New biography examines life and ministry of ‘American superhero’ Venerable Aloysius Schwartz – Catholic Standard


November is the month when the Catholic Church asks the faithful to know and honor these saints, well known and less known, who have lived holy lives and whose virtues we can imitate. It is also the perfect time to know and honor those who could be future saints whose causes for canonization are underway.

One possible future saint is Father Aloysius Schwartz, a missionary priest born in Washington, DC who began his ministry serving needy street children in South Korea after the Korean War and who continued to establish homes and villages. for the poor in many countries. If his cause for canonization was successful, he would become Washington’s first declared saint.

He is the subject of a new biography – “Priest and Beggar”, captioned “The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz” – written by local author Kevin Wells.

“I’m from the Washington, DC area, and over the years I’ve heard of this high priest missionary from DC, but I didn’t know much about him,” Wells said. “But after I understood his holiness, I became fascinated with his life. What he accomplished struck me as astonishing.

Written in an almost conversational style, Wells’ biography of Father Al (as he was known to those he loved and served) is an interesting, at times thrilling, and always fascinating and inspiring look at a great humanitarian of this generation.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, a missionary priest from Washington who founded the Boystown and Girlstown programs for poor children in several countries of the world, died in 1992, and his cause for holiness is ongoing. He is the subject of a new biography, “Priest and Beggar” by Catholic author Kevin Wells. (CNS photo / courtesy Asian Relief)

Aloysius Schwartz was born in 1930 and raised in Holy Name Parish in northeast Washington, where he was baptized and received his First Communion and where he served as church choir and attended school parish church. He was ordained in 1957 in Saint-Martin parish in Tours in the district by Auxiliary Bishop of Washington John McNamara.

Shortly after his ordination, he ventured to war-torn South Korea to serve as a missionary.

From the moment he arrived there, he encountered streets filled with orphans, widows, lepers, poor devastators, homeless people. It was then that he decided to devote his life and his ministry to the service of the poorest of the poor.

In this 1976 photo, Father Aloysius Schwartz stands with orphaned boys outside their future seven-story home in Boystown in Busan, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Villages du Monde pour les Enfants)

“One of the most bewildering paradoxes of Christianity is that in order to fully realize one’s capacity as a child of God, one must freely and joyfully surrender all that he is and has in an inner act of surrender,” wrote the Father Al in his diary. “Total self-denial is the only door that leads to self-fulfillment.”

The priest founded a network of Girlstown and Boystown villages providing poor and homeless children with housing, education, vocational training, religious training and services. Along the way he founded the Religious Congregation of the Sisters of Mary and later the Brothers of Christ to help serve the poorest of the poor.

“Father Al wanted to take Christ to places in ruins, where the poorest of the poor were dying by the wayside, which was never easy or pleasant,” Wells said. “He wanted to be the guy who cleans the wounds of lepers with a smile and a kind word. In 1957, he felt strongly that Our Blessed Mother wanted him to settle down among the most humiliated and abandoned. He wanted to bring the forgotten orphan to places of love.

Father Al was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1989. Despite his debilitating illness, he was tireless in the service of others until his death in 1992. In 2013, his cause for canonization was opened, and in 2015, Pope Francis recognized Father Al’s heroic virtue, conferring on him the title of “Venerable”, the first step towards canonization.

To date, the evangelism established by Father Al has helped more than 150,000 people in the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Honduras.

In an undated photo, Venerable Father Aloysius Schwartz is pictured with Bishop John Choi of Busan, South Korea, and children from the Amidong slum. (Photo courtesy of Villages du Monde pour les Enfants)

Father Al was “not just a social justice worker. He prayed three hours a day, was deeply Eucharistic, and mortified his senses with penance, ”said Wells. “Hundreds of thousands of bodies and souls have been saved because he cut off all comfort. A priest is ordained to save souls. Father Al died to himself every day of his priesthood and saved generations of souls.

It was by serving the less fortunate – and living with them and suffering with them and sharing misfortune with them – that Father Al lived his conviction “to become one. of them and one with them.”

Father Al had great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Virgin of the Poor. This is the name given to Notre-Dame de Banneux, who in a series of appearances in 1933 to a young girl in Belgium said: “I come to relieve suffering. The Catholic Church officially recognized the apparitions as authentic in 1949.

In a prayer to the Blessed Virgin of the Poor that he composed on New Year’s Eve 1958, Father Al praised Our Lady: “You gave me the gift of poverty and suffering and through these two pearls I am anchored in a Host.

“For a long time I have entrusted to you all that I have and all that I am. You have taken everything and I have nothing ”, wrote the holy priest in this prayer. “Thank you. I wanted poverty, and she kisses me fiercely.

Father Al “moved into a convict shack for five years. He was hungry for the austerities of the great fathers of the desert, hermits, monks and suffering saints. Like John the Baptist, he wanted to annihilate all comfort measures before he could share the gospel, ”Wells said. “Outside of the finger of God, what he did for the humbled and orphaned simply could not have happened. What he achieved was incomprehensible.

A young father Aloysius Schwartz is seen in this 1965 photo taken outside his rectory in poor Song-do, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Villages du Monde pour les Enfants)

The author also compared the venerable priest to the “great holy priests” of the Church – Saint John Vianney, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Damien of Molokai, Saint John Bosco and Saint Philip Neri – “because he felt his mission for the poor was only protected by Notre-Dame. From an early age, he wanted to experience the same poverty as Christ.

Wells said he wrote “Priest and Beggar” because “he (Father Al) was the most intense and hard-working priest I have ever met or read – and I wanted to know what made him tick “.

“He wanted to crucify his vocation to suffer with Christ on the cross. All he did was for the Virgin of the Poor. He had no comforts, even though he had managed to collect tens of millions of dollars in donations for the poor, ”he said. “Father Al was a radical; all saints, of course, are. He didn’t make sense to most of those who met him.

Wells makes it very clear that he loves his subject matter: “Father Al was an American superhero,” he said. “As a former sports journalist, I have always, in a sense, been paid to write about heroes. Writing about Father Al was like writing about a Sonny Liston… or a Ted Williams. “

“Priest and Beggar” is captivating, uplifting and fascinating. More than a simple biography of another saint (or future saint), “Priest and beggar” is written in such a way that it makes you want to read, eager to know more about the holiness of this high priest, then regret when the last page is reached.

“Her story is vital, especially for today,” Wells said. “His story is perhaps the most important for this reason: he made the decision to die to himself every day to save the poor. He knew Mary would work through him if he remained poor and hardworking.

(“Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz” is published by Ignatius Press)

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