Fr Stu a Catholic Movie for the Rest of Us

One of the great inspirations of my early priesthood was a jovial priest who was a maverick for his time. I met him when he was pastor of a large inner-city parish in Boston.

Fr. Jack’s style changed the lives and hearts of his parishioners. He was a powerful inspiration to them and so many others including seminarians such as myself. Later, he left Boston and served in Peru. There he contracted a rare and incurable form of tuberculosis. He returned to Boston to die. However, he had inspired many and among those whose lives he touched some went on to become doctors. They worked to find a cure for the disease that killed Fr. Jack so that through his inspiration many more would live.

I tell the story because Fr. Jack was not the pious type of priest who warned others that his hands were made for chalices and not for callouses. In fact, he told me that on his first day of seminary, many pious seminarians surrounded him. He found their attitude so stifling, he stood up and said “Doesn’t anyone here say the word ‘#$%^’ ”?

That may sound like a stark way to begin a column about a Catholic movie but it fits. If you find that story offensive you will be offended by the consistent use of the “f” word in the powerful movie Father Stu. However, if you have not suffered from the vapors, please read on.

I received an invitation to a preview showing of Father Stu in February. I have to admit, I was not in the mood for another story about some guy who becomes a priest and then saves the world. Fortunately, I knew nothing of the story of Stuart Long. There is little in the movie I was ready for or expected.

Stuart Long was a Montana boxer. Reaching the end of his boxing career, he decided to go out to California and become an actor. The son of a contemporary version of a prairie woman who divorced her dead-beat drunken husband. He frequented bars, found himself arrested for DUI and even for resisting arrest after punching a statue of the Sacred Heart. Following the atheism of his parents, he too had no religious connection or direction. He finds himself drawn to God by a woman he meets while he worked as a butcher in a local market. The Mexicana lived her devout Catholic life and she leads him to learn of her relationship with Jesus and His church as Stu receives baptism and becomes part of the Catholic parish.

A collision with a car while returning home from a local bar on his motorcycle changes his life completely. There while recuperating, he receives the inspiration to further pursue Catholicism into the Catholic priesthood.

We can often think of the priest who becomes the hero to the world and saves civilization but oftentimes God works through the strangest of circumstances and Stuart Long was no exception. In the midst of his seminary training, he falls victim to a genetic disorder that cripples him and leaves him unable to be ordained. It is there that the movie really drives home what Catholicism is supposed to be.

Our encounter with God leads us to be open to whatever he is going to do and often he surprises us beyond our imagination. Many people came to encounter Christ himself through Father Stu and only because of his history and his disability. It is a reminder to so many in the church that if you’re focused on rules and not on being channels of God’s grace you will never understand the way God really works.

Malcolm McDowell plays the seminary rector who needs to be the face of a seemingly heartless institutional church. His role at times is to deal with the practical matters of existing in the real world and tell this now suffering seminarian, whom he accepted reluctantly, that he cannot continue his studies because of his disease.

Mel Gibson plays the deadbeat father who comes to help his disabled son. The key here is not only the excellent way the actor brings this very fallible man to life, it is being aware of the actor’s own public fallibility that adds an even deeper dimension to this excellent portrayal.

Jackie Weaver plays his mother in a style right out of the prairie woman in the Louis L’Amour novels stepped out of the wild west and into the 1970s of Montana. She truly stands by her son throughout his whole life and has the raspy voice and worn face to show it.

Teresa Ruiz is his fiancé who has to accept Stuart’s decision to become the priest and not to be her husband. She brings to life the Mexican woman’s devotion that is deeply Catholic but not at all naïve in the ways of the world.

Mark Wahlberg who himself knows the life of being touched by God’s grace plays Stuart Long the determined man who goes from boxer to mop salesman to butcher to seminarian to priest and gives it all and lets God show you what he will do with it.

The movie has more f-bombs than a group of angry sailors at closing time in a bar on the Seattle waterfront but that is the point. These are real people the story portrays. They are the people true Catholics realize need to experience God’s grace long before they change their language. They are the people God truly wants to save. They are often forgotten by a Catholic media too busy learning the Pater Noster to teach about Our Lord’s love to those who need to hear it most.

This movie is not as much for the converted but for the rest. The people who long to know a God whose grace penetrates all the walls, obstacles and blockades put up by the uncatechized, those who know nothing of His grace also by those hurt by the Church through barriers her members install around her.

If you are looking for a Catholic movie that has no saccharine, that will speak more to the unconverted than the converted, that will really demonstrate a call to open to God’s grace no matter who you are then you may find that Father Stu speaks to you. The story is a powerful portrayal of the people that Jesus draws into his circle that is lost to so many Catholics today arguing about what language the Mass should be in and whether or not the Pope is actually Catholic.

The writer is the author of Encounter Christ in Your Humanity also available at

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Catholic writing designed to challenge Catholics and non-Catholics alike see also:

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RJ Carr

RJ Carr

writer, broadcaster, priest, veteran.

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