In December of 2007 I went to my first ever priestly ordination at the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena Montana. The two men getting ordained were Eric Gilbaugh and Stuart Long. I had never seen anything like this before. It was like a wedding, the most beautiful wedding I had ever seen.
Afterwards I hung around down stairs visiting with folks and wanting to get a priestly blessing. Fr. Stu's line was long and I was probably the last one in it. I told him that a month prior I heard God call me to the priesthood. He encouraged me and blessed me, and that fall I entered the seminary.
In the years that followed, I like many folks would stop by Blue Sky Nursing Home and visit him. He always encouraged me to keep going. Though he suffered greatly, he remained joyful and super charitable to those who took care of him. I'll be honest, I don't remember a single piece of advice he gave me, but his example spoke volumes to my heart.
In 2014, I was at the last Easter Vigil Mass he attended. There, I watched Fr. Stu, from his wheelchair, stand behind his Dad as he was received into the Catholic Church. Something inside me said that it was for this moment he had become a priest. At that Mass were workers from the nursing home who also joined the Church. That spring Stu died.
His funeral was beautiful and packed. Nothing too remarkable as I recall. Except on the ride to the cemetery, I remember his ordination comrade Fr. Eric saying, I'm not sure where he's at now, but wherever it is, that place is a lot more interesting.
In 2018 I was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of St. Mary's in Cheyenne Wyoming. Attending that Mass were members of the Helena 4th degree Knights of Columbus council 844 who supported me while in seminary. There, they presented me with a chalice and paten in memory of Fr. Stuart Long.
Fr. Stu's role in my life didn't seem too influential until I watched the movie Father Stu today. His faith had dirt on it. It was dyed in the blood of suffering. No doubt, his prayers and example helped me to the Altar. My hat goes off to Bishop George Leo Thomas, who took a chance and ordained him to the priesthood.
I am forever grateful for Fr. Stu's continual encouragement in my priestly vocation. The way he lived his priesthood continues to be inspiring. It was raw and real, to say the least. With little doubt, the Church could use a few more faithful with the perseverance of Fr. Stuart Long.