In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum, inaugurating the era of modern Catholic social teaching and signaling the Church’s solidarity with the industrial working class. Among those who prepared the way for this teaching was Anton Schwartz, an Austrian priest who was moved by the hardship he witnessed among apprentices and young workers in Vienna who spent long hours in factories working for pitiful wages and often enduring terrible conditions. At the time he was a chaplain to a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy. At first the archbishop denied Fr. Schwartz’s request to be relieved of his duties to devote himself to the workers, but eventually, with the support of the Sisters, he was freed to pursue his true vocation.
In 1889 he and five religious Brothers founded the Congregation for the Devout Workers of St. Joseph Calasanz. Fr. Schwartz perceived the struggle to overcome social injustice as “one of the most significant and hardest problems of our time.” He actively sided with the workers in labor strikes, denounced their exploitation, and promoted the formation of associations to promote their education and protect their interests. His open engagement in the social struggle drew bitter attacks, including many from within the Church. But support from his archbishop finally stilled his critics. Schwartz died on September 15, 1929, and was beatified in 1998 by St. John Paul II.
Blessed Anton Schwartz defense of the dignity of the worker makes him a saint for garment justice.
Those Catholics are worthy of all praise who, understanding what the times require, have striven, by various undertakings and endeavors, to better the condition of the working class by
—Pope Leo XIII
A Prayer in Honor of the Blessed Anton Maria Schwartz
O God, who have taught your Church
to keep all the heavenly commandments
by love of you as God and love of neighbor;
grant that, practicing the works of charity
after the example of blessed Anton Maria Schwartz,
we may be worthy to be numbered among the blessed
in your Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
[from The Roman Missal]