Reunited Missionaries: In chance encounter, Congolese Marianist reconnects with SSMN from his past

By Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

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After three decades, Brother Jean Bosco Mukolo, SM, was reunited with Sister Roberta Hesse, SSMN, at Our Lady of Victory Center in South Fort Worth. The series of events that led him there can only be explained as divine Providence. (Photo by Jerry Circelli / NTC)

As a boy growing up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean Bosco “Mbau” Mukolo found great comfort and support in the company of the Catholic missionary sisters in his neighborhood. He even adopted his Christian name at the suggestion of the sisters, who saw something special in the youth. Saint John Bosco dedicated his life to the betterment and education of disadvantaged children and others in dire need of help. For three decades, Jean Bosco Mukolo, now age 35, has strived to live up to the name.

After completing primary and secondary school in his country, Jean Bosco went on to become a Marianist brother, with his formation taking place in Ivory Coast in West Africa. He then earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Nairobi, Kenya. Through eight years of study there, he immersed himself in social work programs to help street children, women, and the poor. Upon his return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Brother Bosco worked hard to start up the Institut Supérieur d’Informatique Chaminade (Chaminade Institute of Computer Science) — a school with a three year computer-related studies program. He now serves as general director of the school, which has grown to include 500 students in Kinshasa, DRC.

Br. Bosco’s accomplishments earned him the distinction of being named one of only 56 leaders from 34 countries earning a fellowship in the United States through the Community Solutions Program administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. Through that four-month practical fellowship, which runs through December, Br. Bosco was placed with the Young Women’s Christian Association of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He is working in the YWCA’s Financial Empowerment Program to help move women out of poverty and into a life of financial independence and self-sufficiency.

Local YWCA Executive Director Carol Klocek said she was contacted earlier this year by an official with the Community Solutions Program and was asked if her organization would be willing to host Br. Bosco. When she learned of his background and experience, Klocek said she didn’t waste time committing the YWCA to the fellowship project. “I just jumped at the chance,” she said.

From the time Br. Bosco walked in the door at the YWCA, an almost unbelievable series of events has unfolded. First, when the YWCA director and her colleagues discovered Br. Bosco was a member  of a religious order — something they were unaware of before his arrival — they contacted the Marianist community at Nolan High School. It proved to be the perfect placement both in terms of a temporary residence and a welcoming community for Br. Bosco.

The fact that Marianist Br. Bosco had traveled more than 7,500 miles from Kinshasa to Fort Worth, with no idea that a Marianist community existed here, could be called coincidence.  What was about to unfold after that, however, can only be described as divine Providence.

In late August, Br. Bosco traveled along with the Marianist brothers and a priest who celebrated Mass for the retired Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur at Our Lady of Victory Center Chapel in South Fort Worth. Br. Bosco was introduced to the sisters, and they learned he was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All the sisters warmly welcomed their new visitor, but one of the nuns, Sister Roberta Hesse, was particularly inquisitive.

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Br. Jean Bosco Mukolo, SM, earned a four-month fellowship administered by the U.S. Department of State and is working on the Financial Empowerment Program with the YWCA of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Carol Klocek, executive director of the organization, said when presented with the offer to host Br. Bosco, “I just jumped at the chance.” (Photo by Jerry Circelli / NTC)

“Where in the Congo are you from?” Sr. Roberta asked the young man.

“Kikwit,” Br. Bosco said.

“I was in Kikwit,” Sr. Roberta said. “We lived on Avenue Tshikapa.”

“What’s your name?” asked Br. Bosco, who as a child had lived nearby.

“Sister Roberta,” she said.

“Oh, Sr. Roberta!” Br. Bosco exclaimed, taking her hand. “I know you! I know you! You gave us milk!”

In that moment, Sr. Roberta began to recognize familiar features of his face and visions of the many young children she had served in her 35 years as a missionary in Africa, including 25 years in the Congo.

“I could still see his little face and I thought, ‘I know that boy,’” Sr. Roberta said. “But he was a kid then. He has the same face, but he’s a grown man now. We all change after a few years, but I knew it was him.”

At the same time, specific memories of this sister flooded into Br. Bosco’s mind. “I got this feeling inside of me. Then I just started remembering all these events and what I received from her,” he said.

This was Sr. Roberta. He remembered her vividly. This was the nun who bandaged his bare feet many times, who tended to his bumps and bruises, who gave him oatmeal and milk in the mornings. This is the sister, who along her other missionary sisters, provided shoes and clothing. The sisters gave him notebooks, pens, pencils, and school supplies. And Sr. Roberta, he recalled, provided strong spiritual guidance all along the way.

In return for what he received, the young boy drew water from the river for the sisters, worked in their garden, mended fences, and brought them “pawpaw” (papaya) from time to time. “They taught us how to work for what we received and to be responsible,” Br. Bosco said.

Since that initial meeting this past August, Br. Bosco tries to visit Sr. Roberta and the other Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur at Our Lady of Victory Center whenever he has the opportunity. “Whenever I can get there, I am there,” he said.

“I will always remember what Sr. Roberta and the other sisters did in the Congo. She was a missionary, and she did a lot for our country. If today I am who I am, it is because I passed through them — in Catholic faith and doing good and the name I bear — both in terms of spiritual support and physical support that I received from them.

“The sisters lived as we lived. They always tried to help the local community.”

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Sister Roberta Hesse, SSMN, spent 35 years as a missionary sister in Africa. She returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a visit in 2011. Here she visits a mother and her infant. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Roberta Hesse, SSMN)

For both Br. Bosco and Sr. Roberta, the chance meeting is still surreal. Each is still somewhat in a state of disbelief that they have been reunited after three decades and a half-world away from their original encounters.

“What I feel,” said Sr. Roberta, “is that this boy has come this far and how he got to Texas is — I don’t say coincidence — but by the gentle hand of God weaving our lives. And now we get to this one place. Here he is. And so what is God asking of me? To just sit here and let him go back? No. … I know what he needs is human support and he also needs financial support.

“I get on my knees and pray for those things for him every day.”

Br. Bosco is thankful for the prayers and contacts the experienced missionary sister is providing him, so he can return to his country to continue his mission to help his people.

“I know God is giving me a message here. Some kind of message,” Br. Bosco said.

“After seeing Sr. Roberta, I feel renewed, empowered. I feel engaged. I see myself ready to do better, to do more.  She spent all her time and energy and life for the people of the Congo. She loved them and she is still loving them. Whenever I see her, she is here, but her heart is still there, in my home,” Br. Bosco said.

“She is carrying in her heart the dreams of all the Congolese people — the suffering of all the men, women, and children. They need schools, water, food, electricity, and so many things. She is still a part of that dream for every Congolese to grow and live a better life … to become somebody, like an American kid who has a vision, who has a future, who can dream.

“She gave so much to me and my fellow countrymen, and now it is my turn to do what I can do.”

Bosco-and-Sister-BUTTON.jpgAs a boy growing up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jean Bosco “Mbau” Mukolo found great comfort and support in the company of the Catholic missionary sisters in his neighborhood. He even adopted his Christian name at the suggestion of the sisters, who saw something special in the youth. Saint John Bosco dedicated his life to the betterment and education of disadvantaged children and others in dire need of help. For three decades, Jean Bosco Mukolo, now age 35, has strived to live up to the name.

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