By Rob Scribner –
When Stuart Long crashed his motorcycle into a car, he was launched into oncoming traffic and hit the windshield of an oncoming car headfirst. Witnesses say he then rolled on the street and got run over by another car.
“And here I am” still alive, he remarked later.
Out of the death-defying experience, Stuart turned to God and became a priest, known as Father Stu. He’s the subject of a new biopic starring Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg, who were inspired by the story and decided to make the movie.
The movie “Father Stu” will be released on Good Friday by Sony. Wahlberg has pursued this project for six years. His own father died of cancer, so when Wahlberg heard two priests talk over dinner with him about Stuart Long, it resonated with him.
Born in Seattle on July 26, 1963, Stuart Long was adventurous and ambitious as a young rascal he explains, according to the Daily Mail. After graduating high school in 1981, he arrived at Carroll College, a private Catholic university. His focus was completely on sports, primarily football and soon, boxing, which became his sole passion.
“I wasn’t Catholic. I always felt like kind of an outsider,” Long revealed while thinking about attending mass with the football team.
Long admitted to constantly questioning his college professors. When he discovered boxing, he found his calling.
“The individual sport fit with my personality better than the team sport,” Long said in a 2011 interview with the Diocese of Helena.
Excelling in fighting, Long won the 1985 Golden Gloves heavyweight title in Montana (and runner-up the succeeding year) while still attending Carroll College.
This success left Long wanting a career in boxing, but a brutal blow broke his jaw and essentially dashed his dreams
Long next sought to become an actor, but his career sputtered with only a few commercials. He became a bouncer for night clubs and comedy bars. Finally, he worked at the Norton Simon art museum in Pasadena.
That’s when Long, riding his motorcycle, had his near fatal crash. “Witnesses told the sheriffs and reporters that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me,” Long recounts.
Realizing it was a miracle he survived – and an out of body experience from God — he rediscovered his faith, was baptized in 1998, and pursued his call towards the priesthood, enrolling at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon.
“God was working behind the scenes. He was within me, but I was outside,” said Father Stu, quoting St. Augustine.
As he was teaching in Mission Hills, California, and working to achieve his master’s degree in philosophy at Franciscan University, he inspired many people with his story.
In 2007, Father Stu and his friend, Father Bart Tolleson, were ordained as clergymen.
He was tireless in his service “and the Lord gave him many beautiful gifts, of counsel, of providing the sacraments. He was fearless even though he was limited,” Father Tolleson told the Catholic Telegraph.
“His conversion is phenomenal, from being an agnostic troublemaker to having a mystical encounter with God,” Father Tolleson said in the Catholic Telegraph.
Later he was diagnosed with a rare incurable degenerative disease, inclusion body myositis and required crutches and soon a wheelchair to move. But nothing slowed him down.
“The cross of his disease was the most powerful way to serve people,” Tolleson said.
He was an inspiration. His story touched Wahlberg – and then Mel Gibson.
Father Stu concluded his life leading the elderly and rehabilitating people to Christ through the rehab nursing home he resided in.
“This movie is a vehicle to reach un-evangelized people, to stir in them, I guess I would say, an awareness of the fragility of life, an awareness of our own mortality and our awareness of our capacity to do good, and certainly Father Stu embodied all of the above,” Tolleson says
Rob Scribner studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.