This is not your typical story of a saint. This account takes us way out of our comfort zone, to the point that we have to confront the reality of Satan and the demonic and the battle against the souls of men and women.
Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was born in Latiano, Italy. His father (both parents were devout Catholics) died when he was 10 years old, a loss that greatly affected the boy. Not only did he lose some of the stability of his home, but his homeland was undergoing turmoil as many changes were happening in Italy to begin to make it the modern state it is today.
Bartolo studied law at the University of Naples where many of his professors were ex-priests who “preached” hatred against the Church. Later he would write: “I, too, grew to hate monks, priests and the Pope and in particular [I detested] the Dominicans, the most formidable, furious opponents of those great modern professors, proclaimed by the university the sons of progress, the defenders of science, the champions of every sort of freedom.”
Rejecting his faith and the Church, he sought something to fill the void and began to visit mediums and was introduced to the occult. As those who have engaged in the occult know, you cannot dabble and stay on the fringes. His thirst for more to fill the void led him into outright Satanism. He engaged in a period of intense study and rigorous fasting, to the point that he was no more than “skin and bones.” It was then that he was consecrated as a satanic priest and dedicated his soul to a demon. As a satanic priest he presided over “black masses” and preached boldly against God and Christ’s Church, calling them the true evils.
His family never stopped praying for Bartolo; they tried to talk him out of his error, but he would not listen. The family sought help from a professor from the university, Vincenzo Pepe, a devout Catholic. He met with Bartolo and after several encounters challenged him with these words: “Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?” Professor Pepe, through the power of the Holy Spirit, struck a chord in the darkened soul of Bartolo. He agreed to meet with a Dominican priest, Alberto Radente, who after three weeks of continual conversations welcomed Bartolo back to the Church and give him absolution. He also introduced him to the Rosary. Longo was 24 years old.
For two years he was in constant company with the Dominican priest and other dedicated Catholics. They provided him cover from the onslaughts of the evil one and offered him accountability in his long road to restoration from the demonic. At the end of this time he became a third-order Dominican. He began to serve the poor and downtrodden in the area of Pompeii.
Yet Bartolo was plagued with nagging doubts. He wrote: “One day in the fields around Pompeii, I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan… I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’”
Bartolo spent the rest of his life propagating the Rosary and living out the Mysteries of the life of Christ contained therein. He helped to build the famous Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii, he “founded elementary schools and orphanages, inaugurated a print shop and technical school to give the children of convicted criminals the chance of a better life. He wrote books on the Rosary, composed novenas and prayer manuals. The former Satanist eventually became a friend of Pope Leo XIII, who had a great devotion to the Rosary. From Pompeii he also began the popular movement that led to the solemn dogmatic proclamation of the Assumption in 1950.” (Dominican Friars Foundation)
A little known fact is that Blessed Bartolo Longo was the source of inspiration for Pope St. John Paul II who introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that deal with Christ’s public ministry to the Catholic world in 2002. The pope beatified Bartolo in 1980.
Our saint’s life is a reminder that no one is too far gone. God’s love, mercy and grace reaches to the depths of our sin, cleanses us and puts us on the way to heaven.
Blessed Bartolo Longo pray for us!