Venerable Father Al ‘model to help the poor’
SILANG, Cavite—The man need not speak at all.
To Brigieda Tampus, it was enough to see Father Al stand in silence as “his mere presence tells you God is there.”
Tampus, 38, is one of the earlier graduates of the Sisters of Mary Girlstown, an institution that Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz, fondly called Father Al, founded in the Philippines in 1985. The congregation looks for orphans and children from poor communities and provides them free shelter, clothing, medical services and high school education.
Tampus remembered Schwartz as she returned to the school in Barangay Biga II here on Saturday to attend the thanksgiving Mass for the promulgation of Schwartz’s “heroic virtues.”
An American missionary, Schwartz was declared “Venerable,” the first of the three steps to sainthood, by Pope Francis on Jan. 22. Schwartz was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1989 and died on March 16, 1992, at the age of 62.
On Schwartz’s 23rd death anniversary, a Mass was offered for him in Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras and Washington, DC, where the Sisters of Mary also have communities.
The “process” of canonization seemed “faster than some,” said Schwartz’s younger sister. Dolores Vita, who flew all the way from Washington, DC, for the Mass. “I grew up watching all of his work and I know that he is a saint. The whole family is excited and proud,” she said.
Saturday’s Eucharistic event was celebrated by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle with Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Imus Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista.
Hundreds of Catholic priests and nuns, as well as the congregation’s benefactors from Korea, Switzerland and Germany, witnessed the event.
To Tampus, it was more than a homecoming. She was the giddy, high school girl again as she reunited with former Girlstown batchmates, one of whom even brought a pack of jelly candies from Cebu for a former teacher.
“I owe my life here,” Tampus said. She looked back on her life as a child who one day was plucked by the nuns from the Sisters of Mary of the Poor Congregation out of Pasil, Cebu City.
Pasil “was like the Tondo (Manila) of Cebu—drugs, crimes everywhere,” she said. A child of fish vendors, Tampus never thought she could finish high school until she was recruited to Girlstown.
“I didn’t tell my parents I was going to Manila until I had the (boat) ticket with me. And I never regretted my decision,” she said.
Tampus remembered when she was handed her first personal belongings at Girlstown on its campus in Sta. Mesa district in Manila. “Imagine, my very first own towel, blanket and toothbrush? Those were things that my siblings and I only used to share back home,” she said.
Tampus now works as a social worker, handling a government program for the poor in Central Visayas. She is also a mother of six.
“Every time I meet [government beneficiaries], I am reminded that I myself was a product of charity,” she said. But Schwartz’s generosity was “too contagious, we learned to pay it forward,” she added.
In his homily, Tagle reiterated Schwartz’s heroic virtues.
“Virtue is primarily a gift of God through Jesus,” he said. He encouraged everyone to “nurture the seeds of virtue” by doing one good deed repeatedly until it becomes a habit—a way of life.
He drew inspiration from Schwartz, whose life was centered on serving the poor and the abandoned and on his deep devotion to Mary.
This devotion, Tagle said, “pushes us to serve humbly.”
To date, Girlstown and its counterpart, Boystown, have produced over 60,000 Filipino graduates, many of whom have become doctors, lawyers, engineers or accountants, if not priests or nuns. The institution also currently houses 2,800 girls and 1,500 boys and expects about a thousand more in April.
“We are very, very happy (about Schwartz becoming a saint) that no words can explain the feeling,” said Angelica Zoleta, 15.
A farmer’s daughter from Mulanay, Quezon province, Zoleta said she never thought she could even dream of being able to study high school.
“We need one miracle so that he will be beatified and another (miracle) so he will be canonized,” said Sr. Elena Belarmino, the order’s vicar general.
But everyone seems to have experienced in their own little way a miracle through Schwartz. To Tampus, for instance, it was a “miracle” she was among the few girls selected from Pasil to study at Girlstown. She also said her high school training was her ticket to having been granted scholarships in college.
“Last year, a father of one of our girls suffered from (internal) hemorrhage,” Belarmino said. She said the family was too poor to bring the father to a hospital so they instead made him hold Schwartz’s prayer book and relics.
“The next day, [the father] did not feel any pain at all. He was cured,” she said.
Belarmino said Schwartz continued to be a “model for the people to be able to help the poor in the name of Christ.”
“But it’s not just material help,” she said, “but giving [the poor] a bright future.”