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Washington priest on road to sainthood devoted to aiding poor children

Jan 27, 2015

By Mark Zimmermann / Catholic News Service — As a boy growing up in his native Washington, Aloysius Schwartz dreamed of becoming a missionary priest and serving the poor.

As a man, Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz did just that, founding an order of religious sisters, the Sisters of Mary who joined him in bringing an education, housing and job training to thousands of orphans and street children, and hospitals for the poor in South Korea and the Philippines, work that expanded to Mexico before he died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1992 at the age of 61.

He also founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities at centers in South Korea.

Msgr. Schwartz
Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz, who founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities at centers in South Korea, is shown in an undated photo with children at one of his outreach programs in South Korea. On Jan. 22, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Msgr. Schwartz lived a life of “heroic virtue” and declaring him “venerable,” making him the first native Washingtonian to achieve that title. (CNS photo/courtesy Asian Relief)

On Jan. 22, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Msgr. Schwartz lived a life of “heroic virtue,” meaning that he has been declared “venerable,” making him the first native Washingtonian to achieve that title. The priest’s cause for canonization has been promoted by the Archdiocese of Manila, Philippines, where the priest known as “Father Al” died and is buried.

“The news that Father Aloysius Schwartz, one of our own who became a priest, has been declared as ‘venerable’ is not only a great joy and inspiration, but it is a beautiful invitation to all young people to know God has something in store for every one of us,” Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said in an interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper.

“If we simply open our hearts and let God speak to us, wonderful things can happen,” he added.

Msgr. Schwartz’s legacy lives on the Boystown and Girlstown programs that the Sisters of Mary continue to operate in South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil and Guatemala, where they are serving 25,000 poor children. Over the years, those programs started by Msgr. Schwartz and continued by the Sisters of Mary have had 100,000 children graduate and go on to become priests, sisters, teachers, doctors, engineers and accountants, among many careers, after having once been orphans or street children.

In a 1987 interview with the Catholic Standard, Msgr. Schwartz said, “As the Spirit leads, I will follow.”

Five years later, as he was paralyzed from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. the priest supervised the building of a new outreach center for children in Chalco, Mexico, and he wrote two books about his work and the spirituality underlying it. Msgr. Schwartz told a freelance journalist just before his death that he wanted his epitaph to read simply, “He tried his best for Jesus.”

The son of Louis and Cedelia Schwartz, the future priest was born in 1930 and grew up in a strong Catholic family with six siblings. He was baptized, received his first Communion, first confession, and confirmation at Holy Name Church in Washington, where he also graduated from the parish school.

Father Michael Briese, now Holy Name’s pastor, noted that Msgr. Schwartz was also an altar server there.

“He lived a blessed life, a holy life, and now Father Al is remembered here at Holy Name Parish and throughout the whole church,” the pastor said, noting that the parish has a small display in the back of the church devoted to telling the story of Msgr. Schwartz’s life and legacy, and the parish bulletin there has a section each week encouraging people to pray for his cause of canonization.

In general, the verification of a miracle attributed to his intercession is required for beatification, and a second such miracle is required for canonization.

Currently, the cause of canonization for another native Washingtonian — Mary Virginia Merrick — the founder of the Christ Child Society who died in 1955, is currently underway. Cardinal Wuerl initiated her cause with a decree in 2011, and it is currently in the diocesan phase, with her extensive writings being reviewed.

Msgr. Schwartz was ordained as a archdiocesan priest in 1957 at St. Martin of Tours Church in Washington by Bishop John McNamara.

While studying as seminarian in Louvain, Belgium, Aloysius Schwartz served the poor in Paris during school breaks. A visit to the shrine of the Virgin of the Poor in Banneux, Belgium, inspired him to dedicate his future priesthood to the Virgin of the Poor and to serving the poor.

After his 1957 ordination, Father Aloysius Schwartz began serving as a diocesan priest in Busan, South Korea, where he was shocked by the condition of thousands of street children left orphaned and destitute following the Korean War. He founded the Sisters of Mary in 1964, and they joined him in establishing and operating Boystown and Girlstown programs for children in South Korea, work that later expanded to the other countries where the sisters continue to serve.

The priest was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and once for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he received the top humanitarian award bestowed in Asian countries, the Magsaysay Award in International Understanding. But he said in the Catholic Standard interview that his greatest honor came in serving “my kids.”

Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.