Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was a former Satanist who became a champion of the Rosary.
Bartolo made trips to the Valley of Pompeii to teach the people how to pray the Rosary. Beginning in 1873, he organized annual Rosary feast with music, fireworks, races, and a lottery.
In 1875, Bartolo invited a group of priests to speak about devotion to the Rosary at a parish mission. To start a confraternity of the Rosary in Pompeii, Bartolo needed a painting of the Blessed Virgin to serve as a spiritual focus for the group. He rushed by train to Naples and made a futile search in the shops. Then, he met his friend, Father Radente, who told him he had once bought such an image and left it at a convent in the city. If Bartolo liked it, he could have it. Bartolo went to the convent to see the image. The image was poorly painted and in miserable condition. Bartolo hesitated, but eventually decided to take the image.
The painting was quickly touched up by a travelling artist, and in 1879 it was beautifully restored. In the painting Our Lady of the Rosary and the Infant Jesus were giving rosaries to St. Dominic and St. Catherine. The veneration of the holy image resulted in numerous miracles of healing.
Bartolo constructed a church to hold the image of Our Lady and then, around it, an entire city dedicated to helping orphans and the poor. He found an orphanage for the sons of prisoners.
Bartolo said, “We will use two educational elements to educate a child brought up in misery and ignorance to honesty and uprightness: work and prayer.” In Pompeii, there was a large printing press operated by orphan boys. Bartolo also wrote books about the Rosary and composed novenas and a prayer manual.
Bartolo emphasized the importance of catechetical instructions in his educational projects. He said, “People without catechism are people without religion.” Bartolo founded a congregation of Dominican nuns, the Daughters of the Rosary, to help educate the orphan girls and brought in the Christian Brothers for the boys.
In all of his charitable and apostolic works, he was assisted by his friend, the Countess Mariana di Fusco. When evil rumors began to spread about their relationship, Bartolo and the Countess consulted their friend Pope Leo XIII, who said, “Lawyer, you are free; Countess, you are a widow; get married and no one can say anything against you.” So on April 7, 1885, they were married. The Countess remarked, “We went to Rome good friends and returned good spouses.” The couple continued their charitable works until the Countess’s death in 1924 at the age of 88.
After laboring for fifty years, Bartolo was the object of calumny and slander as lies spread about his mishandling of funds. In distress, Bartolo cried: “I have sacrificed all that I had for the last fifty years for Our Lady, and now they call me a thief!” He bore these trials with resignation and was eventually cleared of all charges. In 1906, Bartolo turned all his property over to the Holy See. He remained at Pompeii as a humble employee until his death at 85, ever promoting the Rosary and going to confession twice weekly.
During his final hours on October 5, 1926, Bartolo prayed the Rosary, surrounded by the orphans. His last words were: “My only desire is to see Mary, who has saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan.” In his last will and testament, Bartolo stated: “I wish to die a true Dominican tertiary in the arms of the Queen of the Rosary, with the assistance of my holy Father St. Dominic and of my mother St. Catherine of Siena.” On October 26, 1980, Pope John Paul II declared Bartolo Longo “Blessed”, calling him the “Man of Mary.”