October 5 – Dionysius of Alexandria; Bartholomew Longo

Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 264) was the first pope to be called “the Great,” even before any of those guys in Rome. One day he met an old woman on the streets of Alexandria who was selling pages of a document. He looked at them and was fascinated. “Sell ’em to you for a dinar,” she said. “Here’s three,” Dio said. “Get me more and I’ll double it!” She soon brought him more pages but the book was still not complete. “Where can I find the whole thing?” he asked. (One wonders whose codex she was dismembering; but this isn’t her story.) She led him to the church, where he found the entirety of the book called “The Epistles of Paul” (some of our readers may have heard of it). He soon sought out Pope Demetrius, who catechized and baptized him.

Dionysius studied for a time under Origen, and when that was cut off, he became head of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Eventually he was made Patriarch (Pope) of Alexandria, and proved an able administrator and an outspoken opponent of heresy. When Emperor Decius started deciumating [sic] the Church, searchers were sent out with orders to kill Dionysius on sight. After a close call with some (perhaps nearsighted?) soldiers, the good bishop was able to escape to the Libyan desert. After the Decian persecutions ended, Dio argued for the forgiveness of those who had apostatized.

When a plague hit, he led the Christians of Alexandria in tending the sick and burying the dead, both Christians and pagans, judging that if they should fall sick while doing so, it would be counted to them as martyrdom. He also lent his ecclesial influence to back (Roman) Pope Cornelius against antipope Novatian. After another exile under Valerian, he returned to his throne and died at a ripe old age. He is numbered the fourteenth Pope of Alexandria.

Blessed* Bartholomew Longo (1841–1926) had everything going for him—riches, education, pious family (heck, they prayed the Rosary together nightly!). He excelled at (ready?): literature, oratory, fencing, dancing, music, the arts, flute and piano. He led a band, and got a JD. But a philosophy class taught by a defrocked priest proved his undoing. He lost his faith, becoming downright hostile, even. He marched in street protests against the pope, and got into spiritism, séances, and finally Satanism, rising to the rank of priest.

Did his family and friends give up on him? Did they? Bite your tongue. They continued to pray for him, and a tag team of a beloved professor and a Dominican friar talked him back to the faith, essentially deprogramming him. In time he became a Dominican tertiary*, and, by way of making amends for his earlier folly, preached against the occult in places where college students hung out (public houses, pinball arcades, In-and-Out Burgers). Seeing the needs of the poor, however, turned him to his real life’s work. Having taken the name “Rosario” upon his Dominicization, he founded the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary near Pompeii, where he served pilgrims, witnessed miracles, and like that. He went on to found a “City of Charity,” an orphanage, a trade school for sons of prisoners (who were thought beyond hope), and another for their daughters.

He was helped by a pious widow named Mariana, which of course led to gossip and scandal. To defuse same, they got married, albeit living as sister and brother. The scandalmongers weren’t satisfied, however, and went on to accuse Rosario of adultery, profiteering, embezzlement, and even insanity. (Nothing pis—um—angers scandalmongers so much as taking away their scandal.) The pope asked him for the keys, and he had to turn everything over to the Vatican. Nevertheless before his death he was made a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Sans Equus). He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.