During the late 19th century and early 20th century, God called a repentant sinner to be a champion of the Rosary. Blessed Bartolo Longo was born of an upper class family in Laziano, Italy, in 1841. He went to Naples in 1863 to study law. Anti-Catholic sentiments were strong in the university.
The young Bartolo was being swept away by political ideologies and became anti-Catholic. He distained the papacy, the priesthood and the Dominicans. Within a short time, Bartolo became involved in spiritualism. He even became a priest of Satan.
Under evil influence, Bartolo’s health and sanity were rapidly declined. In his darkest moments, he heard his deceased father begging him to: “Return to God! Return to God!”.
Greatly moved by the experience, Bartolo turned to his old friend Professor Vincenzo Pepe. Shocked by Bartolo’s appearance, Vincenzo exclaimed, “Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?” Eventually, Vincenzo convinced Bartolo to go to confession to a Dominican, Father Alberto Radente. For a full month, Father Radente listened and guided Bartolo. Finally, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 23rd June, 1865, Bartolo, was able to receive Holy Communion. For two years, Bartolo worked in the Hospital of Incurables. Two severely ill patients revealed to him that “perfect happiness” consists in the joyful acceptance of life’s miseries out of love for Christ.
On March 25, 1871, Father Radente received Bartolo into the Third Order of St. Dominic as Brother Rosario. Bartolo made his last visit to a séance, holding up a medal of Our Lady and crying out, “I renounce spiritualism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood.” He then went to student parties and cafes, denouncing the “religion” he had formerly embraced and proclaiming his faith in the Catholic Church.
In 1872, Bartolo travelled to the Valley of Pompeii as an attorney for the wealthy widow Countess Mariana di Fusco to collect the rent from farmers. There were around 2,000 people lived in the parish of Pompeii, but less than 100, mostly older women, ever went to church. The religion of the people there was a mixture of superstition and popular tradition. For their every need, they would go to a witch or a sorceress, in order to obtain charms and witchcraft. Bartolo prayed for the people.
One day, Bartolo had an experience from despair to hope, which helped him to realize his vocation as a champion of the Rosary. He wrote:
“One day in the fields around Pompeii called Arpaia. . .1 recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan. Father Alberto had told me repeatedly never again to think of, or reflect on [this], but I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity.
So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. 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:
‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ These words certainly brought an illumination to my soul. Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’ At that moment the little bell of the parish church rang out, inviting the people to pray the Angelus. This incident was like a signature to my firm decision.”
Later he wrote, “What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved.”