Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2000
Seed took decades to blossom
Vietnamese man's call returns after immigration, family tragedy
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When the desire to become a priest plants itself in your head, you may have it for the rest of your life. The seed has nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but blossom.
Thang Nguyen's vocation seed took almost 40 years to bloom.
"It started when I was eight years old," said Nguyen, a 56-year-old native of Vietnam. "Our family went to Mass everyday. After I received (First Communion), I prayed to be a priest. I prayed everyday.
"I don't know why . . . but I knew I wanted to be a priest."
The North-South division of Vietnam in 1950 left the country in confusion. It also kept Nguyen at home with his family helping them make ends meet. When he was able to enter the seminary, he was not accepted because the general cutoff age for new seminarians was 12. Nguyen was 13.
He was heartbroken. His calling was not that of a layperson, that he knew. So he joined a monastery and was prepared to live his days as a Cistercian monk in the mountains, eating no meat, taking a vow of silence and praying eight hours a day, everyday.
"It was very strict," he said of his time in the monastery. "I became very sick."
He later studied in Switzerland, but his love for the monastic lifestyle dwindled. He spend eight years there before returning to Vietnam at the age of 23.
He was, for sure, too old for the seminary now.
"I didn't give up the idea, but I thought it was impossible."
He married and had five children. He got a government job and lived as a lay person. But the political uneasiness of Vietnam was no place to raise and educate children, Nguyen decided.
In 1980, he and his oldest son escaped and came to Canada as landed immigrants. A year later, his wife took three of the children and tried to leave Vietnam. The boat she was on capsized and she and two of the children died. The surviving daughter returned to Vietnam where she was reunited with her youngest sister.
In 1989, having lived in Regina almost a decade and successfully operating his own restaurant, Nguyen sponsored his daughters to come to Canada.
He stayed active in his Church and in the Vietnamese community. He joined the Knights of Columbus and founded the Vietnamese Catholic Association of Regina. He raised his children and ran his restaurant. He went to church and he read as much as he could on the Catholic Church just to keep in tune with his faith.
Then that yearning to be a priest returned. He couldn't ignore it, so he went to his pastor inquiring about the possibility of entering the seminary. He went to see the archbishop and in 1996 entered St. Joseph's Seminary in Edmonton.
Nguyen admits he didn't come to the seminary in the traditional way, but his vocation is no less significant than that of his fellow seminarians.
"I think a lot of people get confused, that if you get married and have children you can't become a priest," Nguyen said. "You don't have to be a virgin when you enter, but you have to be (celibate) after."
Studying theology in a second language can be mind-boggling. But Nguyen has worked hard at both and in his fourth year of formation is nearing his place at the altar. If God wills it, Nguyen hopes to be ordained in 2001.
Despite his greying and receding hairline, those typical signs of aging, Nguyen feels as though he has many decades of work ahead of him. His cheerfulness and smile exude a youthfulness that comes from his love in working with youth.
"Youth is fundamental for our Church," he said. "I want to focus on youth activities. We need the involvement of the youth. The youth make the Church more lively."
Since childhood, Nguyen has kept his vocation dream within. He's where he is today because he's always had that dream and a growing faith.
"Faith is very important in the community," Nguyen said. "Without faith, I don't think anything makes sense."