“Fr. Stu” movie packs a powerful punch in delivering strong message of salvation

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic


Mark WahlbergMark Wahlberg
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in Columbia Pictures' FATHER STU. (courtesy Columbia Pictures)

Among any new movies to come out of Hollywood in recent years featuring religious themes, “Father Stu” is a true heavyweight.

No matter what you might have heard about its “R” rating and language, you need to give this movie about a reformed pugilist-turned-priest a fighting chance.

“Father Stu” will be released in theaters nationwide on April 13 — just a few days before Good Friday. It is the true story about a man bearing a heavy burden of sins and troubles who eventually finds his way to God and the priesthood. The Columbia Pictures production features Hollywood notables Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, along with other A-list actors and top directors.

Wahlberg, in the role of Father Stuart Long, delivers a knock-out performance from start to finish in this film. In past interviews about the movie, Wahlberg has said he wanted to do “something beautiful” for the Church. Some media lauded his desire, while others treated his comments with cynical skepticism.

Viewers who watch this film will see Wahlberg, a devoted Catholic, at his finest. The actor not only brings us face to face with Fr. Stu, but takes us through the triumphs, heartbreaks, trials, tribulations, sorrows, and sufferings of the priest. The result is a movie that not only helps us learn more about this remarkable man of God, but about forgiveness and redemption.

The real-life Stuart Long was an outstanding collegiate football athlete who went on to become a boxer. As a fighter, he won the Montana Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing championship in 1985 and was runner-up in 1986. Following a serious jaw injury in the ring, he pursued an acting career. While Long appeared in some television commercials and earned a few small extra appearances, he never achieved the Hollywood stardom he desired.

Although priesthood was never in the wildest dreams of this man early in his life, he nonetheless heard God’s call — and it came through to him loud and clear. Along the way, he endures misfortunes and serious health issues. Most remarkable about the real-life Fr. Stu is how his service to Christ and His Church increased as his suffering worsened.

Fr. Stu served as a priest in the Diocese of Helena, Mt., passing away in 2014 at the age of 50. The experiences of his troubled past helped to form Fr. Stu as a compassionate priest serving people enduring their own personal hardships. In his spiritually gifted way, Fr. Stu brought them closer to God.

Some viewers might ask the same question about this film that the local bishop asked of Fr. Stu in the movie. How could the Church embrace a man for the priesthood with such a rough-hewn past?

And that’s the beauty of this movie. Fr. Stu gives us the answer through Wahlberg as he responds to the bishop, “What about St. Augustine, St. Francis, and St. Matthew?”

This is a great rhetorical question that tells us volumes about our faith.

Father Stu poster
Father Stu movie poster

The fact is, St. Augustine once lived with his mistress and conceived a child out of wedlock. The sinner-turned-saint confessed that he was once “chained” to sin. After his conversion, St. Augustine went on to become a bishop and helped develop the Church’s teachings on grace and original sin. Today we know St. Augustine as a Doctor of the Church and the patron saint of theologians.

St. Francis of Assisi was caught up in excessive partying, drinking, and sensuous relationships before his conversion. St. Francis heard Christ’s voice and saw Him in visions. After one visit, he became stigmatic, taking on some of the wounds of the crucified Christ. St. Francis, who carried out the words he heard from Christ: “Francis, go and rebuild my Church,” is today one of our most venerated saints.

St. Matthew was a despised tax collector, a profession widely associated in his time with graft and corruption. Despite his background, Jesus selected him as one of his 12 Apostles. Matthew, one of the four authors of the Gospels, tells the world that Jesus said He chose a man like him because He “did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

As it was for Saints Augustine, Francis, and Matthew, so it was for Fr. Stu. And, as it was for Fr. Stu, so it is for every viewer of this movie — each of us is a sinner who would do well to grow closer to God.

In a special statement about the Fr. Stu and the movie, the Diocese of Helena stated: “Father Stuart Long’s dramatic conversion to Christ before becoming a priest led many people to Christ and the Catholic Faith. His courageous witness left a special legacy in the Diocese of Helena.”

The statement went on: “Viewers should be warned that the film contains objectionable language, violence, and adult content. However, it’s our hope that the redemptive story of Fr. Stu’s conversion will invite viewers to faith and strengthen believers.

“Bishop George Thomas, who ordained Father Stu to the priesthood and Bishop Austin Vetter, the current Bishop of Helena agreed; Father Stu — raw and unfiltered, combative and grace-filled, witnesses to the truth that no one is ever beyond the reach of redemption.”

In his June 9, 2014, obituary, the priest was remembered this way: “Father Stu became a beloved priest, confessor, and friend to countless people. He taught by example, willingly accepting the pain and weakness each day brought; Stu said it was the best thing that every happened to him, because it allowed him to shed the pride he had felt most of his life. Father Stu will be missed, but his legacy of love and selflessness lives on in the hearts and minds of all he served.”

It seems unbelievable in this day and age that Hollywood, of all places, is introducing us to Fr. Stu through a movie that is authentic, strongly Catholic, and features some of the industry’s most popular actors. And there’s more — in addition to Jesus, Our Blessed Mother figures prominently in this film. Miracles do happen.

    …for God, all things are possible.

   — Mark 19:26


Father Stu movie trailer

Mark Wahlburg

Among any new movies to come out of Hollywood in recent years featuring religious themes, “Father Stu” is a true heavyweight.