- Fr. Aloysius Schwartz arrived—four years after the war’s end—as a secular priest in the southern diocese of Pusan (Korea), where most of the city’s then over one million residents still lived in makeshift shacks.
- Returning to Pusan in 1962 he was appointed pastor of the depressed Song-do parish, where ministering to spiritual needs proved to be only part of his calling. Disturbed by the poor care given orphans, he enlisted and trained young women volunteers to become “mothers,” each to 10-12 of the orphans under his care.
- His hospitals in Seoul and Pusan, and Tuberculosis Sanatarium in the latter, serve only the poor and are staffed by some of Korea’s ablest medical personnel. Kaengsaengwon, another home, provides care for 1,500 destitute aged and disabled adults, and training for 200 poorly adjusted or retarded youngsters.
- The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his mobilizing European and American support to succor acutely deprived Korean youngsters, homeless elderly and infirm.”
In this century of modern mass warfare few countries have been as devastated as Korea. Armies that 30 years ago carried their campaigns down the peninsula left the “land of the morning calm” scarred almost beyond recognition. Cities were leveled by artillery and bombs. Bridges, roads, dams and farmsteads were badly damaged; livestock was eaten by the soldiers; and several million Korean civilians were among the casualties.
For the survivors, the loss of family and the wreckage of society were even more traumatic. In the mass flight south from the communist invaders tens of thousands of parents lost their children; some families are only now being reunited through televised appeals. In the cold Korean winters, amidst the confusion of combat, many a child seeking shelter or a warm bowl of barley-gruel disappeared. War left nearly one-half the adult population without productive employment and reduced to selling rags and waste paper, begging, and stealing as a last resort. When Fr. ALOYSIUS SCHWARTZ arrived—four years after the war’s end—as a secular priest in the southern diocese of Pusan, most of the city’s then over one million residents still lived in makeshift shacks.
Born in 1930 in Washington, D.C., SCHWARTZ had decided in grade school upon his vocation as a missionary priest, and in college on serving the poor. Studying initially in a Maryknoll seminary, he found the living conditions too plush and transferred to the Societe des Auxiliares des Missions in Louvain, Belgium, where he completed his schooling. He was ordained in Washington and promptly left to take up his assignment in Pusan.
Amidst the poverty and cruelty of what in 1957 was one of Korea’s worst slums, he assisted in diocesan work while learning the Korean language. Deeply sympathetic to the human tragedy around him, and angered by pious complacency, Fr. SCHWARTZ increasingly became convinced that Christianity must be expressed through a “church of the poor.” Invalided to the United States in 1959 for complications arising from hepatitis, he pondered how to proceed, and in 1960 founded Korean Relief, Inc., to raise funds by mail in the U.S. to be used in service to the poor.
Returning to Pusan in 1962 he was appointed pastor of the depressed Song-do parish, where ministering to spiritual needs proved to be only part of his calling. Disturbed by the poor care given orphans, he enlisted and trained young women volunteers to become “mothers,” each to 10-12 of the orphans under his care.
From such beginnings grew Pusan’s Boystown and Girlstown, which now provide kindergarten through technical high school—and recently junior college, for some 1,400 of the most underprivileged. Boystown and Girlstown in Seoul followed, where over 2,600 are similarly educated and cared for. Fr. SCHWARTZ conducts mass on both campuses to build spirits, and encourages sports to build bodies, teamwork and self-confidence. His hospitals in Seoul and Pusan, and Tuberculosis Sanatarium in the latter, serve only the poor and are staffed by some of Korea’s ablest medical personnel. Kaengsaengwon, another home, provides care for 1,500 destitute aged and disabled adults, and training for 200 poorly adjusted or retarded youngsters. Operating these institutions are the Sisters of Mary, founded by SCHWARTZ from the nucleus of “orphan mothers,” and now numbering 150 Korean women. Assisting them are the 13 men of his new order, the Brothers of Christ, likewise dedicated to serving the poor. Visitors remark on the spontaneity, cleanliness and health of the young charges, the involvement of the sick and elderly, and the fine maintenance of all the facilities.
Fr. SCHWARTZ raises three-fourths of his annual budget—today approximating US$8 million—through a direct, personal, mail-appeal-for-Christian-giving to millions of Europeans and Americans each year. The Korean Government covers the rest of the costs, recognizing that Fr. SCHWARTZ provides for that sector of society which has not benefited from the nation’s remarkable economic advances of the past two decades. Although gangsters and others have tried to thwart his interference with their exploitation of Korea’s social outcasts, and have tested his perseverance, no one has shaken his determination that the poor not only must be fed and clothed, but also given the education and skills to enable them to participate fully in society.
In electing Fr. ALOYSIUS SCHWARTZ, priest of Pusan, to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his mobilizing European and American support to succor acutely deprived Korean youngsters, homeless elderly and infirm.
It is with mixed feelings that I accept the Award this evening. Certainly I am very grateful. I am pleased. And I am honored. At the same time, I am a bit uneasy inside, somewhat embarrassed and somewhat discomfited.
The announcement of the Award on August 12 generated enormous publicity in Korea. The newspapers, TV, radio and a number of magazines gave excellent coverage to the news. This publicity has already proven useful and helpful to my work.
More than this, the Award announcement was a tremendous morale booster for the 4,000 or so orphaned boys and girls I care for in Pusan and Seoul—and the 150 dedicated Korean Sisters who look after them. The Sisters and the children were absolutely elated when they heard the news. Not only that, but the Boystown and Girlstown graduates—who have left me and are now living on their own in society—were just as excited. Many have written or phoned. One boy called up and told me that they were dancing in the factories after they heard the announcement. It does my heart good to see the Sisters, children and graduates so excited and happy. And for this I am tremendously grateful.
At the same time, as I mentioned, I am a little embarrassed. In the gospel Christ in effect says: When you give alms to the poor, or for that matter, do anything worthwhile, don’t spoil it by sounding a trumpet and telling the whole world about it. Rather enhance the beauty and the value of whatever little good you do by doing it in a quiet and hidden manner. In fact, your right hand should not even let your left hand know what it is doing. In accepting this Award I am not only telling my left hand what I am doing—but I am telling the whole world as well.
Therein lies the dilemma and the source of my mixed feelings. But in balance I think the positive elements far outweigh these negative and somewhat scrupulous reservations. In the Psalms it is written: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us—but to Thy Name alone give glory.” My feeling and my hope is that by accepting this Award I will be giving honor and glory to God. And ultimately this is what really counts.
So, to conclude these brief remarks, as we say in the “home country”: “Kamsa hamnida. Kamsa hamnida. Taedanhi kamsa hamnida.” Which means simply: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very, very much!”
ALOYSIUS SCHWARTZ was born September 18, 1930 in Washington, D.C., as America entered the second year of the great depression. His father, Louis F. Schwartz, had come to the city from nearby Baltimore, Maryland during the 1920s to look for work. Although he had only a fourth grade education, he became a furniture salesman and was successful enough to purchase a small rental property in the northeast section of the city and to marry a beautiful young secretary who had come to Washington from Montana and was working at the Government Printing Office. Cedelia Verrasa was a “catch.” She had turned down a dozen marriage proposals before accepting Schwartz, who attributed his success to the fact that he was willing to accompany her to the Roman Catholic masses, vigils and novenas she was so fond of attending. Louis Schwartz had been a good church member; his courtship and marriage encouraged him to become more faithful and devout.
In accordance with the middle class custom of the period, Cedelia Schwartz left her job when she married. The Schwartzes had seven children, of whom ALOYSIUS was the third, preceded by a brother and sister and followed by four sisters. Although he was christened PHILIP ALOYSIUS, his first name was never used by the family and he was always called AL.
Before his birth economic necessity had forced the family to move from a more desirable location to the house which his father had bought earlier as an investment. AL was raised in this house in a lower middle class neighborhood, adjacent to a slum occupied by poor black families. Though his family had little money, AL never felt deprived. The children were sent to parochial school—Holy Name Grammar School—rather than to public school, and AL remembers his mother giving clothing and food to the poor black families who lived nearby. Yet it was difficult to provide for a large family. When Louis was unable to work for over a year while recovering from a serious case of pneumonia, Cedelia returned to work to support the family. She died of cancer when AL was 15; his father never remarried.
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