A Christian biographical drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, set to release April 13, tells the story of a former Franciscan University of Steubenville student.
“Father Stu” is the dramatic retelling of the life story of the Rev. Stuart Long, a boxer, bouncer and unsuccessful actor who experienced a conversion to the Catholic faith and became a priest before his death at age 50 in 2014, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The redemption story is directed by Rosalind Ross and stars Wahlberg as Long and Gibson as Long’s father.
Long attended Franciscan from 2001-2003, where he studied undergraduate philosophy in preparation for seminary, according to the Alumni Relations Office. Long did not graduate from the university.
Although Long attended a Catholic college in the ‘80s, he was not religious at the time and was only baptized after a near-death experience in a motorcycle crash several years later, according to Catholic News Agency (CNA).
Long played football and boxing in college, but, when a jaw injury ended his boxing career, he unsuccessfully attempted acting and then worked at a nightclub.
After his close call with death, Long began exploring religious options. When he was baptized into the Catholic Church, he felt a call to the priesthood.
During his discernment, he served with the Capuchin friars in New York City, who sent him to Franciscan University to study philosophy. From there, he joined diocesan formation for the Diocese of Helena, Montana, and studied at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon.
While a seminarian, Long was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, which is an extremely rare autoimmune disease with no cure. At his ordination in 2007, he had to use crutches to assist with walking, according to CNA.
Although his illness made it difficult, Long carried out pastoral ministry at several parishes and a nursing home in Helena before his death from the disease in 2014.
The movie took six years to complete, according to CNA.
Wahlberg, who is publicly Catholic, said this movie is the most important one he has ever made.
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN, Wahlberg said, “(His story) gives me so much hope. … As (Long’s) physicality started to deteriorate, his spirituality just soared.”
Rated R for language, “Father Stu” is a story of a search for meaning, religion and redemption.
Wahlberg said, “We want to make sure that this movie is not exclusive to Catholics and devout people. This is inclusive to everybody. …You remember what God’s mission was, right? He didn’t come to save the righteous.”
The Rev. Jonathan St. Andre, TOR, vice president of student life at Franciscan, said, “I think this movie … will allow people to see … the incredible call that God gives to ordinary men to be his priests and how he works marvelous things through a priest by his power.”
St. Andre said he looks forward to seeing “Father Stu” and encouraged others to see it as well.
“I never met Fr. Stu, but I’m proud that our university played a part in his personal formation,” he said. “While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I can tell from the trailer that his life is a testament to God calling the unlikely and using them to advance his glory.”