Editor’s note: Last of a two-part report.
CHAMPION — Before his death last January, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, a priest from the Diocese of Cyangugu, Rwanda, who was a familiar face to Catholics in the Diocese of Green Bay, established a Center for the Secret of Peace in Rwanda. The center seeks to promote Fr. Ubald’s ministry and mission of forgiveness among Rwandans who survived the 1994 genocide.
An estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group, died in the unrest, including more than 80 members of Fr. Ubald’s family.
During a memorial observance for Fr. Ubald at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on June 26, one of Fr. Ubald’s closest associates in the United States spoke about the priest’s legacy and what is being done to continue his mission of forgiveness.
Katsey Long of Jackson, Wyo., who served as Fr. Ubald’s personal assistant for the last 12 years of his life, said a nonprofit 501c3 foundation has been established to continue the ministry of Fr. Ubald. The foundation takes its name from the center established by Fr. Ubald: The Center for the Secret of Peace Ministries.
“We are committed to continuing to move his vision and mission forward, not only in Rwanda but also in other parts of the world,” she said. “Fr. Ubald’s message of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation is a universal message for the entire church and for our world today. We are seeing the lack of unity in our own country and the need for reconciliation in our families, churches, communities, cities and nation.”
Fr. Ubald’s legacy will continue to flourish through the Center for the Secret of Peace in Cyangugu, Rwanda, which was dedicated in August 2019. The center, which overlooks Lake Kivu, also serves as the final resting place of Fr. Ubald.
The center for peace “is a place where many pilgrims come for prayer, healing and peace,” said Long. “They continue to have once-a-month healing services. The bishop of his diocese is very supportive of the work of the Center for Peace.”
Fr. Ubald was in the United States when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country last year.
“Once the COVID lockdown happened, he was in Jackson Hole,” said Long. “He lived at my house from since last March (2020) up until the day he got ill. He went to the hospital on Oct. 22.”
After more than a week at the hospital in Jackson Hole, Fr. Ublad was flown by MedEvac to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he spent 10 weeks in the intensive care unit. He died on Jan. 7, 2021, from respiratory failure.
“We had a funeral in Salt Lake City,” said Long. “I took his body back to Rwanda, so there were several services in Rwanda. Last week (June 16), we had an ecumenical service in Jackson Hole for the community because a lot of people in the community loved him. This is the last of the memorial services that we planned.”
Long said she met Fr. Ubald in 2009, on his first visit to the United States. “He had been invited by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who had known of him in her home country” of Rwanda, she said. Ilibagiza, who has been to Wisconsin numerous times to speak about the Rwandan genocide and finding forgiveness and peace, introduced Long to Fr. Ubald.
She was asked to host Fr. Ubald and another priest, Marian Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, who is a missionary priest in Rwanda. “I had entertained them for several days and I thought that was that,” she said. Instead, Fr. Ubald invited Long and two others, including Paul Vogelheim of Jackson Hole, to visit him in Rwanda in 2009.
“A few months later, I received an email from Fr. Ubald,” said Long. “I am coming to America for these dates and you are in charge of my schedule,” she said he wrote. “At first, I was begging people to have him come to their parishes and conferences. … Over time, I no longer had to beg people to have this priest come, but had to turn down invitations because his time was booked.”
Vogelheim, chairperson of the Center for the Secret of Peace Ministries board, accompanied Long to Champion for the memorial service.
“A year before Fr. Ubald passed, he handpicked nine people to be members of the board,” said Vogelheim. “We had no idea that Fr. Ubald would be leaving us so quickly, but he wanted to make sure that (the board) would deliver on his mission and vision for the center and the Missionaries of Peace.”
The Missionaries of Peace of Christ the King is a religious order founded by Fr. Ubald and Sr. Donata Uwimanimpaye.
“There are over 100 brothers and sisters who are a part of the ministry of Fr. Ubald’s mission of forgiveness,” said Vogelheim. “It was his intent to turn over the Center for the Secret of Peace to the Missionaries of Peace, but they are not ready. That has become part of our mission: how do we organize and fund them.”
The foundation’s board of directors consists of members from Rwanda, Austria and the United States, said Vogelheim. “Amy Pulaski of Green Bay is a member of the board,” he added.
The foundation seeks to help the Center for Peace and the Missionaries of Peace continue Fr. Ubald’s legacy, said Vogelheim. “But the big (challenge) is the communication to let people know that his work will continue. Just as Jesus empowered his chosen to carry on his work, we are feeling the same commitment to our friend to carry on the work that he began. We will see how the Holy Spirit works through us and provides Rwandans to step forward and see who’s going to be the charismatic followup to Fr. Ubald.”
Long said Fr. Ubald possessed “all the markings and makings of a great saint.” She said he lived a life of heroic virtue and was a person of prayer who had a willingness to accept suffering and speak the truth. He also lived a life of humility.
“Fr. Ubald lived a life of heroic virtue poured out for others, always proclaiming Christ,” she said. “He had a deep prayer life and the Mass was his favorite prayer. … His last Mass, while we were both sick with COVID, was the day before he went to the hospital, Oct. 21.” He celebrated his final Mass in his hospital bed Jan. 5, assisted by a deacon who was a hospital chaplain.
Fr. Ubald’s willingness to accept suffering was obvious by his actions following the genocide, said Long. “He always forgave and continued to pray for those who persecuted him personally. He never took on a victim attitude ever, in spite of all that he had been through,” she said.
“He spoke truth with love, not with condemnation or shame,” said Long. “He really was very childlike in his trust of God and was very humble in that he knew who he was, in spite of a lifetime of suffering, he lived in joy knowing he was loved by God and wanting to pour that love out for others.”
After 12 years of introducing Fr. Ubald to crowds across the United States, Long said her role now — along with other members of the Center for Peace foundation — is to be an “ambassador of his work and his mission and his vision of bringing people together in Jesus’ name (to) love each other. He fought and died for that.”