Fr. Aloysius Schwartz & The Catholics Who Changed the World

They Changed the World

As the Church goes, so goes the world. That statement gave me pause when I first heard it. Arrogant? Inflated? True? I landed on the latter.  

Two millennium ago, Christians who changed the world were not at odds with other denominations because there weren’t any. Occasional heresy, yes, but diverting from our unbroken apostolic succession, no. So, the likes of St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas influenced the world unhampered by denominational divisions.  

But Catholic heroism rises above divergent paths to still change the world. Consider these modern-day spiritual giants.

  • St. Pope John Paul brought down communism beginning with his beloved homeland of Poland.  
  • St. Teresa of Calcutta, just a little nun serving the poor in India, won the respect of the world. As the speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1993, she even dared to confront U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Vice President Al Gore, and their spouse on abortion. That’s influence! 
  •  Mother Angelica, was the most successful woman in broadcast history, founding the worldwide broadcasting empire EWTN 
  •  Venerable Father Aloysius Schwartz breathed new life into destitute children, caring and educating them and raising them up in the faith—170,000 of them to date—thus also breathing new life into the Church.

Aloysius who?  I had asked that very question when Kevin Well’s (author/friend) told me he was working on the biography: Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz. We had become friends while he was working on The Priests We Need to Save the Church which became a best-seller.  Thanks to him, not only do I know and love this amazing priest whose cause for canonization is moving forward, this past June my husband and I visited Girlstowns in Mexico which is part of The World Villages run by the Sisters of Mary—both founded by him.

Father Al built the first Boystown in Korea in 1969. There are now 17 Catholic Boystowns and Girlstowns as part of World Villages in 7 countries run by the Sisters of Mary. To date, 150,000 students from poor villages have graduated and many have gone on to trades schools and universities to become professionals and priests and nuns. There are  20,000 enrolled today. Through education the children are reborn and through Catholic teaching and the love of God and the Sisters of Mary, they are breathing new life into their countries and the Church. 

Changing the World One Child at a Time

I cannot rightly tell you about Venerable Aloysius Schwartz—affectionally known as Father Al—without bringing Kevin Wells into this. It was through his enthusiasm about his stay at Girlstown in Chalco, Mexico while researching the biography, that my husband and I made a side trip there (while on pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe). We were blown away. I know a seasoned writer should have better adjectives, but it so accurately describes the experience of spending a day with 3,200 girls from poverty-stricken Mexican neighborhoods being cared for in one of the World Villages’ Girlstowns.  

Father Al built the Girlstown in Mexico in 1990 [Mexico’s Boystown is in Guadalajara] when he heard that crushing poverty was causing Mexicans to leave the faith. He did so just a year after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and given 3 years to live. He accepted the illness as a gift from God and vowed to work even harder. 

During my own visit to Girlstown in Mexico, we  experienced the immensity of 3,200 girls, singing to greet my husband and me and a son who had joined us from Guatemala. Throughout the day, we were escorted around by the gentle and spirited Sr. Gemma and Sr. Martha, both graduates of one of the Girlstowns.  At lunch, we ate fruits and vegetables harvested on their land, were enthralled by their choir, and learned of their well-rounded education that includes sports, self-defense instruction, sewing and the Catholic faith. Riding on a golf cart and stopping here and there, we met with smiles and waves. Wells, who spent 2 weeks there while researching the book, told me that it was the ever-present joy that impressed him most deeply. 

Fr. Al’s Promise to Mary

Aloysius Schwartz was born in Washington, on September 18, 1930. He felt a calling to the priesthood as a young boy. While a seminarian in the 1950s studying theology at The Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, he often visited the obscure town of Banneux where the Blessed Mother had appeared as the Virgin of the Poor. [It was  approved by the Church.] 

According to Wells, the messages at Banneux became a part of Al’s soul. “He desired union with Mary, who rose in him there like a small flame of consolation during tough seminary days,” he wrote. “Before he returned to America to become ordained in the summer of 1957, Al caught a train to Banneux one last time where he gave Mary his life—at the same spot where she appeared to 12-year-old Mariette Beco twenty-four years earlier. He vowed to Mary that everything he did in the days that followed would be as her slave”

It was the second of the eight apparitions that especially captivated  Fr. Al’s priesthood. The Blessed Mother had introduced herself as “The Virgin of the Poor” and explained that she had come to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and broken-spirited while emphasizing the need for unceasing prayer.“In effect,” Wells stated, “Mary’s words to Mariette acted for the American missionary priest as the raw material to build perhaps the broadest non-governmentally-funded service for poor children and orphans in the history of the world. Father Al fashioned an integrated system of authentically Catholic temporal and spiritual care for countless poor children, who he would provide an education, housing, meals, medical care, catechesis, the sacraments, vocational job training, sports teams, orchestras, and other extracurricular activities for a five-year time span.”

Fr. Al’s Mission Lives On

He named Sister Michaela Kim of the Sisters of Mary as his successor and after his death in 1992, through the Sisters of Mary. Father Al’s mission continued to expand – first into Guatemala, then Brazil, and Honduras, and most recently into Tanzania.

In an interview with The Catholic World Report, Wells said: “Today, more than 20,000 children and 400 sisters are the spiritual heirlooms of Father Al. Through his Yes to Mary, tens of thousands of children were saved and brought out of abject poverty in the Western hemisphere.

“…Today’s Catholic Church may be imploding in the west because too many bishops and priests have seemingly settled for the opposite. Opulence, comfort, and administrative work does nothing to heal and save souls. A priest is ordained to save souls. Father Al died to himself each day of his priesthood and saved generations of souls.”

People like Father Al who change the world for the better, die to themselves and live for others. It’s the standard mission for sainthood; the same one we are all called to. 

To become a part of Father Al’s mission, go to

Meet Kevin Wells here.

To book Kevin as a speaker, go to


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Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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