Korean Relief Inc. and the Story of Father Aloysius Schwartz

Seals South Korea

Our past Chairman and Publisher of the Korea Stamp Society (KSS), Ivo Spanjersberg, has long urged that he and I write an article about the Korean Relief Inc. organization and its related Korean philatelic items. Various items of postal history, including postal stationery, aerogrammes, Christmas seals and labels, and other related merchandize, are frequently seen for sale on many philatelic websites and auctions, and even in auctions for collectors of handkerchiefs (we will get to that subject of handkerchiefs later in the article). There is still a lot of information that neither I nor Ivo have about Korean Relief. We are hoping that some of our members can fill in the blanks that are unknown to us about the Korean Relief Inc. program.

Fig. 1: The “Operation Bootstrap” front/back cover and inside of folder
Fig. 2: The “Operation Bootstrap” inside of folder

Korean Relief Inc. was founded in 1961 by Father Aloysius Schwartz, commonly known as “Father Al”, a Catholic missionary priest who after he was ordained in 1952 went to Korea, and Bishop John Choi of Busan, Korea. Father Schwartz was a champion of the poor, initially in Korea, and would later expand his work into the Philippines and Mexico, and would win the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1983 for his humanitarian work. There is a good website with his biography and information about the establishment of the Korean Relief Inc.

Father Schwartz, then a Monsignor, contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—ALS), a degenerative illness of the nervous system in 1989, and died in 1992 at the age of 61 years old. In Korea he founded the orders of the Sisters of Mary and the Brothers of Christ. According to Wikipedia, both groups continue to this day to do missionary work in the poorest areas of Korea, Philippines, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Honduras and Tanzania. “Father Al” is on the pathway for Sainthood in the Catholic faith, and was made “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II in 1995 and “Beautified” by the Pope in 1998.

Bishop John A. Choi Jae-seon was born Ulsan, Korea in 1912 and ordained a priest in 1938. He became bishop of Busan in 1962 and in 1973 was appointed the Titular Bishop of Tanaramusa. This term “Tanaramusa” means that he was not a bishop of a particular diocese. He was known during the Vietnam War for giving out Saint Christopher medals to American soldiers on rest and relaxation visits to Korea and Japan, with the veterans’ own initials on the medals. He died in 2008 at the age of 96 years old.

Seals

Our interest in Korean Relief Inc. is centered on its Christmas seals, labels, and postal stationery, including aerogrammes and envelopes. These are often seen for sale or auction on websites like Delcampe and eBay. It appears that the Christmas seal program started around 1966 and may have ended after 1971.

Fig. 3: 1966 partial seal sheet of 23 (missing one seal)
Fig. 4: 1967 seal sheet of 24
Fig. 5: 1968 seal sheet of 50
Fig. 6: 1969 seal, bottom margin strip of 10 seals

The version 2 of the 1969 seal shows a block from a sheet of a 44. This is an unusual arrangement of a sheet with a label of a nun holding a baby and 44 seals. We have not found a 1970 seal, although it could be the one with shown in figure 10 here which contains five seals at the bottom of the sheet and ten labels/tags.

We know of at least two seals from 1971, and they have the similar design of seals of 1966 and 1969. If any reader can tell us more about these seals it would be appreciated, as we cannot find any references where the Korean Relief Inc. seals are mentioned in literature. It would be excellent if there is a comprehensive article about these Korean Relief Inc. seals. It appears in some years, for example, as shown in the images here, in 1969 there were two different types of seals and different arrangements of the sheets.

Fig. 7: Close up of 1971 seal
Fig. 8: Close up of the other 1971 seal, sold in sheets together with the 1971 seal shown in figure 8
Fig. 9: seals from several years compared.

Labels/tags

There were also labels/tags for giving gifts that accompanied some of these seals, we know of at least three different types, and we have images of two of them. Another is a sheet of 12 of which we do not have a good images, but it is a sheet of 12 with tags/labels say to “Father, Mother, Wife, Husband, etc.”

Fig. 10: 1969 seal sheet of 44 with label of nun holding baby
Fig 11: the same 1969 seals, in more detail.
Fig. 12: unknown dated seal sheet (1970???) with 5 seals and 10 labels
Fig. 13: address label containing the two seal images (seals not separable from the address label). This was perhaps part of the top 50% of the part sheet shown in fig. 11.
Fig. 14: other version of the address labels of 1969.

Letters and aerogrammes

There is a series of letters written both on single pages stationery and on aerogrammes from Bishop Choi soliciting and thanking people for donations. We do not know how many different kinds of stationery letters and aerogrammes were used by Bishop Choi and the Korean Relief Inc. organization. We do have a number of examples of stationery and aerogrammes.

EXAMPLE 1

Fig. 15: Aerogramme to Commander Stock USNR (ret.). Note that both the address and the letter is addressed to/opens with “Stockusnrret”.
Fig. 16: Text (letter) side of aerogramme
Text of letter to Commander Stock
Dear Commander Stockusnrret:

I have received your most kind Christmas gift for our orphan children, and I am writing these few lines now to express heartfelt gratitude and appreciation.

It has been said that it is difficult for the heart to embrace when one’s eyes do not see. Although you yourself are 8,000 miles away from Korea your heart continues to reach out and embrace the parentless and abandoned children of this parched and poverty-stricken land.

I myself am most impressed by your fine spirit of sacrifice and I pray that God Who calls Himself “the Father of the poor” will richly reward your generosity to His little ones.

Wishing you a most prosperous and happy New Year,
I remain,

Gratefully Yours,

John A. Choi

EXAMPLE 2

Fig. 17: Aerogramme to “Peehapir”.
Fig. 18: Text (letter) side of aerogramme.
Letter to 'Peehapir'
Dear Donor:
I cannot thank you enough for your generous contribution which is received by all of us with grateful hearts. I hope that knowing you have helped to brighten the lives of our orphans will be a cause of great joy for you.

The difference between an institution and a home for these children is ,amour donation. Because of your tender concern for God’s little ones, we have already constructed 25 Family-Unit Orphanages — individual dwellings, small and simple, but warm and intimate as family life should be.

Instead of a ‘matron’ there is a mother a young woman, trained in child care, who devotes her life to orphaned and abandoned children. Instead of a hundred children in a dormitory, five or six are housed in a small cottage — a home of their own. Soon they lose that ‘orphan look;’ soon the regimented past of institutional life is forgotten. Other children are no longer ‘other orphans’ but ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. There is a mother.

How wonderful it would be if we could take all of the children from asylums and place them in our Family Units. But everything cannot be done at once; we must acknowledge our limitations. We must provide for the children still in institutions even as we struggle to build more Family Units for them.

But you have helped us in the past, helped us now, and may help us again. I never cease to marvel at your generosity. Small wonder God has blessed with an ‘abundance of riches a nation whose people are so willing to share.

You have made our Christmas a truly joyous one and filled our hearts with gladness. We wish you in return peace in the New Year, happiness, and prosperity. And the prayer of the children, of the ‘orphan-mothers’ and myself, is “God bless and keep you always.”

Gratefully yours,
John A. Choi
Bishop of Pusan Director, Korean Relief, Inc.

U.S. Address: P.O. Box 6121, Washington, D.C.

Fig. 19: Envelope (front) to Matilda Townsend. Notice the added “Address Correction Requested”. Also notice the Washington DC sender’s address, even though the cover was clearly sent from Korea.
Fig. 20: Envelope (reverse) to Matilda Townsend. Here the sender’s address is 100% Korean text only, showing the return address as Busan Post Office PO Box no. 300.

“Operation Hanky”

One of the most intriguing Korean Relief Inc. initiatives was the “Operation Hanky” project, where local Korean women embroidered handkerchiefs, which were then sent to donors to Korean Relief Inc. It appears these were only sent to people in the USA. We know that the program lasted at least two years, as the letter to Mr. Gassman is dated October 26, 1967 and while undated, the aerogramme sent to Mrs. Wheat has a fairy tale stamp on it that was not issued until November 1, 1969.

Postal items from Operation Hanky

EXAMPLE 1

Fig. 21: 1967 aerogramme and letter to Mr. Gassman.
Fig. 22: Text (letter) side of aerogramme.
Letter to Mr. Gassman
Dear Mr. Gassman:
I wish to thank you for your kind and generous contribution. I am so happy you liked the handkerchief I sent you. I hoped you that you would and your response gives tremendous encouragement to all of us.

Few things raise the human spirits like this type of encouragement. To the women who worked on “Operation Hanky” and who sometimes feel that they are the poor relations in the human family, your encouragement is priceless.

The time it took to embroider the handkerchiefs was a period of security for the women who made them. The worry about the next meal and where it would come from disappeared, at least for a while. In a few cases the wages earned meant the difference between keeping the home together and giving the children up to an orphanage.

It is said that assistance on the national level is felt by everyone in the long run. But the effect of person to person aid such as your contribution is immediate. It brightens the present as well as the future.

Others will build the industrial plants and factories that will one day make us economically independent. But your gift is the precious help that will tide us over during the long years of growth that lie ahead. Rest assured we will not forget you.

Wishing you every blessing, l remain,

Gratefully yours,
John A. Choi
Bishop of Pusan, Korean Relief, Inc.

EXAMPLE 2

Fig. 23: Undated aerogramme and letter to Mrs. Wheat
Fig. 24: Text (letter) side of aerogramme.
Letter to Mrs. Wheat
Dear Mrs. Wheat:
I wish to thank you for your kind and generous contribution. I am so happy you liked the handkerchief I sent you. I hoped you would like it and your response gives tremendous encouragement to all of us.

Few things raise the human spirits like this type of encouragement. To the women who worked on “Operation Hanky” and who sometimes feel that they are the poor relations in the human family, your encouragement is priceless.

The time it took to embroider the handkerchiefs was a period of security for the women who made them. The worry about the next meal and where it would come from disappeared, at least for a while. In a few cases the wages earned meant the difference between keeping the home together and giving the children up to an orphanage.

It is said that assistance on the national level is felt by everyone in the long run. But the effect of person to person aid — such as your contribution — is immediate. It brightens the present as well as the future.

Others will build the industrial plants and factories that will one day make us economically independent. But yours is the precious help that will tide us over during the long years of growth that lie ahead. Rest assured we will not forget you.

Wishing you every blessing, I remain,

Gratefully yours,
John A. Choi
Bishop of Pusan, Korean Relief, Inc.

The Handkerchiefs from Operation Hanky

Fig. 25: One of the different types of embroidered handkerchiefs sent in “Operation Hanky”

It appears that there were at least three different types of handkerchiefs that were sent to donors, and we have a possible fourth type of hanky that may have been used by the program.. “Operation Hanky” is described on the “Literate Quilter” blog site: on this blog site there is an image of a folder “Operation Hanky”, which is similar to the “Operation Bootstrap” folder. So far, we have not been able to locate an actual copy of this “Operation Hanky” folder. On that blog site, there is also an image of another type of stationery used by Bishop Choi for which we do not have an actual copy.

Fig. 26: Second example
Fig. 27: Third example
Fig. 28: A possible fourth type of design used for the hanky.
Fig. 29: close-up of different types of labels attached to the handkerchiefs. The label to the left is the one used commonly on the Operation Hanky handkerchiefs, the one to the right could be from another program.
Fig. 30: Description of silk small pamphlet sent with the fourth hanky.

Were some of Dr. Hall TB/Christmas and New Year’s seals used for the designs of the hankies?

Some of the images embroidered on the handkerchiefs are very familiar to the collectors of Dr. Sherwood Hall’s TB/Christmas and New Year seals. At least two of the images especially remind us of the 1935 and 1939 seas, children playing on a seesaw and a girl on a swing.

Fig. 31: 1939 Dr. Sherwood Hall’s TB/Christmas and New Year seal, girl on a swing.
Fig. 32: 1935 Dr. Sherwood Hall’s TB/Christmas and New Year seal, girls on a seesaw.

Questions

So, we still have a number of questions about the Korean Relief Inc. programme:

  • When did the Korean Relief Inc. Christmas seal program actually start and end?
  • How many different kinds of seals and accompanying labels were actually issued?
  • We have not seen any of seals actually used on cover from mail from Korea or the USA, so were some actually used by donors?
  • How many different types of stationery (envelopes and aerogrammes) did Bishop Choi actually use in his mailings?
  • Were any letters sent out by Father Schwartz? Is there any stationery with Father Schwarts’ name on it?
  • For “Operation Hanky”, how many different types of handkerchiefs were sent? We do know of at least three different, and a possible fourth, handkerchiefs designs that were sent to donors.

Hopefully some of our readers can respond with answers to some of our questions and we can have a follow-up article about the Korean Relief Inc. program as we learn more information about the organization.

Tagged
KSS Korea Philately Editor
One of the earliest positions of the KSS. The position of editor of KP is, and has always been, the mainstay of the KSS.

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