Beatified in bronze

OPer to sculpt would-be saint

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At first glance, the story of Bartolo Longo and his connection to Our Lady of Pompeii Shrine, 1224 W. Lexington, smacks of bad fiction. Longo, a 19th century Italian lawyer and onetime Satanic priest who's up for sainthood, will be memorialized next year with a life-sized bronze statue that will sit in a courtyard just outside the shrine.

But for sculptor Margot McMahon, who has been commissioned to sculpt the statue, the Bartolo Longo story is a fitting synthesis of an art career that has often combined her Catholic faith and her interest in capturing her subjects hard at work.

McMahon, an Oak Park resident, says she's been sculpting for nearly as long as she can remember, and when she graduated from college in 1979, she had to choose between medical school, law school or art school.

She ultimately received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1984.

Since then, McMahon has worked largely in and around Chicago, and her body of work stretches from Lincoln Park to the North Shore, with an emphasis on capturing people hard at work. In 1987, she completed McMahon also helped memorialize Monsignor John Egan?#34;the legendary Chicago priest and social activist who marched with Martin Luther King and wrote "An Alley in Chicago"?#34;with a statue outside DePaul's Lincoln Park campus.

With Bartolo Longo, McMahon is moving from her previous embrace of ordinary Chicagoans and their lives to a candidate for sainthood with a checkered past. According to, Bartolo Longo was raised by a devout Catholic family in Latiana, Italy, but fell into a "wave of anti-clericalism" while attending the University of Naples in the early 1860s.

Soon Longo was hanging out with occult-leaning friends, attending sťances, and eventually becoming a priest in a Satanic cult. Finally, a professor friend helped straighten young Bartolo out, directing him to a Dominican priest who helped Bartolo leave the cult. He moved to Pompeii in the 1870s, where he lived for much of the rest of his life and changed his ways.

Indeed, Longo's lawyerly life plays a significant role in his life story. According to McMahon, a client came to Bartolo and said that he was ready to confess a murder he had committed, but agonized over what would happen to his children. Longo agreed to take them in, and later set up an orphanage for the children of prisoners. McMahon, whose husband, Dan Burke, is a Chicago attorney, was intrigued by the story.

"I liked the idea of a lawyer gaining sainthood," McMahon says.

But it wasn't Longo's prowess as a lawyer that led to the statue. In his spare time, Longo was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which loosely dates back to the capture of the city from Muslim forces by members of the First Crusade in 1099. These days, the order supports the continuing Christian presence in Jerusalem. In 1980, when Pope John Paul II bestowed beatification upon Longo?#34;the first step in becoming a saint?#34;he became the first member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre to be considered for sainthood.

Tom McCabe, a Lake Forest resident who is a lieutenant in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, became interested in memorializing Longo several years back because of his connection to the order.

McCabe met Rev. Richard Fragomeni of Our Lady of Pompeii Shrine a year ago, when the Holy Sepulchre lay order helped transport relics of Longo's from Pompeii, Italy to Our Lady of Pompeii Shrine in Chicago.

Around the same time, McCabe ran across tile pieces of the Stations of the Cross that McMahon created in St. Patrick's Church in Lake Forest. Soon, McCabe was dialing up McMahon for a potential collaboration.

McMahon has already sketched out a rough idea of what the sculpture will look like, using her husband, who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Longo, as a model. The statue will also include smaller likenesses of the orphans that Longo adopted, McMahon says.

McCabe says he will have no trouble scaring up the money to pay for the statue, as much as $100,000, and McMahon hopes to go to a bronze foundry next December after sculpting the piece for much of 2006.

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