From The Catholic Herald:
Mark Wahlberg is an unusual figure in Hollywood: an acting superstar who says “Being a Catholic is the most important aspect of my life”, and that he can’t start the day without 10 minutes of prayer.
Now he is preparing for his most Catholic role yet: he will play Fr Stuart Long, an American priest and former boxer who died in 2014 at the age of 50.
Wahlberg announced on Wednesday that he is teaming up with his long-term collaborator, director David O Russell, on a screenplay about the priest’s life.
Fr Long had retired from prizefighting after a boxing injury forced him to have major reconstructive surgery on his jaw.
He subsequently became a museum manager. Then his life was turned upside down by a motorcycle accident in which he nearly died.
His search for truth led him to the Church, and then to seminary. But even before his ordination in 2007, Fr Long was struck by inclusion body myositis, a rare autoimmune disease. Much weakened, and moving around in a power chair, Fr Long continued his priestly ministry, becoming (as a local Catholic newspaper, Angelus, says) “a beloved priest, confessor and friend to countless people”.
According to Angelus, Fr Long “once remarked that his infirmity 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.”
Speaking in a Facebook Q&A, Wahlberg announced: “David O Russell and I are working on developing a script about Father Stu, who was an amazing priest from Helena, Montana. He was a very tough guy who was a fighter, a football player… anything but a spiritual guy. He found his calling, and decided, after falling in love with a woman, that he wanted to become a priest.
“He suffered from this horrible muscular degenerative disease but was still ordained as a priest and passed away, but not before he was able to inspire thousands upon thousands of people. I think it’s an amazing, inspirational story, so David and I are working on that right now.“
It’s an amazing story. From Father Stu’s 2014 obituary:
With his mom and dad at his side, Father Stuart Long, 50, passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, June 9, 2014, at the Big Sky Care Center, where he had resided and ministered since 2010.
A funeral Mass was held Thursday, June 12, at the Cathedral of St. Helena. Burial was at Resurrection Cemetery.
Father Stu was born at Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle on July 26, 1963, to Bill and Kathleen (Kindrick) Long.
While he was still a toddler, the family moved to Helena, his parents’ hometown. The mountains literally rose up from the backyard of the family home on South Main and Stu loved joining his older siblings and the other neighborhood kids in exploring all the trails. Stu began his elementary education at Central School in Helena and graduated from Capital High School in 1981.
Stu grew into a big young man, proud of the powerful physique he developed while wrestling and playing football for the Bruins. He moved on to Carroll College, 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. A planned career as a prizefighter was nipped in the bud by reconstructive jaw surgery, so at his mom’s suggestion, he moved to Los Angeles, intent on breaking into the movies.
Though he made some commercials and had a few bit parts, Stu eventually became disillusioned by the film industry, which he later described as “seedy.” Looking beyond the comedy club and bar jobs that had paid the bills, he took a position with the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where he rose to become manager, a position he held for seven years. Riding his motorcycle home from the museum one evening, he was struck by a car, then run over by another. This close brush with death was a turning point in Stu’s life, prompting an exploration of religious faith that ultimately led to his baptism as a Roman Catholic so that he could marry the beautiful young lady he loved. God had other plans!
Stu felt a call to the priesthood as he was baptized, and in order to determine if it was genuine, he left the museum in 1998 to teach for three years at a Catholic school in Mission Hills, Calif. He went on to serve with the Capuchin Friars in New York City, working in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The friars sent him to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to study philosophy. After earning his master’s there, he was steered towards pastoral service, receiving 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, along with his good friend Father Bart Tolleson.
While a seminarian at Mount Angel, Stu underwent surgery to remove a tumor discovered on his hip, after which the strength began ebbing from his once powerful body. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an extremely 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. His first assignment was to Little Flower Parish in Browning. After two falls, he was sent to Anaconda where his physical challenges could be better accommodated. Father Stu found his great love serving as a priest, administering the sacraments and counseling his flock. Though only in Anaconda a short time, he left an indelible mark in the hearts of the Catholic community there.