Marcel Uwineza, S.J. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Risen from the ashes and making a difference

Marcel Uwineza, S.J., a Boston College graduate and survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, is dedicated to creating a generation of peace-builders in Africa

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, a human rights atrocity that left approximately one million Tutsi dead over the course of about 100 days.

Marcel Uwineza, a Jesuit priest and Boston College graduate, was a young teen in Rwanda in 1994. He was beaten and his home and all his family’s belongings were burned. His two brothers, a sister, and an aunt were killed. His mother was beaten and later died from her injuries. Fr. Uwineza and his three younger siblings were saved when a Hutu man hid them on his property.

Fr. Uwineza “illustrates the profound and enduring dynamics between the goodness and mercy of God on one hand, and the proclivity of sinful human nature to rebel against the divine call to 'Love God and neighbor' on the other” in his memoir, . He reviews the history that led to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and recounts the painful experience of being a witness to the genocide. He also writes of his journey to the priesthood and the liberating power of forgiveness—specifically, the moment when he forgave the man who killed his siblings.

Fr. Uwineza had returned to his village to pray at the burial site of his family. The man who killed his siblings had been released from jail and approached Fr. Uwineza, who was frightened and didn’t know what this man wanted from him. Then, the man knelt and asked for forgiveness. Fr. Uwineza raised the man up, embraced him, and said, “I forgive you.”

Risen from the Ashes also details how Fr. Uwineza has been using what he calls his “extra time” to be “a living bridge between the wounded in Rwanda and those who did the wounding.” He said: “I want to be a messenger of reconciliation and a way for people to reach God.”

When he was a BC doctoral candidate in 2019, he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly on the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. He offered powerful personal testimony and forgave the U.N. and the international community for abandoning Rwanda in its time of need.

Fr. Uwineza co-organized a conference in Rwanda that assembled an international group of bishops, theologians, and multidisciplinary researchers to explore restoring fundamental peace and rebuilding lasting reconciliation as a Catholic Church in post-genocide Rwanda.

At the conference, Fr. Uwineza gave a talk titled “Reimagining Humanity: A Theology that Makes Sense of the Wounds of History,” where he compared the dry bones seen in the memorials in Rwanda to the country’s enduring scars, and he emphasized the theological imperative of memory.

Fr. Uwineza is co-editor of an important scholarly volume drawn from that conference, titled (Georgetown University Press, 2023). It is considered the first comprehensive examination of the Catholic Church’s role in the genocide against the Tutsi and its attempts at reconciliation. Boston College contributors to the publication include the late Dean Thomas D. Stegman, S.J., and Professor Emerita M. Shawn Copeland.

He also is author of a forthcoming publication from Brill titled Healing a Wounded People: A Theology for a Divided World.

Marcel and Darveaus.jpg

Fr. Uwineza (center, holding his book) is flanked by Boston College alumni Jane and Richard (Dick) Darveau who first encountered Fr. Uwineza in 2018 as a visiting priest at St. Patrick's Church in Stoneham, Mass. The couple has stayed in touch with the Jesuit priest and visited with him when he was back on the BC campus in April. (Photo by Kathleen Sullivan)

Fr. Uwineza graduated from Boston College with a licentiate in systematic theology, master’s in theology, and Ph.D. in systematic theology. After his studies at BC, he earned an M.B.A. from York St John University in the United Kingdom.

Today, he is the principal (president) of , a Jesuit school of theology and peace studies for more than 350 men and women. He said his goal is to make Hekima “the premier Jesuit institution in the Southern hemisphere.”

In his first year as leader of the school, Fr. Uwineza oversaw the conversion of the school’s two campuses to solar power. Sunshine is in abundance, he said, and it made fiscal and ecological sense to replace the expensive and unreliable electricity-based power system. The loan for project is still outstanding, he said, but more than half has been paid off.

One of the strategic initiatives that Fr. Uwineza is focused on is the formation of women, particularly educating more women in theology and increasing scholarships for women. “There is a lot of suffering on my continent, but wherever people suffer, we know women suffer the most,” he said in a recent interview. “Women carry the burden of the family, but if we can educate one woman, we can lift up a whole village.” He has raised funds for women to pursue master’s degrees in peace-building, and is committed to raising even more funds to educate more women.

Earlier this year, Hekima University College organized a conference on African Women theologians that featured presentations from women theologians, including Boston College theologians Lisa Sowle Cahill and M. Shawn Copeland, to highlight the important role women can have in addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and environmental harm.

Another of Fr. Uwineza’s goals is to expand the capacity of Hekima by increasing enrollment, offering courses online, and ultimately creating a doctoral program. That goal will need to be supported with new infrastructure and the training of professors.

Fr. Uwineza said he is blessed to have a wonderful faculty and strong team supporting his vision. He added that he is guided by the example of stewardship and strategic leadership he witnessed at Boston College under University President William P. Leahy, S.J. “The heart of leadership is making a difference for others,” Fr. Uwineza said.

“I am so grateful for the formation I received at Boston College,” said Fr. Uwineza, adding that he truly found a home in BC’s Jesuit community. “These wonderful Jesuits celebrate your success as theirs at every juncture. It was a joy and gave me a sense of belonging.”

To connect with Fr. Uwineza or to support his ministry, email him at or, or visit the Hekima University College website, .