With his mom and dad at his side, Father Stuart Long, 50, passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, June 9, 2014, at the Big Sky Care Center, where he had resided and ministered since 2010. Father Stu was born at Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle on July 26, 1963, to Bill and Kathleen (Kindrick) Long.
While he was still a toddler, the family moved to Helena, his parents’ hometown. The mountains literally rose up from the backyard of the family home on South Main and Stu loved joining his older siblings and the other neighborhood kids in exploring all the trails. Stu began his elementary education at Central School in Helena and graduated from Capital High School in 1981.
Stu grew into a big young man, proud of the powerful physique he developed while wrestling and playing football for the Bruins. He moved on to Carroll College, playing Saints football for two years and developing a passion for boxing, in which he excelled. He won the 1985 Golden Gloves heavyweight title for Montana and was runner-up in 1986, the year he graduated from Carroll, having earned a degree in English literature and writing. A planned career as a prizefighter was nipped in the bud by reconstructive jaw surgery, so at his mom’s suggestion he moved to Los Angeles intent on breaking into the movies.
Though he made some commercials and had a few bit parts, Stu eventually became disillusioned by the film industry, which he later described as “seedy.” Looking beyond the comedy club and bar jobs that had paid the bills, he took a position with the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, where he rose to become manager, a position he held for seven years. Riding his motorcycle home from the museum one evening, he was struck by a car, then run over by another. This close brush with death was a turning point in Stu’s life, prompting an exploration of religious faith that ultimately led to his baptism as a Roman Catholic so that he could marry the beautiful young lady he loved. God had other plans!
Stu felt a call to the priesthood as he was baptized, and in order to determine if it was genuine, he left the museum in 1998 to teach for three years at a Catholic school in Mission Hills, California. He went on to serve with the Capuchin Friars in New York City, working in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The friars sent him to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, to study philosophy. After earning his master’s there, he was steered towards pastoral service, receiving his priestly formation for the Diocese of Helena at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Thomas on Dec. 14, 2007, at the Cathedral of St. Helena, along with his good friend Father Bart Tolleson.
While a seminarian at Mount Angel, Stu underwent surgery to remove a tumor discovered on his hip, after which the strength began ebbing from his once powerful body. He was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, an extremely rare autoimmune disease that mimics the symptoms of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and for which there is no cure. By the time of his ordination, Father Stu was walking with the aid of crutches. His first assignment was to Little Flower Parish in Browning. After two falls, he was sent to Anaconda where his physical challenges could be better accommodated. Father Stu found his great love serving as a priest, administering the sacraments and counseling his flock. Though only in Anaconda a short time, he left an indelible mark in the hearts of the Catholic community there.
In 2010, the diocese brought him home to Helena, where Father Stu took up a new life and ministry at Big Sky Care Center. Now using a power chair, and with the tireless assistance of his dad, Bill Long, Father Stu spread his love throughout Helena’s parishes. He celebrated Mass regularly at St. Mary’s and Big Sky Care Center, as well as traveling wherever asked to perform the duties of his calling.
Father Stu was a member of the Knights of Columbus and received much support from his brother knights. He loved the Cursillo movement and participated in their activities at every opportunity. He brought a servant’s heart to each and every minute of his ministry, his love increasing in power as physical strength declined. Father Stu became a beloved priest, confessor and friend to countless people. He taught by example, willingly accepting the pain and weakness each day brought; Stu said it was the best thing that ever happened to him, because it allowed him to shed the pride he had felt for most of his life. Father Stu will be missed, but his legacy of love and selflessness lives on in the hearts and minds of all he served.
Father Stu was preceded in death by grandparents Doris and Ace Kindrick and Bill and Cecilia Long; brother Stephen Long; uncle Thom Kindrick; and other family members.
He is survived by his parents, Bill and Kathleen Long; siblings Jennifer, Scott (Kathy) and Amy (Tom); and many aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins; along with countless brothers and sisters in Christ.
The family wishes to thank Dr. Carolyn Coyle and her team of medical professionals who helped Father Stu with his physical challenges as much as was possible. Special thanks are due to the wonderful staff at Big Sky Care Center, who loved Father Stu and were loved by him.
A viewing will be held today, June 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home. A vigil service is set for 7 p.m. today, June 11, at the Cathedral of St. Helena. A funeral Mass is scheduled for noon Thursday, June 12, at the Cathedral of St. Helena, with a reception to follow the Mass in the Brondel Center of the cathedral. Burial will be held at Resurrection Cemetery after the reception. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer condolences to the family or to share memory of Father Stu.