'They Were Born Within My Heart'

Thanksgiving Day in 1996, Ron and Linda Kuzlik met their five children for the first time.

The attraction was instant and mutual.

“There was such an intense connection between us and the children,” Linda says. “It was as if they were always our children, but they were just away from home for a short time, and we'd gone to pick them up and bring them home for good.”

The Kuzliks had flown to Budapest, then drove 90 minutes to an orphanage in Letervasara, Hungary, for the meeting. With nothing official yet, the five children didn't realize that six months later they'd be adopted by the Kuzliks and living as a family in Stamford, Conn.

The journey that brought Ron Jr., 11; Ilona, called Loni, 10; Anna, 9; Melinda, 6; and Kristina, 5; into the Kuzlik fold really began when Ron and Linda were married in 1993. Although from a previous marriage she had a son in his 20s, she was unable to have more children. Yet the Kuzliks wanted a family.

The newlyweds immediately looked into adoption in New York where they were living at the time, but they ran into insurmountable barriers, the exorbitant costs not least among them. When they relocated to Stamford, a city on Connecticut's coastline, Father Sherman Gray, their new pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, directed them to a route that led to Maria Tomasky, a local family law attorney who specialized in European adoptions.

The first picture Tomasky showed the couple was of Kristina and Melinda. Linda “immediately fell in love” with the two girls with dark eyes and curls.

“I started referring to them as our children,” she says. “But even though I was attaching myself to these two girls, I knew in my heart that the right thing to do would be to let Ron make the final decision.”

He was hoping for a son and daughter, but also was swayed to the two girls when he and Linda looked one more time through the photos.

They were also drawn to a boy and were stunned when the attorney identified him as the brother of the little girls. And there were another two sisters. The Hungarian authorities thought the five children had a better chance at being adopted separately.

“I was devastated and Ron was extremely upset,” Linda Kuzlik says of the children's situation. The five had been abandoned by their parents, lost their grandmother, and were about to lose each other.

Ron protested they “weren't puppies” and shouldn't be split up. Practically, the couple knew their modest colonial home of three small bedrooms and one bath was too small. Moreover, mortgage and living expenses already stretched their modest incomes—he's an accountant and she's a credit and collection manager—to the limit.

Explaining how they rely on faith and prayer, Linda says she looked to God for the answer: “You know what the right thing is. Please lead me to what I'm supposed to do.”

At the decision hour she coolly announced: “We're taking all five.”

Ron says he won't ever forget that moment. “I almost had a heart attack on the spot.”

Linda insists now as then, however, that “they were always my kids, and I took it as a personal thing to have them split up. It just couldn't be.”

Writing letters to 250 foundations and charitable organizations for help in adopting the family, the Kuzliks received only five responses—all negative. Undaunted, she called stores, pleaded for help, and got bunk beds donated from Gloria's Sleep Shop. Soon after, Dial-a-Mattress called to offer goods, and Sears gave complete sets of bed linens the day she asked. Two clothing stores helped with outfits.

“Now you tell me the Lord wasn't with me every step of the way,” Linda says to people.

Thoughts of the financial hurdles took a temporary back seat to ribbons of red tape until last April, when they were able to finalize the adoption. Even then, Linda had to stay in a hotel five weeks with the children as Hungarian authorities, with their rigorous adoption regulations, stretched the trial period to make certain there was positive bonding and the Kuzliks were committed to their decision.

“They never wavered for a minute,” says attorney Tomasky, who in 11 years in the field had never placed five siblings with a single family. “The Hungarian authorities made the decision because they saw the Kuzliks were very serious about adopting the five.”

During those weeks, work forced Ron to fly back and forth four times to join his family in their hotel room, but late last spring they returned to the United States together.

Life in Stamford allows for more than the bread with lard and a pitcher of tea or water the poor orphanage was able to provide the children, but it also means many sacrifices and a long day for the Kuzliks that begins about 6:00 a.m. But the children are animated and seem happy.

People respond with offers of help. For example, architect Gerald Lione called to design an addition to the house, while the North Stamford Exchange Club promised to build it free of charge once materials are obtained. Their parish has held fund raisers, too.

“They're certainly looked upon with admiration by the parishioners,” observes Father Gray. “I think it's a wonderful thing they've done—it's quite heroic.” Tomasky also observes that “it takes a special kind of personality to take five children, and the Kuzliks are those kind of people.”

In fact, the fit seems so natural that “people comment how much they look like us,” Linda says. They assume the family has always been together. Father Gray, too, remarks about the resemblance between Ron and Ron Jr.

Linda doesn't find this unusual. “These children may not have been born from beneath my heart,” she explains, “but they were definitely born within my heart. They've always been a part of me.”

Every night Linda has the children pray for their Hungarian parents. She stresses forgiveness, and asks God to care for the couple and give them peace.

“I want very much for my children to grow up with good memories and love in their heart,” she says.

Ron wants to raise his children in a family rooted in faith and with teamwork. He emphasizes as essential the “prayer and faith” that has gotten them through everything so far.

Linda agrees. “Ron and I thank the Lord for everything we've gotten,” she says. “This wouldn't have been possible without his blessings.” She sees the will of God in all that has happened, and looks to him to take her and the family where they should be.

Life is rarely easy or convenient. The family has a two-door Nissan where a van would do more nicely. But in the face of all the necessary sacrifices that still have to be made, Ron says they're “ecstatic” as a family.

“Tomorrow, if the same situation arose,” Linda says, “I would do it. I wouldn't think twice about it.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Conn.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.