Today, we celebrate the feast day of Bl. Bartolo Longo.  You may or may not know of him–but you ought to!  Bl. Bartolo is a wonderful example of a lay Catholic who underwent tremendous conversion and sought out holiness, by the grace of our Lord, and with the help of our Lady.

I have a special fondness for Bl. Bartolo.  Not only is he one of my Lay Dominican brethren, he is also a special patron of my local Lay Dominican group.  Our group is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii–and it was Bl. Bartolo who established the devotion to our Lady under this particular title.  Additionally, I have a close personal bond with Bl. Bartolo because he and I both fell away from the Church and delved into some extremely dark and evil things… and somehow found our way back to the Church and into the Order of Preachers!

About a year ago, Catholic Exchange published a wonderful article about Bl. Bartolo, written by Br. Ezra Sullivan, OP.  I happily rediscovered this article via the blog of Half the Kingdom.  Here is an excerpt (emphases mine):

In Bartolo’s time, from the 1860s onwards, the Church in Naples was experiencing a spiritual crisis.  Unbelief, rebellion, and the occult were widespread and affecting the souls of the faithful, especially college students.  Many of them traded the theology of the saints for the philosophy of atheists, made street demonstrations against the pope, and — perhaps most dangerous of all — dabbled in witchcraft and consulted the famous Neapolitan mediums.

Among the wayward students in Naples, one stood above the rest in the depths of his depravity.  As a young man, Bartolo not only participated in the anti-Catholic demonstrations, he not only preached publically and vehemently against the faith, he not only sought psychic mediums with his friends — he went even further and became a Satanic priest. Later on, Bartolo would describe how, in the rites of his blasphemous “ordination”, he promised his soul to a spirit-guide, a demon, which shook the walls and manifested itself with blasphemous shrieks.

For over a year, Bartolo lived under the spell of the demon, practicing the rites that were a mockery of the Church’s holy sacraments.  Eventually, Bartolo’s experiences as a priest of Satan became unbearable, for the torments of a demon made him go nearly insane.  But his family had not given up on him; through their help, he sought refuge in the sacrament of confession.

Bartolo became associated with a Dominican friar who led him to a love of God through devotion to the rosary.  Soon thereafter, Bartolo became a Dominican tertiary and took the name “Rosario”.  Around this time, he visited a séance and in his zeal held his rosary aloft, declaring, “I renounce spiritualism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood.”  He also came to know some holy Franciscans with whom he helped the poor and incurably ill for two years.  While performing these good works, Bartolo kept up his law practice, which took him to the nearby village of Pompei.

Though Bartolo went to Pompei as a lawyer, he left as an apostle.

I highly recommend reading the rest and learning about all the wonderful things Bl. Bartolo did as an apostle of the Rosary and of our Lady, and the great influence he has been on many people–including popes!

Above all, I regard Bl. Bartolo as a sign of hope and victory–what a surprising and spectacular conversion story!  Bl. Bartolo’s life is a very strong reminder that God works in mysterious ways, and His reach is much longer than we tend to realize.  Nobody is beyond His reach!  Therefore, we must never give up praying for the conversion of our loved ones, our nations, or the entire world–not to mention the ever ongoing conversion of our own hearts and our fellow Catholics and Christians.

We should consider how easy it might have been for any of us to simply write off or despair of that depraved, deranged, and downright wicked young man that Bl. Bartolo had been.  Perhaps there may be people in our lives today whom we are tempted to write off or despair of.  They may be people close to us, or people out there in our society or elsewhere in the world.

Let us also pray that this “Man of the Rosary” may soon be canonized a Saint:

O Jesus, full of grace and charity, Victim for sinners, so impelled by love of us that You willed to die on the cross, I humbly beseech You to glorify in Heaven and on Earth the Servant of God, Blessed Bartolo Longo.  Once a priest of Satan, You converted his heart to You and set him on the path to holiness.  His apostolate of the Rosary gave birth to the basilica shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii, whose corridors are lined with testimonies of Your favors and miraculous cures.  With confidence in Your love and mercy, I beg You to grant me through his intercession the grace I ardently desire.  (Name your petition.)

My dad’s surgery also happens to be today, so I shall be asking for Bl. Bartolo’s intercession for that, and for all kinds of blessings upon my parents. Given how long and how hard my parents must have prayed for me when I lived in darkness, this is the least I can do!  And I know Bl. Bartolo understands how I feel!