”
Through much prayer and discernment, Bishop Thomas ultimately decided that he would ordain Long a priest. He remembers that at the ordination, Long was too weak to lie prostrate on the floor before the laying on of hands, but he went through the ordination, nonetheless.
“At the end of the ordination, after Communion, he gave a very touching talk and he said to the people, ‘I stand before you as a broken man,’” Bishop Thomas recalled. “But he begged the people’s prayers and he promised he would do the very best he could do. They gave him only two years to live, and he lived just about six full years. He lived a marvelous priesthood in those six years as a spiritual director, as a confessor, as a celebrant at the Mass.”
One of the more memorable moments of Long’s priesthood came when Long’s father was received into the Church, which was toward the end of Bishop Thomas’ tenure in Helena. Bishop Thomas recalled how Long was too weak to be the one to receive his father into the Church, and though he was confined to a wheelchair, he was sure to attend the Easter Vigil to see his dad come into the very same Church he fell in love with.
“As the catechumens and candidates gathered at the baptismal font and as his dad was making his profession of faith, I looked over at Stu and you could see a tear coming down the side of his face,” Bishop Thomas recalled. “And I think that, in a way, he felt like his life was complete. Everything he wanted was there, most especially the conversion of his parents. And so he seemed to almost be released from his duties, shall we say, at that night at the Easter Vigil, as his dad recited the creed….”
Full story from Denver Catholic via the National Catholic Register.