‘Cocktails and Comedy’ fundraiser to support Rwandan education nonprofit

by Mary McKenna

The Rev. Jean Bosco, a Catholic missionary priest, lost everything but his hope and home in the devastating 1994 Rwandan genocide. Yet, Bosco was still able to care for countless children orphaned in its wake by converting his family’s property into an orphanage.

When he first came to Hudson in 2010 and asked families at St. Mary Catholic Church to consider taking some of these children in and supporting their continued education, no one could have been more surprised by her response than Jill Burke.

“That’s when I had my Holy-Spirit, electricity-running-through-my-body, teary, couldn’t-stop-crying moment,” she said.

Like any leap of faith, the decision she and her husband, Mike, ultimately made to welcome two high school boys from Rwanda into their Hudson home began with an open heart.

For fellow St. Mary parishioner Mary Lynn Silvestro, who along with her husband, Mike, chose to bring two Rwandan girls from the same orphanage over at the same time, the call to action was as “providentially inspired” as that of the Burkes. She said Mike had just finished reading Immaculee Ilibagiza’s compelling memoir, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” when the couple met Bosco.

Lauren Loboda, who first brough Bosco to Hudson, said the needs of the orphans far surpassed financial support and would require – just like any other parent-child relationship – “a lifetime commitment.” Loboda said it was Bosco’s dream that those needs would be met for them in the U.S. 

By 2014, that dream had become reality for seven thriving students placed here. According to their St. Mary families, the children attended Catholic school, acclimated to family life and American living, took hot showers for the first time, ate foreign cheeseburgers and gradually “came into their own.”

Silvestro attributes the student’s growth to the families and extended families who “100% embraced” them, and also to the community of St. Mary and its Life Teen ministry who did everything to make them feel welcome. In fact, several residents and parishioners actively involved in their success had no idea the part they’d play in supporting these children when they first arrived.

Debbie Kukurza, a former theology teacher at Walsh Jesuit high school, regularly interacted with many of the students on campus and in the classroom. Kate Carroll enjoyed her years spent tutoring them before she and her husband, Tom, ultimately decided to welcome a Rwandan child of their own.

Today, the Silvestro, Burke and Carroll families pay forward the blessings their Rwandan children have brought them. Partnering with Bosco to extend education opportunities to more Rwandans, the team – led by Debbie Kukurza and the rest of her 15-member board of directors – supports a nonprofit called FRE: Friends of Rwandan Education.

One of FRE’s early primary objectives was to construct St. Antoine’s Secondary School in Rwanda, following the traditional Rwandan approach with each brick crafted by hand. According to Burke, the area where the school is located was not just remote but incredibly impoverished.

“If you saw this town in Karangazi, you’d see its abject poverty. Beautiful people but so poor,” she said.

Comedy for a cause

FRE’s upcoming fundraising event, “Cocktails and Comedy,” hosted by Catholic Laughter, will be held at Seton Catholic School on Saturday, April 20, at 6 p.m. The show features two national headliners – Showtime star Don Friesen and Guinness World Record-setting comic juggler Ron Pearson. Carroll, who helped orchestrate the event with support from multiple organizations, hopes patrons turn out in droves to “laugh from their bellies and give from their generous hearts!”

In the last eight years, FRE’s raised almost $1 million for the school through annual fundraisers, expanding its support with crop-growing programs, for example, and the construction of a medical clinic. To some, the task seems insurmountable, but Silvestro, for one, is convinced that it can and must be done.

“Whenever someone asks, ‘How can we do this?’ I think, ‘How can we not?’” she said.

For tickets and more information, visit friendsofrwandaned.org. ∞

Photo: Hope Uwase is one of several orphans from Rwanda who came to live with families in Hudson. The fundraiser will provide support for a school that local residents helped build in the students’ home country.