Is the Real Father Stuart Long Still Alive?

Image Credit: Diocese of Helena/The Pillar

Father Stuart Long wasn’t always a religious man. But at a pivotal point in his life, fate had other plans for him. Written and directed by Rosalind Ross, ‘Father Stu’ is a biographical drama film that charts the remarkable story of Stuart and how he inspired many throughout his life. The movie has Mark Wahlberg playing the titular role, breathing life into a moving depiction of Stuart’s journey. So, if you’re curious to find out more about the priest and his life, we’ve got you covered.

Who Was Father Stu Long?

Stuart Ignatius Long was born in July 1963 and grew up in Helena, Montana. After finishing high school, he attended Carroll College in Helena, majoring in English. Despite it being a Catholic university, Stuart wasn’t religious at the time. According to loved ones, he was an agnostic. Stuart picked up boxing and won a heavyweight title in Montana in 1985. He was the runner-up the following year. While Stuart seriously contemplated going professional, a jaw injury changed his mind.

Image Credit: Bill Long/The Pillar

In 1987, a 24-year-old Stuart moved to Los Angeles, California, to foray into acting. But despite getting roles in commercials and as an extra in films, the big break never came. He ended up working odd jobs until a life-changing incident in 1992. While riding his motorcycle back home one night, Stuart was hit by a car and run over by another. Despite severe injuries and the doctors thinking he wouldn’t survive, Stuart made a recovery. Stuart was convinced that he didn’t die for a reason.

Stuart then joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), with ample encouragement from his then-girlfriend, Cindy. He kept learning more about religion and eventually decided to get baptized in 1994. Soon after, Stuart strongly believed that his calling was to become a priest. After teaching at a Catholic School in California, he moved to the Bronx in New York to study with the Franciscan Friars. Later, Stuart got a master’s degree in philosophy and went to a seminary in Oregon.

However, Stuart had to deal with yet another blow when he was diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis in 2007. A disease akin to ALS and multiple sclerosis, it causes muscle weakness and degeneration over time. In the same year, Stuart made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, to visit a site known for miraculous healings. While nothing changed physically, he returned with a renewed resolve and conviction in his faith. According to a friend, Stuart wrote about it, “I know this disease is going to claim my life. And I also know it will be for God’s glory.”

In December 2007, Stuart was ordained at the Cathedral of Saint Helena and became a priest despite some initial reservations on the seminary formators’ part. Over the next few years, he never lost his trademark sense of humor despite the disease’s progression and his eventual loss of function of his limbs. Stuart refused to give up even after he began using a wheelchair, inspiring many parishioners along the way. But by 2010, his health became a concern, and he was moved to a care facility in Helena.

How Did Father Stu Long Die?

Even while living at the care facility, Stuart Long tried to continue his priestly duties. He said mass and had others help move his arms to perform the service. Stuart passed away on June 9, 2014, at the age of 50 at the care facility. He was surrounded by his loved ones and died as a result of inclusion body myositis. People who knew Stuart hoped that he would be named a saint and had even campaigned for it, with support from Wahlberg himself. For now, his story lives on through ‘Father Stu.’

Image Credit: Amy Trisdale/NY Post

Mark Wahlberg first heard about Stuart from one of Stuart’s friends, and the story intrigued him. A devout Catholic himself, the actor eventually met the priest’s family. Regarding the movie, Mark said, “Hopefully, people just take away the fact that if they’re in a position to just do a little bit more and always try to be a little bit better. I think Stu wanted to entertain people, wanted to make people laugh. Obviously, it’s a very emotional story, but ultimately it’s an emotional story that inspires people to be the best version of themselves, and his work will continue on long after the film comes.”

Stuart’s sister, Amy Trisdale, also spoke of the similarities between her brother and Mark. She added, “Mark is down to earth and doesn’t put on any airs. That was totally Stu. He never judged anyone by their station in life. They both had confidence and great smiles. And their pasts — both have interesting pasts.” Furthermore, Stuart was a big fan of Mel Gibson, who plays his father’s role in the film.

Read More: Is Father Stu Based on a True Story?