The man who could become the first declared saint from Washington exemplifies Pope Francis’s call for today’s Catholics to be missionary disciples and share the Good News of Jesus with the world, Cardinal Wuerl said at a June 7 Mass of Thanksgiving for Venerable Aloysius Schwartz at Holy Name of Jesus Church, the missionary priest’s home parish. In January, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Msgr. Schwartz lived a life of heroic virtue, meaning that he has been declared as “Venerable,” making him the first native Washingtonian to achieve that title, a key step in the canonization process. The priest known as Father Al began a network of Catholic educational and job training programs for poor children that his Sisters of Mary continue to operate in six countries today. The Brothers of Christ founded by him serve the poor and people with disabilities at centers in South Korea. “Pope Francis often tells us to go out, meet people where they are and accompany them on the journey to Christ,” Cardinal Wuerl said in his homily. “That is just what Venerable Aloysius Schwartz did. He was a missionary disciple.” The Mass was held at the Washington parish where Venerable Schwartz was baptized, received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation, attended the parish school and was an altar server. “It all began here. He was born 85 years ago right in this parish, this neighborhood, this community… It was here where the seeds of his faith were planted,” the cardinal said, noting the impact that Venerable Schwartz’s parish and school and devout Catholic family had on his vocation and work. Growing up in Holy Name Parish, Aloysius Schwartz dreamed of becoming a missionary priest, and after his ordination in 1957 he did just that, serving orphans and street children in Busan, South Korea, left destitute in the wake of the Korean War. In 1964, Father Aloysius Schwartz founded the Sisters of Mary to assist him in operating his Boystown and Girlstown educational and vocational programs for poor children that they established in South Korea, the Philippines and Mexico  before his death in 1992 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Today, the Sisters of Mary continue Venerable Schwartz’s work by educating more than 20,000 poor children each day in Boystown and Girlstown Schools in South Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras. The cardinal noted that as Father Al began his work in Korea, he lived in a shack just as many of the poor whom he served did. The priest once wrote that enabled him to “to think poor, to feel poor” and to be on the same wavelength as the people he served. Cardinal Wuerl pointed out how the priest’s life and work reflected Pope Francis’s call for the Church to bring Christ’s love to the poor and to see Jesus in the face of the poor. The Sisters of Mary continue Venerable Schwartz’s legacy today, the cardinal said, noting how they have brought the more than 100,000 graduates of Boystown and Girlstown  programs, and the children currently in their schools, “hope for a brighter future… who would not otherwise experience the love and care of Christ.” The motto of the Sisters of Mary – “Let us serve the Lord with joy,” echoes Pope Francis’s emphasis on the “Joy of the Gospel,” the cardinal said, underscoring how, for disciples of Jesus, the encounter with the risen Christ transforms hearts. The cardinal also praised Venerable Schwartz for following Christ by bearing his own cross – Lou Gehrig’s disease – with “joy, faith and perseverance,” continuing to love and serve the poor even as he was paralyzed and in a wheelchair. In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl noted that it was fitting that the Mass of Thanksgiving was held on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, because Venerable Schwartz found meaning for his life from the Eucharist. Venerable Schwartz, the cardinal said, is “our own hometown, homegrown example… (that) one can find strength in the Eucharist to be everything Jesus asks us to be and do that with joy, commitment and love.” That, the cardinal added, “is a wonderful gift that Father Al continues to give this parish, this diocese” and all who continue his work around the world. Father Michael Briese, the pastor of Holy Name Parish, had earlier welcomed the cardinal and pointed out the feast of Corpus Christi was a perfect day to celebrate the priest’s life and legacy. “Father Al is a tremendous example of someone who lived out the Eucharist,” he said. The Mass and reception that followed had the feeling of a family reunion and celebration. Venerable Schwartz’s four living siblings – Mary Flanagan from New Jersey, Lou Schwartz and Dolores Vita from Maryland and Joan Baur from Florida – sat in the front of one side of the church where they had grown up, accompanied by many of their children and grandchildren, and they brought up the offertory gifts at the Mass to Cardinal Wuerl. Four Sisters of Mary who had traveled to Washington from the Philippines and Mexico sat in the other front section of the church, joined by family members of Thomas and Glory Sullivan, a Catholic couple from Maryland who have been active in supporting Venerable Schwartz’s missionary programs and in promoting his cause for sainthood.

At the end of Mass, Venerable Schwartz’s family members and the Sisters of Mary joined Cardinal Wuerl at the back of church, as he blessed a statue of the Virgin of the Poor, to whom Venerable Schwartz had dedicated his life and work after visiting her shrine in Belgium as a seminarian. At the parish reception in the church hall, Lou Schwartz, Father Al’s older brother, said the Mass was “very spiritual and sentimental at the same time. I can remember many mornings… walking with my brother Al to church to serve Mass… This is a very special place.” During the Mass as he accepted the offertory gifts from Venerable Schwartz’s siblings, Cardinal Wuerl thanked the missionary priest’s sister, Dolores Vita, for transcribing Father Al’s final book from cassette tape recordings he made as he was dying from ALS. Afterward, she expressed gratitude for the cardinal’s thoughtfulness, and for the  hospitality shown to the Schwartz family by Holy Name’s pastor and parishioners in hosting the Mass and reception to honor her brother. “It’s like coming home,” she said.