March 1, 2013

Brother Rosary

Bartolo Longo
Bartolo Longo of Brindisi

By Niccolò Graffio
“He that repents is angry with himself; I need not be angry with him.” – Benjamin Whichcote: Moral and Religious Aphorisms, 1753
Bartolo Longo was born on February 10th, 1841 to Dr. Bartolomeo Longo and Antonina (nee) Luparelli in the town of Latiano, in the province of Brindisi, Apulia at the time that region was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  He had the good fortune of being born into a prosperous family which guaranteed for him a better lifestyle than most of those living around him.

His parents were devout Roman Catholics, especially his mother, who taught young Bartolo to pray the Rosary on a daily basis. At an early age he demonstrated a marked intelligence.  That, plus his parents’ prosperity, insured for him a good education.  In addition to academics he also studied the piano and the flute.  Records show he did well in all his endeavors.

Bright, talented and charismatic, one would have thought a promising future lay ahead for the lad.  Tragically, however, fate would deal him a bad hand at an early age.  In 1851 his beloved mother died.  Perhaps as a result of anger at losing her, he slowly drifted away from the faith of his parents.  By the time he attended the University of Naples to study law, he had ceased practicing Catholicism altogether.

While attending the university he fell in with a “New Age” neo-pagan group, one of many that had been popping up across the continent of Europe.  By his own later admission he took part in séances and orgies in addition to practicing fortune-telling.  He also experimented with drugs when he wasn’t engaging in inordinate periods of fasting.

Unlike many other neo-pagan groups of the time, the one Longo joined was of a decidedly Satanist bent, and he was eventually “ordained” a Satanic high priest!  Unsatisfied with merely practicing Satanism, he took to publicly attacking and ridiculing Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular!  Modern psychologists might postulate the antipathy he demonstrated for the religion of his parents was his way of venting his anger for the loss of his mother.

His attacks on Catholicism bore a dark fruit – he was able to convince a number of Catholics to “leave the fold” and join him in practicing occult rites.

In the meantime, he completed his law studies at the University of Naples in 1864 and practiced law in that city until 1871, while continuing his Satanic exploits.

As has happened to so many before and after him who sought hedonistic pleasures in such a debased lifestyle, he ultimately derived no joy from it.  In fact, his physical and mental health suffered as a result of it. He eventually suffered a kind of breakdown.  

Feeling lost and depressed, he sought out the help of a childhood friend, Professor Vincenzo Pepe.  Initially repulsed by what Longo told him, Pepe sought to drive him from his presence.  Bartolo persisted, however, telling his friend he had nowhere else to go.  Pepe eventually relented and helped Longo by introducing him to a Catholic priest of the Dominican Order – Father Alberto Radente.  Fr. Radente agreed to hear Bartolo’s Confession and help him find his way out of the spiritual abyss he had flung himself into.

It has been said there are few people more zealous for their faith than a reformed reprobate, and that was certainly true in the case of Bartolo Longo!  His self-imposed penitence included attending a séance.  At one point during the ceremony, he rose, producing a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary and crying out “I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood!”

His path to spiritual redemption eventually led him to become a lay (Third Order) Dominican.  As part of his vows he took the name “Fra Rosario” (It: Brother Rosary) in honor of the Rosary his mother had taught him as a child. The date of his official conversion was October 7th, 1871.

Our Lady of Pompeii
After his conversion he relocated to Pompeii where he joined a local charitable group.  There he met Countess Mariana di Fusco, a wealthy widow, whom he later married on the recommendation of Pope Leo XIII.  Though the two were obviously quite happy with one another, they mutually agreed theirs would be a chaste marriage, devoting their time and energies to the service of the Church.

In October, 1873 the two started a confraternity of the Rosary in a dilapidated church which they helped to restore with the help of funds they raised. In addition, they sponsored a festival in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Stories of miracles associated with this church caused people to flock to it in droves, and in 1875 the Bishop of Nola encouraged the two to begin construction of a larger church.

The cornerstone of this edifice was officially laid on May 8th, 1876.  The church was officially consecrated by Cardinal La Valetta (representing Pope Leo XIII) in May, 1891.  48 years later it was enlarged to a basilica, known today as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii.  The church became a pilgrimage site for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who are drawn to the story of a church built by an ex-Satanist.

In 1906 Bartolo Longo and the Countess donated the Pompeii shrine to the Holy See but continued to promote the Rosary for the remainder of their lives.  Longo would often evangelize young people in cafes and local parties, warning them of the dangers of occultism and preaching the glories of Christ, his Mother and the Catholic Church.  In addition, Longo and his wife provided for orphans and the children of prisoners – the latter something for its time was considered unheard of!

Bartolo Longo died on October 5th, 1926 at the ripe old age of 85!  His body was dressed in a mantle of a Knight of the Order of the Most Holy Sepulcher, a papal order of knighthood.  It was then encased in a glass tomb and displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii where it remains to this day.

Immediately following his death there were calls for his canonization.  On October 26th, 1980 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II, who called him the “Apostle of the Rosary”.  

The dark lure of Satanism drove Bartolo Longo nearly to mental and physical ruin. The faith of this man’s parents gave renewed life to him when he thought himself spiritually dead.  The city of Pompeii, in turn, was thought destroyed forever in 79 AD when it was buried by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the “evil old lady of Italy”.  The basilica constructed by Longo and the Countess attracted families, roads, hotels, electricity, restaurants and shops.  In addition, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year visit the shrine built by the ex-Satanist.  It is therefore perhaps fitting the resurrection and salvation of Pompeii should be linked forever to that of Bartolo Longo.

Further reading:
• Gennaro Auletta: The Blessed Bartolo Longo; The Shrine of Pompeii (Publisher), 1987