Today, 28 years after Fr. Al’s passing and four more countries later, World Villages for Children and the Sisters of Mary are rededicating its mission to the Virgin of the Poor and want to invite all those who would like to participate in a community of prayer to join the VOP society. To find out more information click here.

Also, to learn more about what continually drew Ven. Aloysius Schwartz to visit the remarkable 20th-century apparition site of the Virgin of the Poor, read Kevin’s blog below.

Fr. Al as a young priest.

Venerable Aloysius Schwartz spent much of his first few years at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium in misery. While studying to become a priest who would serve under the banner of an obscure order known as the Société des Auxiliaires des Mission (Samists), the Washington D.C. native battled a persistent stomach ailment, interminable head colds, and strife with Fr. Dieudonne Bourguignon, SAM’s Superior General.  

He was the Samists’ lone American seminarian and some of his French-speaking classmates regarded him as a flyboy who ditched the Maryknolls in Glen Ellen, Illinois because he considered the order too soft. No one thought he should flee the conventional missionary structure and warmth of Maryknoll life, where he began displaying intelligence, sanctity, and comfort in his own skin. At his American seminary, he was voted president of his class and served as editor for the school magazine. He’d distinguished himself as an athlete and a rare scholar – another in the long line of red-blooded American-born Maryknollers. 

When he stunned his formators and family, telling him he was leaving the Maryknollers to pursue a more austere missionary life in Belgium, almost everyone told him he was making a terrible mistake. But they could not talk him out of it.

He was certainly SAM’s odd man out, and he hated that he was regarded as an American cowboy chasing the glory of a Lone Ranger missionary life. He simply wanted to serve the poor through a life of abject poverty.

When Belgium’s skies got too bleak and the pressures of his studies mounted, he broke away from everyone and traveled east by train. He passed by Belgium’s small farming communities carved into Wallonia’s steep-sided valleys and headed in the direction of the Ardennes Mountains. To Al,  the rolling green cashmere blanket of mountains seemed to act as a fortress for a queen. 

A replica of the the chapel in Banneux, Belgium.

The train stopped at a backwater named Banneux. And as he stepped away from the tracks, it was if Nazareth from two thousand years ago spread out all around him. To Al, the hamlet seemed a replica of the unimportant town where Mary raised her Son. What good has ever come from Banneux?

In Banneux, Mary presented herself as the Virgin of the Poor to a poor 12-year-old girl named Mariette Beco, who claimed she saw the Mother of God on eight occasions, beginning at nightfall on January 15, 1933. 

It could be argued that the language of heaven Mary brought to Banneux was not truly intended for Mariette, but indirectly for the seminarian Aloysius Schwartz. Even Mariette later referred to herself as merely “a mail carrier.” 

It was Liege (Belgium) Bishop Louis-Joseph Kerkhofs who investigated, authenticated, and developed devotion to the Virgin of the Poor. Kerkhofs took it upon himself to set up the commission of theologians, doctors, and psychiatrists to interview Beco. Due to Kerkhofs, sixteen years later, on August 22, 1949, Pope Pius XII formally approved the authenticity of the apparitions.

Fr. Al used each of Mary’s eight apparitions as the raw material to build humble kingdoms for the poor in Korea, the Philippines, and Mexico. Everything Mary requested of Mariette was refashioned by the young missionary priest to tend to the lives of hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken children. What he ended up accomplishing is inconceivable.

A statue of the the Virgin on the Poor outside of Girlstown Tanzania.

“People say that St. Vincent de Paul was the great apostle of charity and that Fr. Al based his entire missionary life on de Paul’s life,” said Monsignor James Golasinski, who served alongside Fr. Al in Korea. “But I’ve told people that Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz accomplished more than de Paul. What he did was even more.”

Fr. Al brought Mary’s messages on the need for steadfast prayer, mortifications, joy in life’s trials, and total trust in God into his missionary life. 

Then he went out in search of a world of Mariette Beco’s.

“In a sense, Mary was the one who ordained me,” he used to tell nuns from the Sisters of Mary in talks. “This child, Mariette Beco, resembles in a remarkable way the type of child we are trying to help – very poor, deprived, lowly. This is the type of child we are looking for.”