Throwback Thursday: Our First “Venerable” Washingtonian

On this coming Saturday, September 16, the Church of Washington will celebrate a special Mass in commemoration of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz at Saint Andrew the Apostle Church in Silver Spring.  Please join us spiritually with your prayers thanking God for this holy pastor and also for the intention of our sisters and brothers in need to whom he dedicated his life.

In March 2015, Pope Francis signed a decree that Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz, a native son of Washington who became a missionary priest, had lived a life of “heroic virtue,” meaning that he has been declared as “Venerable,” becoming the first Washingtonian to achieve that title. The priest’s cause for canonization has been promoted by the Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippines because, in addition to serving there for many years, that is where he died and is buried.

The fact that one of our own who became a priest has been declared as “Venerable” is a great joy and inspiration.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz was born on September 18, 1930, to devout Catholic parents who had eight children. He attended Holy Name Church in Washington, where he was baptized, received his First Holy Communion, was confirmed, and graduated from Holy Name School. From the time he was a boy, he dreamed of being a missionary priest and serving the poor.

That heartfelt desire was confirmed years later when, as a seminarian, he visited the shrine of the Virgin of the Poor in Banneux, Belgium, and he was inspired to dedicate his priesthood to the Virgin of the Poor and to serving the poor with Mary’s tender love.

Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1957 at Saint Martin of Tours Church in Washington, Father Schwartz went to the Diocese of Busan in South Korea, where there was extensive poverty and misery because of the recent war.

Many of the people Venerable Aloysius served in Korea lived in shacks, and so for many years he also lived in what he described as a hovel, with a tarpaper roof and mud walls.  “One’s surroundings definitely conditions one’s thinking,” he explained.  “By living more or less poor, I discovered it was easier to think poor, to feel poor, and to stay on the same wave length as the poor.”

It was with Gospel zeal that “Father Al,” as he was affectionately known, then founded the Sisters of Mary and established programs that would provide care, education and hope for a brighter future to children who were orphaned, abandoned or otherwise impoverished. Later, he also founded the Brothers of Christ, who serve the poor and people with disabilities in South Korea.

Venerable Aloysius’ legacy lives on today in Boystown and Girlstown programs that the Sisters of Mary operate in South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras, where they are educating more than 20,000 poor children. The sisters’ motto remains, “Let us serve the Lord with joy,” and that joy permeates their work. Over the years, more than 100,000 children have graduated from those programs and gone on to a variety of successful careers after having once been street children.

In To Live Is Christ, his book of spirituality for the Sisters of Mary, Monsignor Schwartz wrote that “Christ not only gives the poor priority. He identifies with the poor and becomes one of them. Henceforth, whatever you do to the poor, you do to Christ. Whatever you give to the poor, you give to Christ.”

The priest noted that Christ calls all his disciples to follow the way of the cross. Monsignor Schwartz bore his own cross – terminal amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) – with joy, faith and perseverance, even helping to supervise the planning of a school for girls in Mexico when he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Venerable Aloysius died in Manila on March 16, 1992. 

Pope Francis often tells us to go out, meet people where they are – especially the poor and those on the margins of society – and accompany them.  He urges us to walk with them and to help them, and ourselves, grow closer to Jesus. That is just what Venerable Aloysius Schwartz did. Like him, we can be missionary disciples of Jesus in today’s world, sharing his Good News by what we say and do.