By Tina Potterf
Photos by Chris Joseph Kalinko
Jesuit Father Jean Baptiste Ganza began as regional superior for the Jesuits of the Rwanda-Burundi Region on December 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier. Prior to assuming this role, Fr. Ganza earned an MBA from Seattle University. The following edited profile of Fr. Ganza first appeared in Seattle University Magazine.
December 19, 2014 — It is a moment that lingers, as if suspended in time, in Jesuit Father Jean Baptiste Ganza’s mind. He was a young man leaving home to embark on a life-changing journey while his mother was struggling to let him go.
On the day of his departure, bound for the Congo in Central Africa to follow his calling to become a Jesuit priest, Jean Baptiste’s mother, with tears in her eyes and a heavy heart, kissed and hugged her son goodbye.
Little did he know at the time but that embrace and long farewell would be the last time he would see his mother alive. Within six months she would be murdered, along with five of Fr. Ganza’s siblings and nearly 80 extended family members, all among the 800,000 killed in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. The genocide was a result of ongoing conflict between the Tutsis and Hutus. Fr. Ganza is a Tutsi.
Losing his mother and much of his family 20 years ago in Gisenyi, Rwanda, set in a motion a particularly dark period for Fr. Ganza who, though alive, was struggling with survivor’s guilt. He was going through the motions of life but not really living it. A man so rich and convinced of his faith had suddenly lost faith in humanity and was questioning everything, including his belief in God as he grappled with bouts of heavy grief and anguish entwined with anger.
Fr. Ganza holds photos of his family members who were among those killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
“You die with those who are killed,” he says. “In my situation, my faith played a key role in something that led me to choose to leave my parents, siblings and cousins that day." He was suddenly without the core of his family — his father died 10 years earlier.
“At the time I was angry with God because I felt he didn’t follow through. I started to ask why I survived,” he continues. “Why save me and not my brothers and sisters? But then I saw my leaving for the Congo as a sign that God wanted me to get out in time, that he had a mission for me.”
Following the deaths of much of his family, he found some measure of comfort when survivors who were there with his mother in her last moments of life relayed a message to him. “When death came for her, she said she was happy I wasn’t [in Rwanda] and that I could live,” he says.
Time has brought healing to Fr. Ganza, who now dedicates his life to help in the healing of those who continue to suffer and live with the aftermath of the genocide.
Top of mind are his efforts for social reconciliation between the Hutus and Tutsis, the best means to a brighter future for the people of Rwanda, he says. He acknowledges the troubled history and tensions that continue to exist between the two and that his work — and the efforts of those who follow him — in reconciliation will take time. But when it’s your life’s mission, you do what it takes. “If you are convinced that God saved you then you have to be convinced that he has a mission for you. I couldn’t see that at the time but I knew I had to continue with my mission of becoming a Jesuit,” he says.
“It was when I became a priest that I saw clearly that mission.”
Fr. Ganza holds the flag of his home country, Rwanda.
Becoming a Jesuit aided in the healing process and restored his faith, Fr. Ganza says. The Jesuit ethos coupled with support for continuing his education and travel drew him in. “When I read the biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder, I fell in love with his journey,” Fr. Ganza says. “His journey was similar to my own.”
“There was a time when I didn’t want to share,” Fr. Ganza says of revealing his very personal story. He holds onto pleasant memories spending time in the countryside of Kibuye with his siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and of the special traditions and moments that wrapped around the family’s Christmas and New Year celebrations.
He remembers his family’s house filling up with neighbors who would drop in to welcome the birth of Fr. Ganza’s younger siblings and congratulate his parents. “I feel very privileged to have had a dad and mom who were there for me. I was loved, loved by my family and loved by God,” he says.
Educating the Next Generation of Rwandans
After Fr. Ganza earned a master’s in social sciences from the Catholic University of Central Africa in Yaounde, Cameroon, and a master’s in social ethics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, he headed to Seattle University, where he received an MBA in 2012.
Fr. Ganza before Mass at Seattle University.
Fr. Ganza felt he could do more good by having the business smarts around finances, entrepreneurship and fundraising that can be leveraged in future endeavors. One recent initiative: the construction and operation of a secondary school run by the Jesuits in the capital of Kigali.
Fr. Ganza and other Jesuits were instrumental in setting up and running an elementary school on Jesuit-owned property in the country. Today, the school educates 370 children and fits with his purposeful mission for reconciliation there.
“I came to the conclusion that helping people start projects, to have a better life and access to food and health care are other ways to strengthen reconciliation,” Fr. Ganza says. “I want to bring the Hutus and Tutsis together with common goals.” A special moment came in the summer of 2010 when Fr. Ganza visited the school after it had just opened.
“This was the first time I saw the school with the kids in it. It was alive with the children in their uniforms, dancing,” he says. “It was a big party and so moving. They were happy. I saw the Tutsis and Hutus together. This is a big thing for the future of Rwanda.”
Getting to the place where he is today took time — time to reflect, to pray, to heal and to forgive. “Before you forgive, you will suffer. Hatred is heavy on you and toxic in your life.”
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.