Fr. Aloysius Schmitt (Lieutenant, Junior Grade), known affectionately as “Father Al,” had just finished celebrating 7 a.m. Mass aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) at Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when Japanese aircraft began their attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. A member of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps for only two years, the thirty-two-year-old priest had been assigned to minister to the spiritual needs of the sailors on theOklahoma for less than year. Despite the short time on board, he had endeared himself to the men and was known for his approachability, sense of humor, and willingness to serve them.
Fr. Schmitt came from a hard-working German immigrant family that settled near Dubuque, Iowa, in the mid-nineteenth century. He was the tenth (and last) child of Henry and Mary Schmitt, and from the earliest age expressed a desire to become a priest. Young Al enjoyed school and athletics and spent his time working on the family farm. After high school, he enrolled at Columbia (now Loras) College in Dubuque, where he meditated on the school’s motto, Pro Deo et Patria (“For God and country”), which would serve as a guiding principle throughout his life.
Upon graduation, Al Schmitt answered the call of God he had heard at a young age and embarked on the path to the priesthood. He was sent to study theology at the North American College in Rome and was ordained a priest on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1935. Returning to the U.S., Fr. Schmitt served brief stints as parochial vicar at St. Boniface parish in New Vienna, Iowa—the cathedral parish in Cheyenne, Wyoming—and at St. Mary parish in Dubuque.
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