Blessed Bartolo Longo was born on February 11, 1841, in southern Italy. His father was a wealthy doctor. His mother had a deep Marian devotion.
A brilliant and rowdy student, he wanted to become a lawyer and began studying law at the age of 16.
At that time, the faculty of the University of Naples was anticlerical and positivist. Under this influence, Bartolo Longo moved away from the sacraments and prayer but the question of the divinity of Christ never stopped to torment him.
One day a confidant invited him to a spiritualism seance. On May 29, 1864, during a seance, Bartolo interrogated "the spirit":
"Is Jesus Christ God?"
"Yes," said the medium.
"Are the precepts of the Decalogue true?"
"Yes, except the sixth" (You shall not commit adultery).
"Which of the two religions is the true one: Catholic or Protestant?"
"Both are false," the medium replied.
Bartolo became a fervent follower of spiritualism. He later wrote:
"The evil spirit who helped me, wanted to seize my soul trained in piety since my early years and ask me for adoration and blind obedience. He pretended to be the Archangel Michael, imposing on me the recitation of the psalms and strict fasts. He claimed that his name, as a sign of power and protection, should be written at the head of all my papers and that I should wear it on my heart, inscribed in red figures in a triangle of parchment."
Physically exhausted by his spiritualist practices, Bartolo Longo’s mind was more and more lost in confusion.
It was then that he met a pious and respected childhood friend. When the friend learned about these practices, he advised Bartolo to repent and confess.
"So you want to die in a madhouse and, on top of that, be damned?"
He encouraged him to meet a holy priest, named Father Radente.
The night that followed these recommendations, Bartolo saw his mother in a dream. She passed by his bed, gently begging him to return to Christ. The next day, with deep emotion, Bartolo went to a church dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary to meet Father Radente, who found the right words to say. The confession was sincere and profound.
Afterwards, Bartolo affirmed to those who do not believe in the action of the demon in spiritualism: "I experienced it, and it was by a miracle of the Virgin Mary that I was delivered.”
He started a new life, in the service of the Virgin Mary. He began to recite the Rosary every day, a prayer to which he remained faithful until the end of his life. Bartolo entered the Third Order Dominican (he was not a religious but adopted the Dominican spirituality while remaining a lay-person living in the world), under the name "fratel Rosario" (Brother Rosary). He was now 31 years old. Under the direction of Father Radente, he began to study the works of St Thomas Aquinas.
During this time, he kept up his practice as a lawyer.
But because of his deteriorating health he was no longer able to work regular hours. His friends were worried about him. The Countess Marianna de Fusco, who was a widow, invited him to come and reside at her home to tutor her children. Since she owned lands near Naples, next to the ruins of the old Pompeii, that she couldn’t administer herself, "Fratel Rosario" offered to manage them for her.
He then noticed the terrible spiritual and material misery of that region. What could he do to address so many needs?
He started by founding a brotherhood of the Most Holy Rosary. He traveled the countryside, visiting farms to teach the people to pray, distributing medals and rosaries. Gradually, religious practice returned.
Then, on the advice of the bishop, he built a church, which he had consecrated to Mary.
Above the main altar he installed a painting of the Virgin. Very soon, the image was known for raining down showers of miracles. Leo XIII would say: "God used this image to grant innumerable graces that moved the universe."
With the influx of pilgrims to the new shrine, grateful ex-votos and alms flowed back to the church.
Next, Bartolo founded an orphanage for orphans and children of inmates, providing them with an education, a trade and religious instruction. Three years after this foundation, he wrote a letter to the criminologists of the time, who all believed that the children of criminals were doomed to become criminals:
"What about you, what did you do when you took Christ out of our schools? You produced enemies of the social order, subversives. On the contrary, what have we gained by putting Christ in the schools of the children of prisoners? We have transformed into honest and virtuous young people those wretches whom you wanted to abandon to their sad misery or throw into a madhouse!"
However, Bartolo's work alongside the Countess of Fusco gave rise to a campaign of criticism. They consulted Leo XIII, who answered: "Get married, and no one will have anything to say.” So, on April 19, 1885, Dr. Barto Longo married the Countess of Fusco. These nuptials remained virginal, like those of Mary and Joseph, which will did not prevent both spouses from loving each other deeply in God.
Thanks to them, the mission at Pompeii continued to expand. Soon thirty or so houses were built around the church, followed by a hospital, a printing press, a train station, an observatory, a post office, etc. The former poverty gradually gave place to the prosperity of employed residents.
The person who had once initiated Bartolo into spiritualism was forced to admit: "We can only say that it’s a miracle!"
Excerpt from: Dom Antoine Marie osb, Abbot, Bartolo Longo