This distinguished award from Catholic Extension honors individuals who "radiate and reveal the light of Christ."
The subject of one of the biggest Catholic films of 2022 has been nominated for a distinguished award. This year, Fr. Stuart Long has been named a finalist for the Lumen Christi Award, an honor that comes from Catholic Extension, a national non-profit organization that supports underfunded Catholic missions across the United States.
Lumen Christi Award
Each year, Catholic Extension nominates outstanding Catholic individuals who “radiate and reveal the light of Christ present in the communities where they serve.” Candidates for the Lumen Christi Award, of which there were 40 entrants for the 2022 award, are submitted by their home diocese.
Father Stuart, whose nomination is posthumous, was one of seven individuals selected for the finals of the Lumen Christi Award. Each of these finalists has already earned a $10,000 grant to support their ministries, but the winner of the award will receive an additional $25,000. The parish that nominated the winner will subsequently be awarded a further $25,000 to support the parish.
Father Stuart’s life story was truly the stuff that feature films are made of. An amateur boxer who just couldn’t break into the professionals, Long had a difficult past that tended to put him at odds with the law. Pulling himself together, he earned himself a bachelor’s degree in English literature and writing, and moved to Los Angeles in order to pursue an acting career.
Aleteia has previously reported on the events that led him to become Catholic, and eventually turn to the priesthood. In L.A., he met a girl who refused to date him because he wasn’t Catholic. The ex-boxer entered the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (R.C.I.A.), and it was on the day of his baptism that he suddenly felt called to enter the seminary.
This was where Long and Catholic Extension first crossed paths, as the organization actually supported his education as a seminarian. Unfortunately it was as his ordination approached that he would be diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a terminal progressive muscular disorder that is similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Despite his diagnosis, Fr. Long was determined to live the rest of his life as a priest. He would go on to use his remaining time to tend to his new flock, by which he is remembered as an exceptional confessor and an approachable priest. Catholic Extension recalls a statement of faith he made during his ordination:
“I stand before you as a broken man. Barring a miracle, I’m going to die from this disease, but I carry it for the cross of Christ, and we can all carry our crosses.”
Influence and death
Father Stu continued his ministry even as his disease progressed. Catholic Extension recalls how he would accept visitors even as he was using a wheelchair and had moved to a nursing home. There, the lines to see the disabled priest would grow each day, but he saw every one of them. There was even an instance in which a woman with a complicated pregnancy delivered a healthy baby after being prayed over by Fr. Stu. Catholic Extension shared:
“Three employees at Big Sky converted to Catholicism. One woman, who met and was prayed over by Father Stu when she was told her unborn child would die in utero, miraculously gave birth to a healthy child. Everyone was astonished except Father Stu. The parents named him the child’s godfather.”
Father Stuart Long died in 2014, but since then his witness has inspired many a young man to explore the seminary. His story has now erupted into popularity thanks to the feature film, Fr. Stu, which features Catholic actor Mark Whalberg in the titular role, as well as Mel Gibson as Fr. Stuart’s estranged father and Jacki Weaver as his mother.
The movie was not appreciated by critics, as Rotten Tomatoes shows just 42% from 119 critical reviews. The public disagreed with this consensus, however, as 1,000+ audience reviews put Fr. Stu among some of the finest movies ever made, with a 95% approval rating.