by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Did you know that Pope John Paul II beatified a man who had been ordained a satanic priest? In his apostolic letter, “The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin,” Pope John Paul wrote about some of the great witnesses of the rosary:
“It would be impossible to name all the many Saints who discovered in the Rosary a genuine path to growth in holiness. We need but mention Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, the author of an excellent work on the Rosary, and, closer to ourselves, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, whom I recently had the joy of canonizing. As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the depths of his heart: ‘Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!’”
Almost everyone is familiar with Padre Pio and many have heard of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. But I suspect Bartolo Longo does not have much name recognition in northeastern Kansas.
Bartolo Longo was born in 1841 in a small town in southern Italy. His parents were devout Catholics. His father was a physician who instilled in all of his children a love of music and beauty. Bartolo’s mother, who died when he was only 10, taught all of her children to pray the rosary daily and to visit and care for the poor.
Like many young people in our own time, Bartolo gradually began to drift away from the practice of his Catholic faith. As a young man, he studied law at the University of Naples. While attending the university, Bartolo was drawn into political movements and spiritism. Eventually, Bartolo became a member of a Satanic sect and was even “ordained” a Satanic priest. He was publicly contemptuous of Catholicism, as well as everything and everyone associated with the faith of his childhood.
His involvement with the Satanic took a great toll on his mental, emotional and physical health. His physical appearance was so altered that an old friend from his hometown, Professor Vincenzo Pepe, was scarcely able to recognize him. Professor Pepe confronted Bartolo with the stark reality of his present condition, predicting that if he did not change his life, he would most probably die in an insane asylum. Vincenzo Pepe was able to convince Bartolo to consult with a knowledgeable Dominican priest by the name of Father Alberto Radente.
Father Radente, over a period of time, was able to re-present the Catholic faith to Bartolo, who eventually experienced a profound conversion. In an effort to undo the evil of his previous life, he went to student gatherings renouncing Satanism and proclaiming the truth of the Catholic faith.
In the end, he pledged his life to serving God and glorifying Jesus by honoring his mother, Mary. He became part of a fraternal group of young adult Catholics who cared for the poor, the sick and the needy.
Even after his conversion, he found himself assaulted with doubts of God’s mercy. He questioned if he could escape the grasp of Satan, after having pledged his life to him.
Recalling this troubled time in his life, Bartolo wrote: “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 [to St. Dominic]: ‘One who propagates my Rosary will be saved.’ These words certainly brought an illumination to my soul. 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 will not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’ At that moment the little bell of the parish church rang out, inviting people to pray the Angelus. This incident was like a signature to my firm decision.”
Bartolo Longo made fostering the praying of the rosary the mission of his life. Circumstances brought him to the region around the ancient city of Pompeii, where he began evangelizing people to pray the rosary. He organized what became an annual rosary feast. He invited priests to preach a mission on the meaning and devout praying of the rosary. He eventually built a church in honor of Mary, and a village developed around it that was devoted to the care of orphans and the poor.
Eventually, Bartolo founded a congregation of Dominican Sisters whose apostolate was to educate the orphans in this village dedicated to Mary. He wrote books about the rosary, composed novenas and authored a prayer manual. Bartolo’s life was transformed by meditating on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus by praying the mysteries of the rosary. Every day he contemplated the face of Jesus with Mary. The passion of his life was to introduce others to this powerful prayer that had so profoundly changed his own.
Bartolo Longo is a beautiful example of the power of God’s grace to transform a heart. We can never despair, despite our frailty or the gravity of our sin, because of the power of God’s grace to change the most hardened of hearts. Whatever sins we have committed or mistakes we have made, I doubt they can be worse than Bartolo Longo’s ordination as a Satanic priest. His life is a testimony to the power of Mary to draw us to her son Jesus, who can transform us with his love and mercy.
What a gift Bartolo Longo’s mother gave him by teaching him to pray the rosary as a child! She had prepared him to be able to rediscover this gift, many years later, when he desperately needed to find a way back to Jesus.
You can give this same gift to your children by praying the rosary as a family. Who knows? They may some day receive honorable mention in a papal apostolic letter or perhaps even be beatified.
Against all odds, that is exactly what happened to the former Satanic priest — Bartolo Longo.