One of the treasures of having researched the life of Fr. Al for the biography I’ve been working on is the discovery of the many saints who’ve helped to engineer him. He drew from a wide and colorful palette of personalities, nationalities, and charisms.
I found that each saint shared two traits in common; they were intensely hard workers. And they were devoted to the daily cultivation of their interior life.
These characteristics, of course, mark the story of Fr. Al.
If he was alive – Fr. Al would be 90 this month – and he was asked to rank his favorite saints in order, the following inventory of saints might do justice to his Top 10 list. That said, it is probable that my/his list is out of order and may even omit a favorite paragon or two, but after reading a voluminous amount of his writings, these were the saints he referred to most often – and with the most endearment.
Here are some of Fr. Al’s thoughts and interesting tidbits on his interior relationship with his favorite saints.
Fr. Al’s Top 10
Our Lady of Banneux: “ “[Mary of Banneux] brought me to Belgium where I discovered her. I never heard of Banneux before then. So my priesthood in a special way belongs to Our Lady of Banneux. My apostolate is hers and I would like to be buried at her feet and say that all praise, honor, and glory for anything good accomplished in my life goes to her and to her alone.”
St. Therese of Lisieux: “Therese and Jesus became one. Therese disappeared in the love of Jesus as a drop in the ocean of water. … she had a real attraction to the cross that could only be explained by the real presence of Jesus in her heart.”
“Because of her remarkable courage in the midst of every trial and suffering, she more closely resembles a mighty oak tree than a little flower.”
St. Paul: Fr. Al was captivated and driven by these particular words from Paul: “It is God who stirs up within us the will to do, and it is God who accomplishes the doing. … The power of Jesus can accomplish in us immeasurably more than we think or imagine.”
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque: “She saw Jesus remove her heart and plunge it into his own.” Fr. Al was deeply drawn to the manner in which St. Margaret Mary knelt as physically close to the tabernacle as she could.
St. Vincent De Paul: Fr. Al modeled his Boystown and Girlstowns communities after De Paul’s “family-style” approach and maternal work of the Sisters. It can be argued that no one but De Paul has done more voluminous work for the poor in the history of the Church than Fr. Al and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
St. John Bosco: He loved poor and overlooked kids as much as Bosco. Interestingly, he often made Bosco’s Feast Day of Jan. 31 the target date for completed projects. When the cornerstone had been laid for another seven-story Boystown or Girlstown, he often asked the contractor to finish the project by Jan. 31. Bosco is perhaps the only saint in history who spent as much time helping, educating, and catechizing children as Fr. Al.
St. Patrick: Fr. Al loved that the Irish saint spent so long in isolation on a mountain before evangelizing an entire country. He knew Patrick had encountered the Holy Spirit in an intense manner through prayer, penance, and contemplation.
St. Thomas More: Fr Al wrote: “The poor martyred saint in our imagination is comfortably seated in front of a roaring fire, reading the latest writings of Erasmus with a glass of brandy nearby. The little known
fact is, however, that More lived a life of great austerity, wore a hairshirt, and was more familiar with Sacred Scripture than the secular writings of the day.”
St. Francis of Assisi: Fr. Al frequently spoke of how he was deeply moved by Francis’s radical decision to abandon a comfortable lifestyle for the sake of serving Christ through care for the poor. He often spoke of the need for individuals to launch out and surrender all to serve, like the great saint of Assisi.
St. John of the Cross: Fr. Al said: “He was one of the greatest lyric poets in the history of Spanish literature.” He may have been drawn to John of the Cross’s mysticism and interior prayer life as any other saint.
Honorable mentions: St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Dominic, St. John Vianney,
St. Charles de Foucauld, and St. Peter.