Historical Accuracy (Q&A):Did Stuart Long try to make it as a boxer?
Yes. The Father Stu true story reveals that while attending Capital High School in Helena, Montana, Stuart Long excelled at sports. He developed a powerful physique while he was a member of the school's wrestling and football teams. He then attended Carroll College, where he spent two years playing football. It was while he was at Carroll that he developed a passion for boxing. He found success with the sport, winning the Golden Gloves heavyweight for Montana in 1985. He was runner-up in '86, the year he earned his college degree in English Writing and Literature. -Father Stu Obituary
Did jaw surgery end Stuart Long's hopes for a boxing career?Yes. His dream of becoming a professional boxer was nipped in the bud after he underwent jaw surgery. "I had some dental work done on my jaw," the real Father Stu later said in a 2010 interview. "All my teeth are false. They had to remove a large portion of my upper jaw and put in a bridge. I tried to fight one more time again after that, and it just wasn't the same. So, I had to give that up." -Catholic VoicesWas Stuart Long's mom against him moving to L.A. to try and become an actor?
Stuart Long (left) as a boxer in his younger days. Mark Wahlberg (right) portraying Long's time as a boxer in the movie. Photos: Sony Pictures
No. After jaw surgery ended Stuart Long's boxing career, his mom, Kathleen Long, suggested that he move to Los Angeles to try and break into the movie business as an actor. This is somewhat opposite to what we see in the movie. His mother, portrayed by Jacki Weaver, is far less supportive and tells him that he doesn't "belong with those L.A. folks. They're a bunch of fascist hippies."
While trying to make it as an actor, did Stuart Long land a few commercials and bit parts?
Yes. In the Mark Wahlberg movie, we see Stuart Long in a mop commercial. The Father Stu true story confirms that he did star in a couple of commercials and also had some bit parts, including work as an extra. His most substantial performance seems to have been playing the bad guy in a television movie. "I was in a CBS movie of the week though," recalled Father Stu, "and I had gotten typecast pretty early as the bad guy, like a hitman or something. And [in the movie] I was the head of the neo-Nazi skinhead gang in Los Angeles."
At left is one of Stuart Long's headshots from when he was pursuing a career in acting circa 1990.
Ultimately, a career in acting never panned out for Stu, and he eventually had enough of the film industry, which he later referred to as a "seedy business." "I had a lot of real unpleasant experiences with some of the people who were involved in casting and acquiring new talent, and there were talent agents and directors and stuff," he recalled years later. "I just decided that I didn't really wanna do that anymore."Was Stuart Long involved in street fights and bar fights?Yes. This seems in line with what the real Father Stu had said about his life. "I lived a very fast life. I was involved in troublemaking. I used to get in street fights a lot. I was very involved in, you know, I used to drink, and I had a lot of problems. I had several accidents, both on my motorcycle and in cars. I had some falls. I hurt myself fighting." -Catholic Voices
Did Stuart Long work at a nightclub while trying to make it as an actor?
Stuart Long (left) in real life during his time in the seminary and Mark Wahlberg (right) in the film. Photo: Helena Diocese / Sony Pictures
Yes. "I worked at a comedy club and a bar in the evening," said Father Stu, "and then in the daytime I could drive around and do auditions and things." -Catholic VoicesIs Teresa Ruiz's character, Stuart Long's girlfriend Carmen, based on real person?
Yes. A Father Stu fact-check reveals that Carmen is based on a woman who Stuart Long fell in love with. Like in the movie, she was the one who introduced him to God. In real life, they were living together at the time of his accident. While the real Stuart Long seems to have never identified the woman by name in interviews, her physical appearance seems pretty close to Carmen's in the movie. "This girlfriend, she was a beautiful woman," recalled Father Stu. "She was a Mexican girl. She had dark, dark skin, dark eyes. She was a really nice gal."
Was Stuart Long badly injured in a motorcycle accident?Yes. At the time of Stuart Long's motorcycle accident, it had been years since he had worked at bars and comedy clubs to pay the bills. By then, he had given up trying to become an actor and had been working at Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum, where he had risen through the ranks to become the manager. He worked in that position for seven years, supervising between 55 and 60 people on a daily basis. He was on his way home from the museum on his motorcycle one evening when a car hit him and another car ran him over.
Stuart Long's girlfriend, Carmen, in the movie is based on his real-life former girlfriend who he almost married.
"I got hit by a car, and I smashed into a car in the next lane with my head," Father Stu recalled. "I was immediately unconscious. I have no idea what happened. And the witnesses told reporters and the sheriffs that I was rolling down the road and another car ran over the top of me." At the hospital, "they thought I would die that night." Stuart Long's girlfriend and father were both in the hospital at his bedside. -Catholic Voices
Did Stuart Long's motorcycle accident draw him closer to God?
Yes. "He felt like he was touched by God," says Mark Wahlberg, "which was the catalyst for him now being so extremely committed to serving God that he was actually gonna dedicate the rest of his life to becoming a priest." -Father Stu FeaturetteDid Stuart Long initially become a Catholic so that the woman he liked would date him?"I can't date someone who isn't baptized," Teresa Ruiz's character, Carmen, tells Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie. In real life, his accident prompted him to explore religion more closely, which led him to get baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic so that he could marry the woman he loved, not date her. They had already been dating and living in an apartment together at the time of his accident. Stu spent about a year and a half going to a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class to prepare for his baptism and entry into the Catholic Church.Did Stuart Long realize he wanted to be a priest at the moment he was being baptized?
"I had some really, really interesting religious experiences," Stuart later recalled, "that proved to me what I perceived to be a call of God, and it brought me into the Catholic Church."
Yes. Ultimately, his plans to marry his girlfriend changed at the time of his baptism, which is when he began to feel a call to the priesthood. "When I was baptized, at the very moment the priest is pouring the water over my head, I didn't hear the voice of God or see a big banner come down from the sky or anything, I just knew that I was gonna be a priest," recalled Father Stu. Like in the movie, it wasn't something that he wanted for himself or even knew much about. "I didn't want to be a priest. I wanted to get married. I didn't really know what a priest did." It's true that it took his girlfriend and family by surprise.How long did it take Stuart Long to become a priest?While researching the Father Stu true story, we learned that it took almost ten years for Stuart Long to become a priest after he first felt the calling to the priesthood when he was baptized in the late 1990s. He said that he "played ping-pong" with the idea of becoming a priest for about seven years. In order to better decide if becoming a priest was truly the right path, he resigned from his position as manager at the Norton Simon Museum in 1998. He found a job as a teacher at a Catholic school in Mission Hills, California, a position he held for three years.
Stuart then went to New York City and worked with the Capuchin Friars in some of the city's most economically challenged neighborhoods. The Friars sent him to Ohio to study philosophy at Steubenville's Franciscan University where he earned a Master's Degree. He was guided toward pastoral service and went to Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon where he received his priestly formation. Stuart was ordained a priest at St. Helena Cathedral in Montana on December 14, 2007, roughly a decade after he first felt the calling. -Father Stu Obituary
What is the name of Father Stu's muscle disorder?The name of Father Stu's illness is inclusion body myositis (IBM). The progressive muscle disorder results in inflammation of the muscle tissue, weakness, and atrophy. The symptoms mimic those of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). There is no cure. The underlying cause of the disorder is largely unknown. The disease has an autoimmune component, which causes the body to attack itself. A hereditary form of the disease has been linked to genetic factors.When did Stuart Long first notice the symptoms of his muscle disorder?
Father Stu (left) in 2010 and actor Mark Wahlberg (right) as Stuart Long the priest in the movie.
He first began to notice symptoms of the muscle disorder after he underwent surgery to remove a large tumor about the size of a fist from his hip while he was attending the seminary at Mount Angel in Oregon. "About 15 years ago, I just started weakening," he recalled in an interview in 2010, four years before his death, "and I thought maybe because I had such a fast life, I was just aging a little more rapidly than people my age." He was very quickly diagnosed with inclusion body myositis. "It's a different disease but it mimics ALS, so the progression looks very similar to somebody who suffers from Lou Gehrig's Disease, and there's no cure for this one either. It will claim my life."
In researching how true is Father Stu, we learned that by the time the real Stuart Long was ordained as a priest on December 14, 2007, he was relying on crutches to help him walk.
How long was the real Father Stu a priest?Stuart Long served as a Catholic priest for roughly six years before he died at age 50 of the degenerative muscle disease inclusion body myositis. Following his ordination in 2007, he was first assigned to Little Flower Parish in Browning, Montana. After sustaining two falls while serving at Little Flower, he was sent to the town of Anaconda, which could better accommodate his physical limitations. He didn't stay in Anaconda, Montana for long, but according to his obituary, he left a positive impression on the town's Catholic community. Father Stu lived the final four years of his life at the Big Sky Care Center.Did Father Stu live in a nursing home during the final years of his life?
Father Stuart Long is pictured at left in 2013 and actor Mark Wahlberg (right) depicts the priest in the movie. Photos: Sony Pictures
Yes. Father Stuart Long, who passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, June 9, 2014, had been living at the Big Sky Care Center, a nursing home in Helena, Montana, since 2010. He navigated the home via a power chair. Like in the movie, he ministered at the home, in addition to ministering throughout Helena's parishes. -Father Stu ObituaryDid Stuart Long become closer with his father after being diagnosed with inclusion body myositis?
Yes. Like in the movie, Father Stu's dad, Bill Long, tirelessly assisted his son as his son's muscle control deteriorated. Bill helped him to continue to spread the word of God both at the nursing home and throughout Helena's parishes.
Did Father Stu view his debilitating muscle disorder as a positive thing?Yes. In fact, he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him. "It's a very curious experience, because through the difficulties and the struggles that I've been through, the problems that have arisen from this, and the people, especially my dad, who have come to my side to support me and aid me, you know, and assist me through this life since I've been diagnosed with this, it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. ... It's helped me overcome some of my prideful ways, which were a big cross for me for many years. It's taught me a little humility. It's taught me dignity and respect for others, especially for those who share the condition that I'm in."
Father Stu (left) holds a collage of his headshots from his days as an aspiring actor. His dad, Bill Long (right), holds a portrait of his son after becoming a priest. Photo: Sony Pictures
He added, "The struggles of this disease helped me and help others to learn the way that we should have been living all along. And sometimes, with people like me, there's an extreme example, we need things like this to be able to make those changes and decisions in our life that are gonna help us to become better people, to become the people that God has created us to be when he sent us to this planet."Were the diocese concerned that Father Stu's muscle disease would render him unable to be a priest?
Yes. While examining the Father Stu fact vs. fiction, we confirmed that there was worry his disease would affect his work as a priest. Friend and fellow priest Father Bart Tolleson said that there was a lot of concern that Stu wouldn't be able to perform his duties as a priest. "When his illness came, there was a lot of concern," recalled Tolleson. "Priesthood is busy and you're not going to have the ability to do the things a priest needs to do."
What inspired Mark Wahlberg to want to tell Father Stu's story?Mark Wahlberg had been wanting to tell the true story of the boxer-turned-priest Father Stuart Long for six years. A devout Catholic himself, he was first told the story of Father Stu while he was having dinner with a group of local priests. Having been a teenage-convict-turned-famous-actor (and family man), Wahlberg identified with Stuart Long's story of redemption and saw many parallels to his own life. He also wanted to make a mainstream movie that celebrated having a close relationship with God at a time when "people are kinda shying away from faith." -CBS Sports
The real Stuart Long priest (left) and Mark Wahlberg (right) as the holy man battling the muscle disorder in the movie. Photos: Helena Diocese / Sony Pictures
Of choosing to make the film, Wahlberg said, "This is certainly the most important role that I've played to date. I've done a lot of true stories as well, but, ya know, I've continued to look for things that can kinda shine more light on my faith and just give people faith and hope in general, and encourage people to come together and be the best versions of themselves." Wahlberg also cited Mel Gibson and the risk Gibson took in using his own money to make the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ as being a big inspiration for him to take on and help finance Father Stu. Gibson portrays Wahlberg's character's father, Bill Long, in the movie. Interestingly, Mel Gibson's girlfriend, screenwriter Rosalind Ross, wrote and directed Father Stu.How much weight did Mark Wahlberg put on to play Father Stu?
During our research into how true is Father Stu, we learned that Mark Wahlberg, a well-known fitness advocate with a strict diet and workout regimen, put on 30 pounds to portray the boxer-turned-priest. To gain the weight, he started by consuming 7,000 calories per day and then 11,000 in the final four weeks of filming. He said he tried to consume the calories "in a healthy way." -CBS Sports
To train for the movie's earlier boxing scenes, he reteamed with the same group of people who had worked with him to prepare to play boxer Micky Ward for 2010's The Fighter, which we also researched.
Does Father Stu's dad think that the movie accurately reflects the true story of his son?Not exactly. "It was different," said Stuart Long's dad, Bill, of how the movie's depiction of his son compares to real life. "They took a different path than we did, but I think they got the point across and ended up in the same place pretty much." He went on to say that despite the differences, he was "very happy with the movie." Bill had visited with the filmmakers and Mark Wahlberg a couple of times and spoke to Mel Gibson more than once on the phone.
Actor Mark Wahlberg posted the above image to Instagram with the caption, "From left photo 3 weeks ago to this, now," emphasizing the weight he gained during the filming process.
Do leaders in the Catholic Church approve of the Father Stu movie?
Bill Long said that the movie takes a "different path" than his son did in real life, but it ends up in relatively the same place.
"We got a lot of pushback initially from people of the cloth," said Mark Wahlberg, "just because of the language and they didn't understand why we had to push the envelope and make it more real and more gritty -- you know, it being an R rating -- but it's truthful. It's far more relatable to people, and we want everybody to see this movie." Wahlberg said that the group of priests who first told him the story of Father Stu six years ago understood what he was trying to do with the movie. -CBS Sports