By Susan Anderson
Being inquisitive, working hard and making the most of life — these are the ingredients that have led to a new scholarship at St. Bonaventure University.
The Rudolph P. and Alice J. Czaja Endowed Scholarship is a family story, and a fitting testament to living life with curiosity and commitment.
Rudy, a colonel in the U.S. Army and decorated World War II and Korean War veteran, served 30 years in the military, earning his GED and a bachelor’s degree along the way.
Alice, a U.S. Navy Reserve WAVES member (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), entered active duty in 1942. She served as a Petty Officer First Class, managing logistics as an aviation storekeeper during WWII and making use of those skills for the remainder of a long and active life.
Both are buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. If they ever dreamed of one day seeing the Czaja name (pronounced Ch-ī-ah, with a long “I” sound) on a scholarship, they never said.
Children of immigrants (his parents hailed from what is now Poland and the Czech Republic; hers arrived in America from Ireland and via Canada from Scotland), they learned early that change is constant and hard work a remedy.
Alice’s father, a mechanic, operated a horse-drawn trolley in Boston. Rudy’s father, an electrician, died in a construction accident in New York City when Rudy and his two brothers were just boys. Both of their mothers worked as housekeepers.
Throughout their lives, Rudy and Alice remained reverent of the examples of hard work by those who came before and excited about what might lie ahead.
Now, through the scholarship endowed in their names, they will help bring to life the intentions and aspirations of future Bonnies, while continuing their families’ reach across generations. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a Native American student majoring in a STEM field.
“My parents always had a great deal of respect for people who earned a living with their hands, who took care of their families through hard work,” said the couple’s only child, Michael Czaja, Ph.D., a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and 1982 graduate of St. Bonaventure. “I think they saw education, especially Catholic education, as a way to open doors to provide opportunities.”
St. Bonaventure proved the perfect place for their scholarship.
“Franciscan brown runs very deep in the family,” Michael noted.
Alice’s younger brother, Fr. John Ahearn, O.F.M., served as a lector and prefect at Christ the King Seminary in 1950 (then located at Bona’s in Francis Hall), and by 1952 was an instructor and director of the print shop for the university.
Through him, Alice forged lifelong friendships with a number of friars. And Michael found a college home.
“Every summer, we would drive from Colorado to visit relatives in Massachusetts,” Michael recalled. “Uncle John said, ‘If you’re coming to the East Coast, why not stop at Bona’s?’
“We stopped on one of those drop-dead gorgeous June days. Bright blue sky. A friar walked out who happened to know Uncle John and he gave us an impromptu tour. Just what I saw, I liked.”
More than 35 years after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science, Michael still appreciates the “academic spark” he found at St. Bonaventure.
Through staff members, friars and professors such as close family friend Fr. Dan Riley, O.F.M., ’64, president and animator of Mt. Irenaeus; the late Conroys, Finbarr, who taught in the Department of Modern Languages, and Joanne, a Friedsam Memorial librarian; and longtime English professor Dr. Rick Simpson, he learned lessons that served him well — in the classroom and beyond, through graduate studies, which included earning a Ph.D. at Colorado State University, and several postdoctoral fellowships.
“At St. Bonaventure, you get the academic foundation and the life foundation that allows you to interpret the world around you and get a better sense of it,” Michael said.
Of his two children, daughter Kathleen followed him to Bonaventure, graduating in 2009 with a BBA in marketing and a minor in political science.
“The Franciscan ties are strong in my family, and what Bonaventure represents as an institution of higher learning is important to us,” Michael said.
In the final months of his mother’s life (she was born on Veterans Day and passed away 97 years later on Valentine’s Day), Michael and Alice discussed the possibility of endowing a scholarship with funds from her estate.
“She thought she didn’t have enough,” Michael recalled. “She said, ‘There’s no way I can afford it.’”
But reality showed otherwise.
“I hope members of the St. Bonaventure community realize that you don’t have to have this huge amount of money in order to help students,” Michael said.
He is excited for the potential of the scholarship.
“This means a lot to our family,” he said. “We want to make that difference for a student who may not normally have a chance to attend Bonaventure.”
About the University:The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #5 best college value in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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