A Miracle of Love (Engelbert Supan)
The skinny 12 year old tried to recall what he had read the night before. Eyes in the classroom were all fixed on him as he tried to recollect the night’s previous lesson. He heard somebody from behind snicker and panic started sinking in as the teacher coaxed him to answer. His empty stomach grumbled as he clutched the side of his threadbare short pants. Disappointed, the teacher called on another student who was raising his hand. The skinny boy sat on his chair, controlling his urge to cry.
Later that day, while sorting all the pieces of scrap he picked from the Little Smokey Mountain of Pasig, the skinny 12 year old bowed he would finish schooling no matter what happens. How his parents, who both never graduated from elementary, will send him to school, he does not know. His father was a mere factory worker cum tricycle driver, his mother a poor labandera. Countless were the times when self-pity was eating him. He was the first born in a brood of nine children (that would later be eleven).
Today, that skinny and oftentimes garbage-reeking boy is a lawyer at the peak of his dreams and ambitions, scanning the horizon armed with knowledge and conviction. I am that droopy, dreamy-eyed boy of 12 who was robbed of his childhood by poverty. I lived the life of a drifter for years until one man’s lifelong work which has touched countless of lives drastically changed the life that I knew and gave me the direction, the anchor to fully achieve the potential that I myself knew I have but couldn’t do anything about.
I am the man that I am today because there was a man who believed in the love of God and wanted the poorest of the poor to experience what it is like to be loved and cared for by God. In the bible Jesus was asked by the high priests what are the two greatest commandments and He answered “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” The life of Msgr. Aloysius Schwartz, to us his children known simply as Fr. Al, founder of the Religious Congregations of the Sisters of Mary and the Brothers of Christ, is the consummate embodiment of total obedience to these commandments.
During the days that I was in the Sisters of Mary, cared for by the kindest people I have ever met, I witnessed how Father Al loved God and how he wanted us, his children to emulate the way that he loved God. For him constant communication with God through prayer is a way of life. The constant theme of his Sunday homilies was the boundless love of God for all of mankind. His love for God knows no bounds and knows no condition. When he was already dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, I saw that even speaking is a painful feat, a difficult and excruciating task that would have taken the measure out of lesser men. But Fr Al, bound in a wheelchair, his neck supported by a brace, continued to speak to us in the Holy Mass, delivering homilies that speaks on the love of God and his desire for himself and his children to become saints. I have never seen a more courageous man.
Love your neighbor as yourself. I speak of Fr. Al to pay tribute to a man who gave his life, his dreams, his everything, to serve the poorest of the poor. If there was a Mother Theresa in the slums of Calcutta, India, there is a Fr. Al in Korea and in the Philippines. Today, Fr. Al’s mission has extended itself to other countries - a veritable testament to the intensity of the love that he lived. Visitors to any Sisters of Mary compound are always incredulous when told that the multitude of happy children they are seeing are living and studying in the compound for free. I myself used to wonder how Fr. Al was able to support all of us without asking any financial assistance from us or even from the government. Now I know better. I now know that all of Fr. Al’s seeming insurmountable accomplishments were made possible by the miracle of Love – love for God and love for his neighbor.
My stay at the Sisters of Mary will always be one of the happiest periods in my life. It will certainly be the most important phase in my effort to build my dreams. It was during this time that I fashioned a dream and one man showed me, with the way he lived, that nothing is impossible to one who sets his mind into achieving his dream. Poverty robbed me of my childhood but Fr. Al and his caring Sisters of Mary gave that childhood back to me.
More than the material things that Fr. Al and the Sisters of Mary provided me with for four years - relevant education, quality time (to play and be a child again), clothing, food – the Sisters of Mary proved to this doubting Thomas that there is a God. Were it not for the four years that I stayed at the Sisters of Mary, I might have been persuaded to believe in the promises of other religions or worse, I might be an atheist today. Fortunately, I was saved from the clutches of ignorance and into the light because of the teachings of Fr. AL and the Sisters of Mary. Fr. Al always spoke with clarity and conviction that knows no shaking. He was firm and steady about his wish to become a saint and equally, to live a life that we, his children, can emulate.
At the Sisters of Mary, Fr. Al’s life and his sacrifices was a constant reminder of the warmth of the love of God. He and the sisters unceasingly showed to all of us living in their care, an unconditional love that is akin to the love of God for mankind when he sent His begotten Son to redeem us from our sins.
Today, I am living my dream. In retrospect, I don’t think I would have been able to achieve this dream were it not for the wings that Fr. Al and the Sisters of Mary carefully, lovingly and patiently fashioned for me and for the countless of other unfortunate souls who were born into poverty. I shall forever be grateful to Fr. Al. everyday of my life.
I live my life each day proudly wearing the insignia of my alma mater, an institution that is a testament to one man’s commitment to love his neighbor as he loved himself. No, I think he did not merely loved us as he loved himself but loved us better than the way he loved himself.
I believe that Fr. Al wanted to change the world for the better one person at a time. His life and works is a miracle of love, a miracle that shows to this world and to this cynical age that the love of God can make a difference in the life of the ordinary man.
I should know.
ENGELBERT R. SUPAN
Batch 1991, Sta. Mesa, Manila