What could be a more fascinating tale than a satanic high priest becoming a saint? Blessed Bartolo Longo is such a story. Born in Italy in 1841, Bartolo grew up in a very Catholic household, where the family said the rosary regularly. But his mother died when he was 10, and Bartolo’s life began its way down. When he enrolled at the University of Naples as a young man, he was ripe for the new agers to confuse him and lead him astray. He soon started to attend séances and fortune telling “parties.” And of course, there was the bait that always draws young men into this kind of thing, sex orgies.
Soon, Bartolo aspired to be a satanic priest, and he was ordained into the devil’s brigade as a high priest. But the walls shook and there were strange voices and visions when the ordination took place. Bartolo fainted with sheer terror, and soon became very sick and was deeply tormented by the evil one. But the die was cast, so soon Bartolo was off to the races, performing black masses and publicly ridiculing the Catholic faith in public. Many were drawn away from the faith of the saints as a result.
But in the meantime, what was left of Bartolo’s family was praying for his return to the faith. Like St. Monica praying for the conversion of her wayward son Augustine, his family never ever gave up on him. One day, Bartolo thought that he heard the voice of his dead father urging him to return to the Catholic Church. Isn’t it wonderful how God uses our family members to save us, even when they are no longer here on earth!
So Bartolo decided to pay a visit to an old friend that he hadn’t seen in a while, Professor Vincenzo Pepe. The good professor was shocked at the degraded appearance of his old friend, and asked a very good question of Bartolo:
“Do you want to die in an insane asylum, and then be damned forever?”
This question cut to Bartolo’s heart, and once he admitted that he was mentally confused, his friend took him in and started to deprogram Bartolo. Vincenzo introduced Bartolo to many great Catholics, including Fr. Alberto Radente, a Dominican priest, who catechized Bartolo and then heard his confession, allowing him to once again partake of Holy Communion. On the feast of the Annunciation, at 30 years old, Bartolo became a Third Order Lay Dominican, and he took the name Brother Rosario, in honor of Mary’s Rosary.
But for sure, this was NOT the end of the story. Bartolo returned to a séance, held up a Miraculous Medal of Mary, and denounced the occult and spiritism as a maze of error and falsehood. He would go to restaurants and parties and publicly proclaim the beauty and truth of Catholicism, while denouncing the devil’s religion that he had formerly embraced. The Catholic Church was under attack by the popular culture of the late 19th century in Italy, so this was a very brave thing to do. But what we can take away from this evangelizing activity of Bartolo is that it’s never enough to just quit dabbling in the occult; in order to be completely free of it, one has to confess it, renounce it publicly, and push back against it, hard. Why? Because once satan has his hooks in you, he won’t let go, UNLESS you confess it, renounce it publicly, and push back hard against it. Then and only then, will his satanic claws release you.
Fr. Radente told Bartolo that he had to repair the damage that he had caused to others with his former lifestyle (sin is never just a personal affair, but like a tsunami, it affects the whole body of Christ, violently). So Bartolo set out to help others in need. He went to work for one Countess Mariana, collecting rent for her from her tenant farmers. When Bartolo saw the condition of the tenant farmers in Pompeii, he was in shock. No one had any faith. Everyone was corrupt. The priest in the local church rarely had anyone show up to his Masses. The farmers were sleeping with their filthy animals.
Bartolo began to despair, and began to think that he was still damned. The lesson here is that satan, even though we are in good standing with the church, will always attack our scrupulosity – sending us thoughts of doubt and despair. God allows this to strengthen us, and to spur us on to higher things. In Bartolo’s case, he gave the devil a stiff uppercut. He remembered the words of a Friar: “One who propagates the Rosary SHALL be saved.” He fell down on his knees, and began to think that propagating the Rosary was his calling in life. At that very moment, the church bells rang out for the Angelus, and Bartolo took that as heaven’s confirmation that this was indeed his new mission on earth!
So in Pompeii, the site of the horrible volcano so many centuries earlier, Bartolo began to teach the people the power of the rosary. He initiated a yearly Rosary feast, and invited the priests to start preaching the Rosary. After all, he was a Dominican, and St. Dominic was the originator of the Holy Rosary back in the 13th Century! He obtained a picture of the Lady of the Holy Rosary and used it to obtain several miracles of healing. He built orphanages with the assistance of his former employer, the Countess. In order to quell the rumors about him and the Countess, he married her in 1885. Like Mary and Joseph, they took a vow of chastity in their marriage, and instead dedicated their marriage to charitable works.
In addition to his work with taking care of orphans, he was active in promoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as having The Holy Father formally define the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a belief of the Church for centuries, but one that was never formally defined. After his death, Pope Pius XII did indeed formally define this dogma in 1950.
In his later years, satan attacked him once again, with rumors of financial misdoings, so he stepped down from all activities dealing with money, and in 1906, he turned over everything he had to the Church. He was cleared of all charges. He continued promoting the rosary, and went to confession twice a week. People who saw him in his later years swore that he was in ecstasy. When asked about it, Bartolo confirmed that he did indeed have visions of Mary on a regular basis. On October 5, 1926, Bartolo passed from this life into eternity, with the words, “My only desire is to see Mary, who has saved me and who will save me from the clutches of satan.”
On October 26, 1980, Pope John Paul II pronounced Bartolo Longo “Blessed,” clearing the way for him to one day be declared a saint of the Catholic Church. The Pope called Bartolo the “Man of Mary.”
Blessed Bartolo Longo Quotes
"I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood."
'If you seek salvation, promulgate the rosary. This is Mary's own promise.' These words illumined my soul. I went on my knees. 'If it is true. I will not leave this valley until I have propagated your rosary.”
“You, what have you done by taking Christ out of the schools? You have produced enemies of social order, subversives. On the contrary, what have we gained by putting Christ into the schools of the children of criminals? We have transformed these misfortunate ones into honest and virtuous young people that you wanted to abandon to their sad fate or toss into insane asylums!”
“My only desire is to see Mary who saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan.”
“I wish to die a true Dominican tertiary in the arms of the Queen of the Rosary with the assistance of my holy Father Saint Dominic and of my mother Saint Catherine of Siena.”
Rosary in hand, Blessed Bartolo Longo says to each of us: “Awaken your confidence in the Most Blessed Virgin of the Rosary. Venerable Holy Mother, in You I rest all my troubles, all my trust and all my hope!”
- Pope John Paul II in his homily during the beatification ceremony for Blessed Bartholomew
PRAYER TO BLESSED BARTOLO LONGO
"All-powerful and merciful God, in Blessed Bartolo, a promoter of the rosary of the Blessed Virgin, you showed a wonderful example of holiness and of charity for needy children and orphans. Through his prayers may we learn to see Christ your Son in our neighbors and to love him through them. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."
- General Calendar of the Dominicans, Order of Preachers