Two holy men take divergent paths toward sainthood

By Allan F. Wright | Catholic News Service | March 14, 2022

These are book covers of “Carlo Acutis: The First Millennial Saint” by Nicola Gori; and “Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz” by Kevin Wells. The books are reviewed by Allan F. Wright. (CNS composite/courtesy Our Sunday Visitor and Ignatius Press)

“Carlo Acutis: The First Millennial Saint” by Nicola Gori. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2021). 143 pp., $14.95.

“Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz” by Kevin Wells. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2021). 199 pp., $17.95.

The author of “Carlo Acutis: The First Millennial Saint” is Nicola Gori, a writer and the postulator of Acutis’ cause; thus, he was able to include firsthand information central to Acutis’ life and glean stories from others who knew Acutis and had contact with him.

For this heroic and saintly young man, holiness was a simple way of life. “Holiness is not a process of adding anything, but of subtraction. It is a removal of myself to make room for God,” Acutis said. 

In addition to offering a brief account of his life, there are sections on the theology of the Eucharist and on eucharistic miracles, Acutis’ favorite saints and issues that were significant to him.

While some of these are peripheral to Acutis’ life as told in the biography, they were important to him and thus provide a portrait of this young man as he interacted with others in a world that is often hostile to holiness.

His parents recall that a few days before he was admitted to the hospital, while they were keeping vigil at his bedside, they heard Acutis say: “I offer all the sufferings that I will have to undergo to the Lord for the pope and the church, so that I can avoid purgatory and go straight to heaven.”

The book contains many incidents in Acutis’ life that reflect his abiding faith in Jesus and the church. He is indeed a saint for our times and will especially resonate with young people as Acutis enjoyed sports, video games, being with his parents and finding a particular joy and peace in the rosary, Mass and exploring the lives of the saints.

The preface and introduction take up nearly half the book but provide quotes from Pope Francis and others explaining some basic tenets of Catholic spirituality, which will benefit most readers who are unfamiliar with the process of beatification.

Highly recommended for confirmation-age students, for it shows an otherwise ordinary teenager living the faith with beauty, simplicity and trust.

“Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz” tells the story of one man’s journey to the mission fields and living the life of the poor while serving them.

Early on in his spiritual formation, primarily through Maryknoll, he became increasingly disturbed and fixated on the seemingly lavish lifestyle of not only Maryknoll, but other Catholic institutions who were training men and women to serve the poor yet availed themselves to the pleasantries of the world that those whom they were to serve would never experience.

He could not reconcile his call to serve the poor in the mission field with institutions that did not operate with the same poverty that the poor experienced.

He resolved to stay with Maryknoll until he discovered the Société des Auxiliaires des Missions, a Belgian-based society of priests whose members worked in Asia. He applied and was accepted.

His family, classmates and counselors in unison strongly disapproved of his decision yet he went off and continued his studies at the Catholic University of Louvain.

Fifteen days before his ordination, Schwartz’s home bishop in Washington received a letter from a superior stating that he was unfit for the priesthood, which caused confusion, but he was ultimately ordained.

Upon arriving in South Korea in 1957, within his first hour, “he decided to warm his bones with a long walk into the countryside. After some time, he seems to have opened a gate and stepped past an invisible border wall into a dark moonscape. Before him was a brokenhearted kingdom of war refugees, living in what seemed an endless landscape of hopelessness. … These multitudes were the mortified body of Jesus Christ.”

The book chronicles the work and difficulties of serving the poor in South Korea; Father Schwartz was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Accolades from the likes of St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata and Ronald Reagan caught the attention of the press.

The order of sisters he founded, the Sisters of Mary, “had joined Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, as arguably one of the hardest working orders in the world.” He died in March 1992.

Father Schwartz was a priest who would not compromise his own vocation of poverty and service to the poor, the disfigured and abandoned. His criticisms of some other institutions have stood the test of time and should be viewed in light of this one man’s spiritual journey and call to serve Christ in the shadows of humanity.

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Also of interest: “Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul” by Deanna Witkowski. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minnesota, 2021). 120 pp., $16.95.

“Elwood: The Story of a Catholic World War II Hero” by Sister Lucia Treanor, FSE. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2021). 176 pp., $17.95.

“They Might Be Saints: On the Path to Sainthood in America” by Michael O’Neill. Sophia Institute Press (Manchester, New Hampshire, 2021). 304 pp., $19.95.

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Wright is principal of Koinonia Academy in Plainfield, New Jersey.

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