The Washington, DC native brought hope to the poor around the world.
Aloysius Schwartz had a desire to become a priest from an early age. As time passed, his desire became more specific: He wanted to be a priest of the poor.
During high school he joined St. Charles Minor Seminary in Catonsville, Maryland, but after graduation felt an attraction to the Maryknoll Missionaries. He attended Maryknoll College to receive his bachelor’s degree, but then completed his theological studies in Belgium at Louvain University. He was ordained a diocesesan priest on June 29, 1957, at St. Martin’s Church, Washington, D.C.
It was during his time in Belgium that he became devoted to the “Virgin of the Poor,” also known as Our Lady of Banneux. The experience further convinced him that God was calling him to dedicate the rest of his life to care of the poor.
After ordination Father Al was sent to Korea. He saw the devastation of the Korean War and began immediately working with the poor, caring for the many orphans and abandoned children. Eventually Schwartz established Boys Towns and Girls Towns in South Korea and toured the US to raise funds for this new project.
To assist in his vision of helping the poor, Schwartz founded the Sisters of Mary in Busan, Korea, on August 15, 1964. Later on in 1981 he founded the Society of the Brothers of Christ to further boost his ministry to the forgotten of society.
His sister later recounted to the National Catholic Register, “He didn’t just want to help [the poor] — he wanted to give them the best that he could. They had enough suffering. … He said, ‘You want the best for your children; I want the best for my children.’ That’s the philosophy that he had.”
The secretary general of the Sisters of Mary further added how he told her, “When you pray, you only have to ask for two things: You should ask for the light to see the will of God, and you have to ask for the courage to be able to do the will of God.”
According to CNA, besides establishing homes for orphans, “He also worked in the building of sanatoriums and hospitals for the needy, hospices for the homeless and handicapped, as well as for mentally challenged youth and unwed mothers. He would often beg for funds in order to allow the poor to enter free of charge.”
Father Al’s work expanded to the Philippines where he introduced the Boys Town model in 1986.
His devotion to the poor didn’t stop when Schwartz was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1989. As his health deteriorated he was confined to a wheelchair and spent many hours in prayer each day, uniting his suffering to the suffering of the poor. Even through his weakened disposition, Schwartz was able to establish Boys Towns and Girls Towns in Mexico in 1991 before he died from ALS in 1992.
Father Al’s legacy lives on today. His Sisters of Mary number more than 300; they currently work in Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Honduras. His life and great love of the poor has inspired many and his dedication to giving the most vulnerable of society “his best” continues to this day. The cause for his canonization began in 2003 and in 2015 Pope Francis named Father Aloysius Schwartz “venerable.”
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