Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was beatified by St. John Paul II on 26th October 1980.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking of Bartolo Longo in a homily, likened him to St Paul of Tarsus, who also initially persecuted the Church and described Bartolo as being "militantly anticlerical and engaging in spiritualist and superstitious practices". His story is quite amazing.
Born into a devoutly Catholic family in the small town of Latiano in Brindisi, southern Italy, Bartolo grew up in a home where his parents, Bartolomeo and Antonina prayed the rosary together daily. However when Bartolo was just 10 years old, his mother died and he slowly drifted away from the faith. Studying Law at university in Naples he became involved with an occult sect and was “ordained” as a satanic “priest”. He took part in séances, fortune telling and orgies and began to publicly ridicule Christianity encouraging other Catholics to leave the Church. None of these activities brought him any joy and his personal life was marked by extreme depression, paranoia, confusion and anxiety. He ultimately experienced a complete mental breakdown. In the depths of despair, Bartolo heard the voice of his deceased father urging him to “return to God, return to God”. He turned to a friend for help, who convinced him to abandon Satan and seek the help of a Dominican priest, Fr Alberto Radente. Bartolo made a full confession and Fr Radente further helped him to reclaim his life.
One evening, as he walked near-the ruins of a chapel in Pompeii, Bartolo had a profound mystical experience. He wrote: "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: ‘If you seek salvation, promulgate the rosary. This is Mary's own promise’. These words illumined my soul. I went on my knees. 'If it is true. I will not leave this valley until I have propagated your rosary.' Bartolo became a Third Order Dominican, taking the name Brother Rosario in honour of the rosary and joined a charitable group in Pompeii. He worked alongside Countess Mariana di Fusco, a wealthy local widow whom he later married.The couple decided to start a confraternity of the rosary. To serve as a spiritual focus for this group, Bartolo needed a painting of the Blessed Virgin and was offered one by Sister Maria Concetta de Litala of the Monastery of the Rosary at Porta Medina. She had found it in a second hand shop in Naples and had paid a tiny amount of money for it.
Though it was not considered of particular aesthetic beauty and was in very poor condition, it served Bartolo's purpose. He described it in his journal: "Not only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a coarse, rough country-woman, a piece of canvas was missing just above her head, her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady's left was a St Rose. This I had changed later into a St Catherine of Siena . I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept, I took it."
In addition, Bartolo restored a ruined church in Pompeii in October 1873 and then sponsored a feast in honour of Our Lady of the rosary. He installed the repaired painting in this very church. Within hours of its installation miracles began to be reported and people came to the church in droves. Seeing the devotion of the pilgrims, the Bishop of Nola encouraged Bartolo to construct a larger church. He approached the architect Giovanni Rispoli to build it, making the following appeal: "In this place selected for its prodigies, we wish to leave to present and future generations a monument to the Queen of Victories that will be less unworthy of her greatness but more worthy of our faith and love."
Bartolo continued promoting the rosary and spreading devotion to Our Lady until his death in 1926, at the age of 75. He would evangelise young people at parties and in local cafes, explaining the dangers of occultism. He would witness continually as to the glories of Christ, the munificence of His mother and the beauty of the Catholic Faith.