DUBUQUE, IOWA – Loras College will welcome home one of its own 75 years after his death at Pearl Harbor during World War II. The Rev. Aloysius Schmitt, a 1932 graduate of Loras (then known as Columbia College), and a chaplain in the U.S. Navy will be laid to rest during a special Memorial Mass at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Christ the King Chapel on the Loras campus. The chapel was built between 1946-47 as a memorial to Schmitt.
“We are all very proud of the heroic and faithful life Father Al led as priest, military chaplain, and Loras alumnus,” Jim Collins, president of Loras College, said. “On behalf of our entire Loras community, I am grateful that the family chose Loras to honor his interminable legacy.”
A vigil from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, at Christ the King, will precede the Full Military Honors funeral. Schmitt’s remains will arrive in a full casket that will be interred inside Christ the King Chapel. His chalice, prayer book, military medals and more of his personal belongings recovered in the ship’s wreckage are on display in the entrance of the chapel. The book is still marked with a page ribbon for Dec. 8 prayers.
Dr. Steve Sloan, a member of the Loras College Board of Regents and a 1978 graduate, never had the opportunity to meet Schmitt, his great-uncle.
“I do know Loras that was very special to Father Al,” Sloan said. “In fact, he lived and died reflecting the Loras motto: pro deo et patria (For God and country).”
After graduating from Loras, Schmitt studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained on Dec. 8, 1935. Schmitt served as an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Dubuque and entered the chaplain corps of the U.S. Navy in 1939. One year later, he was assigned to the USS Oklahoma.
Schmitt, age 32 at the time, was killed aboard the battleship on Dec. 7, 1941 after it was hit by torpedoes. As it capsized, Schmitt helped push 12 men through a porthole to safety before he died, according to survivors. He posthumously received the Navy Marine Corp Medal and the Purple Heart for his heroism.
The remains of the 429 sailors and Marines killed on the Oklahoma were found in the months and years after the attack, but decomposition had made all but a small number unidentifiable. In 1944, the bodies of the unidentified, Schmitt’s presumably among them, were buried as “unknowns” in two Hawaiian cemeteries. They were exhumed three years later in an attempt to identify them using dental records, but when those efforts proved unsuccessful, they were reburied in 1950 in 61 caskets at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Over half a century later, in 2003, one of those caskets was dug up, and five crew members were identified through DNA testing. But analysis showed that the remains of dozens of other crewmembers were also present in that same casket. Four years later, another casket was disinterred and an additional member of the Oklahoma’s crew was identified. In light of those findings, the U.S. Department of Defense announced in 2015 that the remaining caskets would be exhumed and efforts made to identify the rest of the 388 unknowns of the Oklahoma’s crew and return them to their families.
The Sloan family was notified that Schmitt was officially identified earlier this week.
“I feel comfortable saying, having heard from relatives, veterans who served with him, and from all that I have read about him, that Father Al was a gentle, soft spoken person who had a great witty sense of humor,” Sloan said. “He seemed to be a friend to all. To be able to participate in this historic event is truly a humbling experience. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to remember all that he accomplished in his short life and to celebrate the hero that he truly was.”
For more information regarding military service, contact Navy Command Chief Matthew Nemmers, (515) 285-5581, ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific questions regarding Schmitt, contact Sloan at (563) 556-3937 or email@example.com.
About Loras College
Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. Loras is ranked 11th out of the Top 100 baccalaureate colleges, according to the 2016 Washington Monthly College Rankings and the 13th Best Regional College, according to Midwest U.S. News Best Colleges.
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