On Sept. 16, people from all over the world will gather at St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring for a 5 p.m. Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. The Mass, hosted by World Villages for Children and the Sisters of Mary, will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz’s death, the 60th anniversary of his ordination, and what would have been his 87th birthday.
Venerable Schwartz, or “Father Al,” grew up in the Archdiocese of Washington, attending Holy Name parish in Washington, before going on to become a missionary priest. He travelled across the world to found what would become a network of Villages for Children, called Girlstowns and Boystowns, which provide Catholic educational and job-training programs to break the cycle of poverty in impoverished areas. After a lifetime of serving the poor, Father Al died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on March 16, 1992.
Today, Venerable Schwartz’s outreach continues in 14 different villages in the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, and Honduras, which serve the poorest of the poor. Father Al also founded the Sisters of Mary, who today operate the schools, which now have more than 150,000 graduates. Their students are given assistance finding work placements in companies and encouraged to improve the lives of their families.
One graduate, named Regie, was able to pay for his mother’s cancer treatment and for his six siblings to attend college in the Philippines. He now teaches in Anne Arundel County. Other graduates have worked for Samsung, joined the Sisters of Mary, became mayors, or launched a musical career. One graduate was a goalkeeper for South Korea in the World Cup.
While attending the schools, the students receive academic education, as well as training on things like basic hygiene, since many of the students had never used a toilet or a toothbrush before. They also have the opportunity to train in things like auto mechanics or computer science, and to play sports.
“They are given the chance to be a child again,” which they did not have the luxury of before, said Maryline O’Shea, the chief operating officer of World Villages for Children, the non-profit organization that raises funds for the schools.
At a June 16 meeting, Father Al’s brother, Lou Schwartz, told supporters of the Girlstown and Boystown programs, “you are a part of history. Third world countries are changing one by one.”
The reason why the schools are so special, Schwartz continued, was that in addition to giving the children an education, Father Al “brought God, he brought Jesus, he brought the Spirit, and he brought love into these children’s lives and he transformed them.”
“I think that is the hidden miracle,” he said. “These children are being changed in their soul…You’re doing more than taking children out of poverty.”
Sister Margie Cheong, a Sister of Mary who attended the meeting, said her goal for the children that the sisters serve is that they will “feel the love of God individually.”
In 2015, Pope Francis signed a decree declaring Father Al to be venerable, which means he lived a life of “heroic virtue.” In order to be declared as a saint, Venerable Schwartz must next be recognized as “Blessed,” which requires one miracle that is achieved through his intercession, and a second recognized miracle is required for him to be canonized as a saint.
While there have been people who have reported miracles in poor communities, they did not have the resources to give proof, said O’Shea. But friends and family of Father Al continue to hope for his canonization, and Sister Margie said the Sept. 16 event aims to bring together graduates, sisters, family, and friends to say to Father Al, “we are your miracles.”
Reproduced with permission. Original article on the Catholic Standard website.