Grand Officer, feast day 6 October. Bartolo was born in Latiano (Brindisi) on February the 10th, 1841. His parents were well-to-do, which would enable him to receive a fine education. As they were devout Catholics, most especially his mother, he and his siblings grew up with a deep love for Mary.
During his studies, he joined a sect and was ordained as a priest of Satan. He publicly ridiculed Christianity and did all in his power to subvert Catholic influence. A good friend, Vincent Pede, eventually showed Bartolo the gentleness of Christ and arranged for him to meet a saintly Dominican priest, Alberto Radente. The Dominican had a deep, personal devotion to Mary and fostered the devotion of the rosary.
When Bartolo Longo was baptized, he chose the second name, Maria, to be his baptismal name. He saw Mary as a ‘Refuge of Sinners’ and attributed his miraculous conversion to her. One evening, as he walked near the ruined rat- and lizard-infested chapel at Pompeii, he had a profound mystical experience. He wrote:
As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “If you seek salvation, promulgate the Rosary. This is Mary’s own promise.” These words illumined my soul. I went on my knees. “If it is true … I will not leave this valley until I have propagated your Rosary.”
Bartolo Maria persuaded people of the area to help him clean out the dilapidated church. Then he invited the people to join him one evening to pray the rosary. Bartolo then sponsored a festival on the Feast of the Holy Rosary in 1873. He invited the Redemptorist Fathers to hold a two-week mission. In preparation, he fully restored the little church. The mission, blessed by the bishop, was a successful revival. It was, in fact, the bishop who envisioned a large church and pilgrimage place in the future. Three hundred people of the area pledged a penny a month for Our Lady’s work. The cornerstone laying was held on May 8, 1876. Within the month, miraculous events began to take place at the shrine. Four healings were recorded. From that time on, especially between 1891 and 1894, hundreds of miracles have been officially recorded at the sanctuary. When the construction was completed in 1883, Bartolo appealed to the people:
In this place selected for its prodigies, we wish to leave to present and future generations a monument to the Queen of Victories that will be less unworthy of her greatness but more worthy of our faith and love.
In 1894, Bartolo and his wife, Countess Marianna Farnararo De Fusco, gave the new church to the papacy, in whose care the shrine has remained since. The image was crowned immediately after its enthronement on the inauguration day of the opening of the new shrine. In 1965, after the third restoration of the image, Pope Paul VI said the following during a homily: “Just as the image of the Virgin has been repaired and decorated, … so may the image of Mary that all Christians must have within themselves be restored, renovated, and enriched.” At the end of this solemn celebration, Pope Paul VI placed two new precious diadems on the heads of Jesus and Mary, crowns that had been offered by the people.
He founded the Daughters of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii, a religious women’s institute to care for the shrine and the educational houses attached to it. He also established the Dominican Tertiaries near the shrine. A special devotion known as the Supplication to the Queen of Victories was begun on October 1883 and is recited all over the world, especially on May 8 and on the first Sunday in October. The devotion includes a request thought to have been given by Our Lady to one of the children healed at Pompeii, “Whoever desires favors of me should make three novenas of petition and three of thanksgiving.” On October 21, 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Pompeii. The gathering was a national pilgrimage to Our Lady of Pompeii. On October 26, 1980, Bartolo Longo was beatified by John Paul II and called ‘the man of the Madonna’ and the ‘Apostle of the Rosary’.