Six years ago, actor Mark Wahlberg was enjoying dinner with two priests when one of them told him a true story he couldn't get out of his mind.
It was about a young boxer who grew up in a troubled home and – after nearly dying in an accident – converted to Catholicism to become a priest. Wahlberg was determined to see the story be made into a movie, and this weekend, that film hits the big screen. Called Father Stu (R), it tells the true story of Father Stuart Long, who died in 2014.
Wahlberg, who is Catholic, stars in the lead role.
"I prayed for it – a lot – to be able to get it right and have the impact that we were hoping to have and that we're seeing," Wahlberg told Christian Headlines.
The film is the product of Wahlberg searching for projects that are "more meaningful" – projects he says are "ultimately more fulfilling.
He calls the film a "thank you, God" moment.
"I've always wanted to kind of use the success that I've had for good," Wahlberg said. "Even when I started my youth foundation, well over a decade ago, I wanted to inspire, encourage and give kids opportunities and an outlet to kind of live up to their full potential. But then, as things just continued to kind of work out, I was like: You know, I should be doing more in my primary business and making content that's not only entertaining and thought-provoking, but also impacts people in a very positive way, and then challenges them to do their bit."
The movie includes themes of triumph, tragedy and redemption, spotlighting Long's desire for a second chance in life. It also examines his parents' journey from being doubters of God to being people of faith.
The film shows Long searching for purpose in life but rejecting God all along the path. He changes his mind about faith following a motorcycle accident. He decides to enroll at seminary – a career change that shocks his friends and family.
Father Stu "couldn't be more needed and couldn't be more timely," Wahlberg said, referencing the film's uplifting message.
The movie, he said, encourages the audience not to give up on people.
"People deserve to be supported and loved no matter what," he said. "... What can they do to just help somebody – whatever little bit it is goes a long way. So how can people just kind of do their part and just do a little more [and] be a little bit better?"
Father Stu is rated R for language throughout.
Photo courtesy: ©Sony, used with permission.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.