St. Francis of Assisi often reminded his friars that if God could work through me, He could work through anyone.

This is a bit unfair. Francis is, after all, Francis. They called him, the Alter Christus or the "Other Christ." God wouldn't have to work too hard to work through Francis.

However, Bartolo Longo was a true challenge.

He certainly didn't make it easy for the Holy Spirit.

After all, Bartolo Longo was a satanic priest.

It's the same old story: Catholic kid grows up in religious family, goes away to university, falls in with a bunch of drug-fueled Satanic pagans, becomes a Satanic high priest, comes to his senses and realizes he's made the stupidest mistake world history and ultimately reverts back to the Church.

It's the basic Satanic-rags-to-saintly-riches story.

The stories about Bl. Bartolo Longo are truly legendary. Some of the details aren’t acceptable for mixed company and even some of the battle-hardened Marines I know have blanched in horror at the tales.

But, just in case curiosity has grabbed a hold of you…

Bartolo Longo was born in the small town of Latiano, near Brindisi, in southern Italy on February 10, 1841. His parents, Dr. Bartolomeo Longo and Antonina Luparelli, were wealthy and exceptionally devout Catholics who prayed the Rosary together daily.

Longo became alienated from the Church when his mother died in 1851. Being far from his family when he left to study law at the University of Naples, he drifted further away. The final coup de grâce occurred when he fell in with a paganic group which "ordained" him as a Satanist priest.

He participated in séances, fortunetelling and orgies. He fooled himself into thinking he could do "real" magic and that just set him up for a greater fall than the First One. He felt motivated to publicly ridicule Christianity at every turn and did everything within his power to subvert Catholic influence in society and culture. He even convinced many other Catholics to leave the Church and participate in occult rites.

But the more he experimented with dark forces, the deeper he sank into depression and demonic obsession. Joy, like God, were far from him. In their stead, his life was marked with extreme depression, paranoia, hatred, confusion and nervousness. He was horribly afflicted by dark diabolical visions which frightened him and threw him into a cycle of ever declining health. He ultimately experienced a mental breakdown.

In his darkest moments, he heard his deceased father begging him to: "Return to God! Return to God!" greatly moved by this vision, Longo turned to his old friend Professor Vincenzo Pepe. Vincenzo convinced Longo to abandon Satan and introduced him to Fr. Alberto Radente, a Dominican priest. He heard Longo's confession and brought him back to God and His Church.

One evening, as he walked near chapel at Pompeii, Longo had a profound mystical experience about which he wrote later:

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.’

Longo was so moved, he attended a séance and in the middle of it, stood up raising a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mother and yelled, "I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood."

On March 25, 1871, Longo became a Third Order Dominican and took the name Br. Rosario in honor of the Rosary. He joined a charitable group in Pompeii and worked with Countess Mariana di Fusco, a wealthy local widow who he married a year later at Pope Leo XIII's recommendation.

The devout couple started a confraternity of the Rosary and searched for a painting of the Blessed Virgin to serve as a spiritual focus for the group. Sister Maria Concetta de Litala of the Monastery of the Rosary at Porta Medina gave one which she found at a Neapolitan junk shop. And, as they say, good things don't come cheap and cheap things don't come good.

The painting portrayed Our Lady of the Rosary with Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine of Siena, but only barely. It was poorly executed and in miserable condition but he viewed it as a divine gift. He later described it in his journal:

Not only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a coarse, rough country-woman ... a piece of canvas was missing just above her head ... her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St. Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady's left was a St. Rose. This I had changed later into a St. Catherine of Siena ... I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept ... I took it.

He repaired it and had a more competent artist touch it up and had it installed at a ramshackle church which he also repaired in October, 1873. Miracles were reported within hours of its installation. Seeing the devotion of the pilgrims, the bishop of Nola encouraged Bartolo to construct a larger church. The born-again Catholic approached architect Giovanni Rispoli to build saying:

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.

Construction began on May 8, 1876. Cardinal La Valetta consecrated the church in May, 1891. In 1906, Bartolo and his wife donated the Pompeii shrine to the Holy See. Bartolo continued to promote the Rosary until his death on October 5, 1926, at the age of 75. He tirelessly evangelized young people at parties and in local cafes, explaining the dangers of occultism to them.

In 1939, the church Bartolo and his wife built was enlarged and reconsecrated as a basilica. It was officially renamed the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii. It soon became a focus of pilgrimages for more than a century.

Apparently, most Catholics and non-Catholics found the church built by an ex-Satanist to be devilishly irresistible.

When Bartolo died, the call for his canonization was immediate. Pope St. John Paul II beatified him on October 26, 1980 calling him the "Apostle of the Rosary." More than 30,000 people attended the ceremony.

Every school student in Christendom knows what happened to the city of Pompeii on August 24, AD 79 — most people don't realize that the "new" Pompeii rose from the destroyed city's ashes 1,796 years later because of Our Lady of the Rosary and her devotee. In his "The History of the Shrine of Pompeii," Bartolo wrote:

Next to a land of dead appeared, quite suddenly, a land of resurrection and life: next to a shattered amphitheater soiled with blood, there is a living Temple of faith and love, a sacred Temple to the Virgin Mary; from a town buried in the filth of gentilism, arises a town full of life, drawing its origins from a new civilization brought by Christianity: The New Pompeii!... It is the new civilization that openly appears beside the old; the new art next to the old; Christianity full of life in juxtaposition to long surpassed paganism.

The newly constructed Basilica attracted new families, a railway station, postal and telegraph services, the police, roads, water, electricity, hotels, restaurants and shops. About three million pilgrims come to the Basilica every year thus bringing new life the long-dead city of Pompeii.

Thus, the resurrection and salvation of Pompeii is now eternally linked with the resurrection and salvation of Blessed Bartolo Longo―the once demonic prodigal son returned home to the embrace of Holy Mother Church.

The truly wonderful thing about Bartolo Longo becoming a saint in the very Church he had worked so hard to destroy is that if God could work through him, there's still hope for the rest of us … including myself. (It's really such devilish irony.)

In God, all things are possible.