The Catholic Defender: Father Aloysius Schmitt, Pearl Harbor victim goes home
In 1917, Mary Schmitt gave birth to her tenth son, Aloysius who was raised on a farm near St. Lucas Iowa. Mary and her husband, Henry, were devout Catholics who placed God first in all things. They worked hard on the farm sending their children to Catholic School giving them a strong faith filled foundation.
Aloysius was like most young boys growing up in middle America in 1909, he loved his horse, he rode his horse to school four miles every day.
That was the way life was in the early 1900's. Like most boys, he was a huge baseball fan, he loved playing baseball. In the hot summer it would not be uncommon to find Aloysius out in the creek swimming or in town ice skating. He loved the outdoors, and you would rarely see him without his dog, Biff.
What I am describing Aloysius to be was a young boy who was much like many other young boys of the time. Being raised in a strong Catholic faith, he was active growing up in their Parish where he went to Catholic School. In those days, the Sisters maintained a lot of discipline rarely seen today in public school.
Aloysius was being trained to be a leader in all that he did, he graduated from the local college there at Loras College, then known as Columbia College, graduating in 1932.
Hebrews 3:1 states, "Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession."
From a very young age, Aloysius contemplated the priesthood, he would make this goal his prime objective eventually studying at Rome, Italy where he was ordained on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1935.
Like many priests throughout the Midwest, many priests would be responsible for a number of parishes. Father Aloysius was not any different being assigned to support both St Boniface in New Vienna and St Mary in Dubuque, as well as at St. Mary's Cathedral parish in Cheyenne Wyoming.
In 1940, Father Aloysius obtained permission from his Bishop, his Excellency Archbishop (Dubuque) Francis Beckman to join the United States Military. He chose to join the Navy and was assigned to the USS Oklahoma as a Chaplain with the rank of Lieutenant.
For Father Aloysius, waking up on December 7, 1941, for him it was a normal regular day. He got up and prepared himself to offer Morning Mass for the Catholic community on the ship. Not long after the Mass was ended, things drastically changed forever.
The Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor hitting the battleship USS Oklahoma with four torpedoes and bombs causing the ship to capsize in 50 feet of water.
Father Aloysius and many Sailors were trapped in compartments below the deck filling up with water, it was murky, dark, and chaotic.
In search for a way out of the submerged ship, Father Aloysius and twelve Sailors found a small porthole to escape and as the Sailors were working themselves through the porthole, Father Aloysius remained to help them all get out but before he was able to get out, the compartment filled up drowning Father Aloysius.
John 15:13 states, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Father Aloysius gave his life saving the lives of those in his care. He was the first American Military Chaplain to die during World War II.
There were nearly 388 Military personnel, few of which were able to be identified until recently with the DNA results.
The United States Department of Defense finally were able to identify those lost including Father Aloysius.
The body of Father Aloysius was sent back home to Milford, Iowa, where he was returned home to his family.
Dr. Steve Sloan in anticipation of Father being brought home to rest, stated, "It really hit home for me during that family visit, I knew I was witnessing a historical moment. I thought to myself, ‘This is the final chapter in Fr Al’s journey. We’ll truly be bringing him home. We’ll finally be able to do something special for this incredible man."
Dr. Sloan spoke of Father Aloysius saying, “He was a gentle, soft-spoken man, but he had a great, witty sense of humor that drew people to him. By all accounts, he was very well respected by the sailors of his ship, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike.”
In putting this article together, I was looking to find a Eucharistic Miracle connected to the attack on Pearl Harbor. I had never heard of Father Aloysius before, but his story certainly showed me that in this case, The Eucharist was very much a miracle in Father's life he lived and died.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9