Father Aloysius Schmitt saved 12 men during Pearl Harbor attack
DUBUQUE, Iowa – Loras College will host a Mass at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7 at its Christ the King Chapel to commemorate the posthumous presentation of the Silver Star Medal to Rev. Aloysius Schmitt, a 1932 graduate of Loras (then known as Columbia College), and a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Family will receive the medal at 8:45 a.m. on the third floor of its Academic Resource Center (library).
“Father Al lived and died honoring the Loras motto: pro deo et patria (For God and country),” Jim Collins, president of Loras College, said. “We are all very proud of his heroic and faithful life. The recognition is long overdue but it doesn’t diminish his everlasting interminable legacy.”
Pentagon representatives, Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben and Captain Daniel Mode, chaplain and division director of plans and operations for the Chief of Chaplains Office, will present the medal, the U.S. military’s third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. Schmitt previously received the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps medal and the Purple Heart for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Navy later commissioned a ship in his name; Christ the King Chapel, built between 1946 and 1947 on the Loras campus was also dedicated to him.
Seventy-five years after his death, the body of Schmitt was laid to rest in the Chapel in October 2016. Schmitt was born and baptized at St. Luke Parish, in St. Lucas, and grew up on the family farm. He did his undergraduate studies at Loras College and then went on to Rome to continue his study for the priesthood. He served as an associate pastor at St. Mary Church in Dubuque and entered the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 1939. He was assigned to USS Oklahoma in 1940.
Schmitt was 32 years old when Japan launched a surprise attack against the American naval base Pearl Harbor. On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, Schmitt was hearing confessions on board Oklahoma when four torpedoes slammed into the ship. The lower decks quickly filled with water trapping sailors in the ship. Survivors said as it capsized, Schmitt refused to escape choosing instead to help push 12 men through a porthole to safety before he died.
His chalice, prayer book, military medals, and other personal belongings recovered from the ship’s wreckage are on display in the entrance of the Chapel. His “Liturgy of the Hours” book (breviary) is still marked with a ribbon for the next day, Dec. 8 prayers, six years to the day of his ordination, Dec. 8, 1935. His body had been buried as an unknown soldier at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. More than a century later, technological advances allowed authorities to identify his body and the remains of 388 unknowns of the Oklahoma’s crew so they could be sent home for final burial.
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Loras 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 institutions to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. Loras ranks among 450 NCAA Division III athletic programs in Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings, 11th out of the Top 100 baccalaureate colleges, according to the 2016 Washington Monthly College Rankings, 13th Best Regional College, according to Midwest U.S. News Best Colleges and is among the 200 Best-Loved Colleges in the nation, according to Forbes Magazine.