“Oh! My Papa” is a documentary film about our beloved Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz’s charity and relief activities across Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and Honduras.
Today, throughout our world – from Central and South America to parts of Asia – children born into poverty are being given an opportunity to lead a better life.
…a life dedicated to helping children break free from the destructive cycle of poverty. Without Father Al’s untiring devotion to the poor, many impoverished youngsters would never have had an opportunity for a better future.
This faithful priest spent virtually his entire life bringing hope to the world’s underprivileged.
Born in Washington, DC, on September 18, 1930, Aloysius Schwartz heard his calling to serve the Lord at a very young age – entering the seminary when he was only 13, where he attended high school and college – later going to the University of Louvaine in Belgium, where he completed his theological studies.
Then – on June 29, 1957, at the age of 26 – he was ordained a priest. Inspired by frequent visits to the Shrine of the Virgin of the Poor while studying in Belgium, Father Al made the decision to devote himself to serving those in dire need.
Only a few years before Father Al’s ordination, an armistice ended the Korean War. But this horrible conflict left behind thousands of desperate widows, orphans, beggars, and street children.
The situation seemed hopeless, with nearly half of South Korea’s population being unemployed. This turned otherwise productive and honest people into rag sellers, beggars, and sometimes thieves.
Eager to help, Father Al arrived in that country on December 8, 1957, ready to begin his life-long work.
But shortly after his arrival – without warning – Father Al collapsed while saying Mass. Diagnosed with hepatitis, he was forced into returning to the United States to regain his strength.
Although his body was extremely weak during this time, his spirit was incredibly strong. And his commitment to serve the poorest of the poor went unchanged.
So – while recuperating over the next few years – Father Al went from parish to parish in the United States and Europe, making appeals at Sunday Mass for his life-saving mission work.
During this time, in early 1961, he established a fundraising organization known as Korean Relief – later changed to Asian Relief, and known today as World Villages for Children.
At the end of 1961 – having recovered from his long illness – Father Al returned to South Korea, where he was assigned as a parish priest. Leading a humble life, Father Al continued to express his unwavering faith in God by serving the poor.
But being a realist, he knew help was needed from others – and that he couldn’t do it alone. So in 1964, Father Al founded the Sisters of Mary – a religious order that today carries on his worldwide charitable programs.
One of the urgent problems of poor people was that they couldn’t afford to pay school tuition fees for their children. Therefore, Father Al purchased land, which was formerly a garbage dumping place, and built a little school for children of the poor families.
Today, Father Al’s vision is giving hope and education to over 22,000 children.
On October 25, 1970, the Sisters of Mary’s Mercy Hospital opened, because Father Al and the Sisters realized the urgent necessity of a general hospital while running three dispensaries in the slum areas. Father Al built the hospital so that the poor patients could be admitted for surgery and hospitalization.
Father Al – together with the Sisters of Mary – began to establish Boystown and Girlstown facilities for orphans, street children, and others from very poor families.
They also built hospitals and sanatoriums for indigent patients – as well as hospices for disabled elderly men who were homeless, retarded children, and unwed mothers. Here was an example of being a Good Samaritan in every facet of one’s life.HER AL:
“See the reality, the flesh and blood reality. And when you’re confronted with a child who’s sick and tubercular, who’s homeless, you can’t be indifferent. You have to help this individual on a one-to-one, on a person-to-person basis.”
In the early 1980’s, Father Al founded another religious order – the Brothers of Christ. And later, in 1985 – working with the Sisters and Brothers – he began to extend his charitable programs to the Philippines, at the invitation of local church and government officials.
By the late 1980s, however, Father Al’s health began to fail once again. But this time it would be fatal. In a message delivered in late 1991 to those who supported him, Father Al explained his terminal condition.
“The disease with which I am currently afflicted is called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – ALS – or, more popularly, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” So you see, it is a terminal illness. The time span from diagnosis to death is usually three years. I am now well into my third year. Although the disease of its nature is very unpredictable, it is possible – even probable – that I am now in my final year.”
To Father Al, this incurable illness was a gift from God – a gift he would bear with serenity, joy and tremendous courage.
Understanding that his physical life would soon be at an end – and realizing that children elsewhere in the world desperately needed his help – Father Al made the decision to expand his caring work to Central America.
So in that region of the world – just as he was doing in South Korea and the Philippines – Father Al began to help needy children living in dire circumstances.
In 1990 – on his behalf – the Sisters of Mary began building a Boystown-Girlstown complex just outside of Mexico City. And following Father Al’s plan, they’ve now expanded World Villages for Children programs into Guatemala, Brazil and Honduras.
Through the generosity of kind people around the world, Father Al was able to offer a new life to children of poverty, giving them food to eat … clean clothes to wear … a safe roof over their heads … medical care to keep them healthy … as well as a good education – basic yet crucial necessities that are needed to break the cycle of poverty.
So how could this unassuming priest make such a positive difference in the lives of so many? How could he build and operate such large facilities to care for so many needy children? And how could he accomplish all of this in such faraway regions of the world?
To Father Al, it was very simple. His work was God’s work. And he let Jesus be his guide.THER AL:
“At the Last Supper He said, ‘My peace I give you, My peace I leave with you.’ And then He speaks to the children. ‘Let the little children come up to Me,’ He said, ‘for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ And Jesus takes each child – one by one – into His arms … caresses the child … blesses the child. And He does this with a smile on His face. Also He speaks to the poor and lonely. ‘Come to Me all of you who labor and are burdened. I will refresh you.’ He speaks to these poor and lonely people with a smile on His face and with an attractive, joyful expression.
Father Al’s loving smile never faded, even through his pain. He refused to give in to negative thoughts … to harbor feelings of self-pity … or to question the will of God.
This gave him the strength needed to continue improving the lives of others. With humility and courage – although paralyzed and in much physical agony – Father Al continued doing God’s work, for as long as he possibly could.
After this brief visit to his newest Boystown-Girlstown Village in Mexico – one that he called his “unfinished symphony” – Father Al returned to the Philippines where he appointed Sister Michaela as his successor.
The next day, on March 16, he left this earth to live eternally in the presence of God.
Father Al’s memorial service was conducted at the World Villages’ Girlstown complex in Silang, Cavite – with thousands of admirers lining the streets to pay their last respects. This selfless priest was then laid to rest at the nearby Boystown complex in Cavite.
There, Father Al’s remains are entombed in the Virgin of the Poor Chapel – a replica of the Belgian Shrine that inspired his life-long devotion to serving those in desperate need.
Although he is no longer with us, Father Al’s deep love and courageous spirit live on. Today, the Sisters of Mary, under the leadership of Sister Michaela, continue helping the poor break free from a life of poverty, suffering and despair.
With the generous support of many concerned people throughout the world, they are now caring for and educating more than 30,000 needy children.
Through World Villages for Children, the important work begun by Father Al continues to improve the lives of thousands of people in the Philippines … South Korea … Mexico … Guatemala …Brazil …Honduras and Tanzania.
Currently, there are nine World Villages where poor children – mostly of high school age – are provided with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and an education.
In this loving environment that Father Al created, children in need are being given a chance to build new lives for themselves. They’re being prepared to make productive contributions to their cultures. And, after leaving the Villages, they’re giving back by helping their families and communities – creating a cycle of love and help.
The life of Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz was one filled with love – love for God and love for the world’s poor. Although this devoted servant of God is no longer with us in a physical sense, his spirit lives on as he continues helping the poor through the Sisters of Mary, the Brothers of Christ, and World Villages for Children.