Monsignor Schwartz, friend of poor children

March 18, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Monsignor Aloysius Schwartz, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his ministry to thousands of poor children around the world, died Monday at an orphanage he established in Manila. He was 61.

A member of a Baltimore family, Monsignor Schwartz was diagnosed in October 1989 with Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative illness of the nervous system. Undeterred, he continued his work even as his short, slender and once-athletic body weakened. He delivered his final sermon last week, in a voice barely audible beyond the altar.

Monsignor Schwartz's legacy is the orphanages and hospitals he founded for more than 12,000 children in Korea, the Philippines and Mexico.

The children are cared for by the brothers of the Order of Christ and the nuns of the Sisters of Mary, religious orders he founded in Korea in the 1960s to work in his "Boystowns" and "Girlstowns."

Monsignor Schwartz will be buried at his orphanage in Silang, outside Manila, where Philippine primate Jaime Cardinal Sin will celebrate a special Mass next Wednesday.

A memorial Mass will be scheduled later at St. Bernard's Church, Riverdale, Md., said William J. Vita, the priest's brother-in-law and executive director of Asian Relief Inc., the Hyattsville-based fund-raising arm of Monsignor Schwartz's missions.

Determined to expand his mission to the Western Hemisphere, Monsignor Schwartz battled his illness and in October 1991 oversaw dedication of his last orphanage, in Chalco, Mexico. It now cares for between 800 and 1,000 needy children from middle-school through high-school age.

In 1983, Monsignor Schwartz, who eschewed personal publicity, received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, called the Nobel Prize of the Pacific, for his foundation of orphanages in Pusan and Seoul, Korea. He was named a monsignor in 1990.

Despite his reticence, this friend of the lowly was well known to the mighty, who began paying final tributes even before his death.

Rep. Robert K. Dornan, a California Republican, wrote the dying priest last month, calling him "a hero and a saint" for his lifelong commitment to the needy, and saying he had nominated Monsignor Schwartz for the Nobel Prize.

When President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan traveled to Korea in 1983, the first lady visited Monsignor Schwartz's orphanage in Seoul. Last January, Mr. Reagan wrote to the priest, saying he had just learned of his illness and praising his "courage and exemplary dedication to continuing your work with the orphans of the world."

Cardinal Sin, who persuaded Monsignor Schwartz to open an orphanage in Manila, has compared him with Mother Teresa of Calcutta and other heroic missionaries.

Born in Washington, Aloysius was the third of seven children of Louis and Cedelia Schwartz, who had moved from Baltimore, the father's home town. He grew up in Northeast Washington, attended Holy Name Parochial School and served as an altar boy at the adjacent church.

The young Aloysius discovered his priestly vocation early -- in the third grade -- and soon decided he wanted to be a missionary, Mr. Vita said. He attended high school at St. Charles Seminary in Catonsville, and in 1952 graduated from Maryknoll College in Glen Ellen, Ill.

But fearful that the Maryknolls would make him a teacher, he went to Europe to study theology at Louvain University in Belgium. In June 1957, he returned to Washington long enough to be ordained as a priest before leaving to begin his mission in Korea, a country still recovering from a bitter war. Then, while recovering from hepatitis, Father Schwartz preached at parishes around the U.S. to raise money for his mission. Before leaving for Korea, he went on retreat to a Trappist Monastery at Berryville, Va.

There he met a man who was expert in direct-mail solicitation. The man persuaded Father Schwartz to give him more than $30,000 he had raised preaching to launch a nationwide fund-raising drive.

That was the start of Korean Relief Inc., which in 1985 became Asian Relief Inc. as the orphanage network expanded to the Philippines and then to Mexico. It now has a multimillion-dollar operating budget, Mr. Vita said.

The expansion from Korea, Mr. Vita said, arose from Cardinal Sin's intervention during Pope John Paul II's 1983 visit to Korea. Cardinal Sin joined the pontiff, met Monsignor Schwartz and begged him to establish refuges for children in the Philippines.

After resisting initially, Monsignor Schwartz agreed to a feasibility study in 1984. The sight of so much poverty moved him, and the next year the first Boystown/Girlstown was opened in Manila, with others to follow in Cebu and Silang. They serve more than 7,000 children and adults in the homes and hospitals.

Monsignor Schwartz is survived by six brothers and sisters: Mary Flanagan of Princeton, N.J.; Louis Schwartz Jr. of Bethesda; Rose Herold of Atlanta; Dolores Vita of Lanham; Margaret Mercier of Vienna, Va.; and Joan Baur of Calverton, Md.

Mr. Vita said memorial contributions to further the work of Asian Relief Inc. may be sent to 4815 Edmonston Road, Hyattsville, Md. 20781.

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