St. Teresa of Kolkata once said, “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.” Richelle Gnezda has taken the words of St. Teresa to heart and translated them into service through Saint John Bosco’s El Salvador Ministry.
Vivacious Richelle Gnezda was born in Brook Park and has been a member of Saint John Bosco parish since the age of five. After graduating from Midpark High School, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Cleveland State University. She later earned Masters’ degrees in Counseling and Education. Richelle has taught mathematics in the Strongsville City Schools for 26 years, including eighteen in elementary schools and eight in middle schools.
El Salvador Ministry
Saint John Bosco Parish has had a long tradition of ministering to the poor. Specifically, the concept of assisting the people of El Salvador first arose in 2015. At that time, former parishioner Mr. Jodie Bowers spoke to the SJB Parish Pastoral Council about the efforts of his present church, St. Dominic in Shaker Heights, to minister to the poor of Chiltiupan, El Salvador. As a result of this presentation, our parish “adopted” two schools in El Salvador, including one government-run grade school in the tiny mountain village of Corinto and a Catholic high school in Santo Domingo. In 2016, Richelle and fellow SJB parishioners Theresa Marzloff and Allison Schulte and former pastor Fr. Lawrence Jurcak accompanied St. Dominic’s group on a trip to Corinto. “It was an experience which I will never forget,” says Richelle. “The people are extremely poor, mainly living in primitive homes with dirt floors. But they were so welcoming. They raised chickens and even fed us their homemade chicken soup!”
The first project financed by SJB’s Ministry was the construction of a roof over the Corinto grade school’s play area which lies between two school buildings. “The sun is so hot on the mountain that children were actually passing out at recess,” says Richelle. “The new roof connects the two buildings, so the students are well shaded now.” Over the past few years, our parish has also helped to cover the costs of computers and internet access as well as musical instruments for the grade school. In 2021, our parish ministry sent funds to repair gutters, doors, and windows of the Corinto school.
Throughout much of El Salvador, formal government-sponsored education ends after the ninth grade. With the generous contributions of our parishioners, SJB’s El Salvador Ministry decided to promote Catholic-based higher education by underwriting tuition for up to ten students in the Santo Domingo High School each year. The total cost for educating each student in grades 10 through 12 is only $600. The importance of this program must not be underestimated. According to Richelle, “For many students in El Salvador, Catholic High School education is the first time that they are exposed to Christ.”
When asked what prompted her to participate in the El Salvador Ministry, Richelle responded, “I love Spanish, and I always wanted to be able to use the language to communicate with others. Plus being a teacher, I feel that knowledge is power, and I think that the best thing that I can do is empower the poor with knowledge.” Richelle found her trip to Corinto very inspirational. “The simplicity of life there and the beauty of the mountains brought a sense of peace which just can’t be found in the busy city. I could definitely sense God’s hand in the glorious scenery.”
A fund-raiser for this ministry, entitled “An Experience of El Salvador”, will be held on Sunday, April 24th from 2:00 – 5:00 PM in the Bell Tower. The celebration will feature traditional foods, music, and handcrafts of El Salvador. Numerous gift baskets will be raffled, and a 50-50 contest will be held as well. Tickets for this fund raiser may be purchased at the Parish Office. Please do your best to support this vital ministry and change the life of a child in Corinto, El Salvador.
Submitted by: Christine and Robert Martuch