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  • Jun
  • 13

Vietnamese community, deacon and wife rejoice with new priest

Posted By June 13, 2013 | 12:54 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

A new priest is grateful for the role a local deacon and his wife played in his journey from Vietnam to the priesthood.
At his Mass of Thanksgiving June 2 at Our Lady of Vilna Parish, Father Paul Nguyen bowed to Deacon Walter F. Doyle, who assisted at the Mass. Deacon Doyle’s wife, Kathleen, attended.
Father Nguyen was ordained in South Carolina May 25 and is a member of the Rock Hill Oratory there. He says he’s the first priest from Vietnam to join the Congregation of the Oratory, founded by St. Philip Neri in Rome in 1575.
“Because of him (Deacon Doyle) we would have two priests,” the new priest said.
Both priests hail from Our Lady of Vilna, where the other priest,  Father Peter Tam M. Bui, who concelebrated the Mass, is pastor.
Deacon Doyle said he and his wife helped both men and their families come to the United States. The couple founded the Refugee Apostolate, now called Urban Missionaries of Our Lady of Hope, through which they did secondary sponsorship of numerous refugees from 1979 to 1999, Deacon Doyle said. Many were from Vietnam, but others came from Russia, Poland, Somalia or Kosovo, he said.
He said that in Father Nguyen’s case the sponsoring organization told them, “We have a family of three” (the youth and his parents), and asked, “Will you take them?” The Doyles met them at the airport and took them to their own home until they could find and furnish a place for them.
“His father was always very polite and very kind; that always kind of touched me,” Deacon Doyle said. He said the family was generous with time and money and young Paul helped with the Apostolate’s Little Store.
Mrs. Doyle said Father Nguyen informed them he wanted to enter the Oratory and they were happy to provide a letter of recommendation. Both said it was humbling to see him now as a priest.
“To think Kathy and I were just part of that grand plan God had for him,” said

Deacon Doyle, who also serves at St. Joan of Arc Parish. “He’s such a happy priest.”
Father Nguyen said his brief return to Worcester for the Mass of Thanksgiving felt great; it was like coming home.
He grew up in Vietnam, an only child, he said. In the mid-1980s, his father worked for the U.S. Army. He and his parents escaped Vietnam by boat. They ended up in refugee camps, first in Thailand, then the Philippines.
In 1988, when he was almost 16, they were informed someone would sponsor them to come to the United States, he said. When they got to Worcester, they worshipped at St. John Parish with the Vietnamese community, which later moved to  Our Lady of Vilna, where his parents, Sang Nguyen and Muon Dinh, still go.
He got his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University in Boston and worked in his field for several years, he said.
After that “I took a trip to Vietnam and that’s how I grew into my faith,” he said. “My aunt – she would make me go to church every day. … I think that’s how God draw me in.” He said he went to confession and prayed to the Blessed Mother.
“I think she protected me all these years and guided me,” he says now.
When he returned to the United States he felt the call to priesthood, he said. He made the decision during a retreat using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
“And then I found the Oratory in one of the religious magazines,” he said.
“Our charism is to work with the local Church,” Father Nguyen said of the Oratorians. “We ask the bishop, ‘What do you want us to do?’”
The community he visited was Rock Hill Oratory in northern South Carolina. Founded in 1934, it is a part of a worldwide federation of 60 independent houses and is the oldest and largest one in the United States, according to its website Members are bound not by vows, but by love, and the community is governed democratically, it says.
“I fell in love with it and I decided to apply,” Father Nguyen said. “I liked the work. … The Oratory is very relaxed; it’s very free. I think God led me there.”
He entered the novitiate in 2006. A year later he wrote letters to the provost, or local superior, and the community, expressing his desire to be an Oratorian, and later wrote letters asking to be a full member, which he became in 2009, he said. He studied for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, finishing a couple months ago.
He is to become associate pastor of St. Anne Parish in Rock Hill July 1. The parish has Anglo and Hispanic communities and a small Vietnamese one, he said. He said another priest has been celebrating Mass in Vietnamese there monthly, but now he can do so weekly.
“I like the parish work, but I also like community life,” Father Nguyen said. He said none of the parishes have rectories, because the Oratorians who staff them live together at the Oratory.
Rock Hill Oratory oversees the Catholic activities in York County for the Diocese of Charleston, which encompasses the whole state of South Carolina. The Oratorians, 16 in all, staff the five parishes and a mission and minister at Winthrop University and a hospital and nursing homes, Father Nguyen said.
“You feel great when you lead the community in prayer at Mass,” Father Nguyen said. He also said it is amazing when people share their struggles with him. He said he’d like to study counseling and do marriage counseling.
“To be with people when they are so vulnerable and they put all their trust in you as a priest, it’s worth all the effort to go to the seminary,” he said.