I imagine a sadness that magazine writers, biographers, and authors have each shared is the discarding of veritable gold gathered from interviews. Often, because anecdotes, quotes, or stories don’t match up with written narratives, the profound stories shared by those interviewed, sadly, never end up seeing the light of day.
Much of my past year has been spent researching and interviewing individuals for a book I am writing on the life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz, the founder of the Sisters of Mary and World Villages for Children. As I find myself inching closer to the conclusion of the manuscript, the following excerpts are memories that will likely go unused in my writing. They are selections, though, I didn’t want to escape the attention of those who have come to love Fr. Al and his mission to serve the poor.
Some of Fr. Al’s examples of paternal love, prayerful example, instruction, and fatherly advice for the Sisters of Mary are shared below. Of note is Sr. Agatha Baek’s story, who saw Fr. Al lingering outside her classroom at Boystown in Seoul, Korea – after he had already died.
The apparition – Sr. Agatha Baek, Sister of Mary
“Twenty-six years ago, on April 2, 1992, Fr. Al passed away. It was when the dreadful winter had just passed, and the sun peeked through the window as the fresh spring breeze tickled our backs. One Sunday, I was busy with helping the [first-grade boys of the Aloysius Elementary School] finish their homework. By 10:30 a.m. we had almost finished the morning study session and the kids were ready to have a break.
In the middle of going through the kids’ homework, I unintentionally looked at the front door.
I saw Fr. Al standing by the door with his gentle smile and two hands in his black, shabby suit pockets. He made his usual classroom round and smiled at the kids.
I was sure that I closed the front door before the morning study session began. Regardless, I welcomed him and ran toward the front door to invite him into the classroom. Fr. Al, though, turned his back and walked away. Everything happened so quickly, and he was already at a distance as I desperately looked for him.
I said to myself that he really come to my classroom, but I couldn’t escape the fact that he had already passed away. Then, I remembered what Fr. Al told us: ‘Remember that St. Theresa of Lisieux promised to bring us a flower after she died. I might leave you for now, but I will come back again every day in your life to support you so that you can continue to follow this mission.’
My heart began to pound, and I burst into tears when I realized that Fr. Al had kept his promise.”
Prayerful posture – Sr. Marie-Stella Kim, SOM
“In the early ‘80s, I was assigned to work at the Doty Memorial Hospital [in Soeul]. At that time, Fr. Al traveled between Seoul and Pusan, serving Saturday vigil mass in Pusan and Sunday mass in Seoul. In the afternoon of each Sunday, he visited the Seoul community, including all the children’s houses. He would then come to the hospital around 5 p.m. When he completed his round, he prayed on the 4th floor where I could watch him praying.
Every time he prayed, he knelt between the Mother Mary statue and the altar without any movement for about an hour. After that, he calmly left the hospital. Witnessing Fr. Al at such fervent prayer was the best way for me to learn how to pray. It was simply better than trying to adapt to any other type of praying method. Fr. Al’s prayerful posture directly touched me.
Fr. Al always told us, ‘Through the Bible, Jesus asks us to pray continually, and not to give up.’ We Sisters understood his quote to ‘pray continually’ as ‘to pray at least three hours every day.’ Fr. Al taught us that praying continually empowered us and helped us to never give up or be defeated. We would never be tired of serving others. Instead, we would be refreshed and always be full of energy to move forward, ultimately, to get to God’s house.”
Sacrifice to the End – Sr. Gertrude Noh, SOM
“In the late 1980s, the disciplines and roles of the Sisters of Mary had been expanded and we became responsible for many more additional tasks. Due to the busy schedule, some of the Sisters forgot to take care of things that were assigned to them. When Fr. Al heard that we forgot to do the assigned work, he was disappointed and told us, “With love, forgetting never happens.”
Fr. Al used to say, ‘People who are filled with love are not troubled by a heavy task, but are willing to sacrifice themselves.’ When he realized that he didn’t have much time to live because of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he told us, ‘If I may say one word to all Sisters, I would like to engrave ‘sacrifice’ into everyone’s heart.’ Jesus sacrificed his life for us, and Fr. Al followed Jesus and sacrificed his life for the poor.
The convent of Sisters of Mary was established based on two disciplines: outer action and inner prayer life. Early on, we were asked to do excessive labor to take care of so many orphans. We took turns to visit the poor, clinics, relief hospital and relief station patients, mentally retarded children … there were so few of us to take care of all those activities. Fr. Al understood our situation and always tried to make sure we could have retreats, time for meditation, and conferences as much as he could. Fr. Al always helped us get God’s water of life to treat our spiritual dryness.”
Persist! – Sr. Cecelia Ahn, SOM
“Every day, Fr. Al talks to me: ‘Sister, don’t give up! There is still an unfinished road – and we must get to the finish line! Let’s move on!’”