The late Father Stuart (Stu) Long has been named a finalist for the 2022-2023 Lumen Christi Award through Catholic Extension.

Father Stu grew up in Helena and attended Carroll College, where he would go on to become a state boxing champion. While raised agnostic, several events in his life, including a near-fatal motorcycle accident, inspired him to become Catholic. At the moment of his baptism, he felt the call to priesthood. Near the end of his seminarian formation, he was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a debilitating terminal illness that causes progressive inflammation and weakness of the muscles. Despite the prognosis, Bishop George Leo Thomas ordained Long in 2007.

His time as a priest, though short, was marked with incredible blessings to those he served. Despite constant suffering, many people sought him out for confession and spiritual counsel. Near the end, as he was confined to a wheelchair at a nursing home in Helena, those who desired to meet with him waited in line outside his room. Since his death in 2014, many stories of conversion, transformation, and healing have spread around Montana, and beyond. Just this year, Father Stu’s story became known around the world as the feature film, Father Stu, was released on Good Friday, and dramatizes Stu’s conversion and ordination to the priesthood. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as Father Stu, who also aided in financing the project under his Municipal Pictures banner.

At various points in Father Stu’s formation and ministry, his work was supported by Catholic Extension. Originally started in 1905 in Lapeer, Michigan to bring the Sacraments to the faithful in rural America, Catholic Extension has become an important financial support for rural dioceses and parishes around the country. Father Stu’s education as a seminarian was supported by Extension, as were two of the parishes where he served as a priest.

The Lumen Christi Award is Catholic Extension’s highest honor, given to those who, per Extension: “radiate and reveal the light of Christ present in the communities where they serve”. This year, 40 dioceses submitted nominations, and of the 40 submissions, seven were selected as finalists. This years’ award recipient, Jean Fedigan of the Diocese of Tuscon, Arizona, received a $25,000 grant, along with an additional $25,000 grant for the Diocese of Tuscon.

On his selection as an award finalist, Bishop Vetter said: “Father Stuart Long embodied courage and faith in a special way. His courage was bound closely to the will of God. Rather than choosing circumstances that demanded courage he chose to courageously embrace the circumstances of his life and give all he had to love and serve Christ.”