Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 5, 2007
Laotian's journey to priesthood came through Alberta
Young man stayed with Fr. Hesse, attended Newman
Fr. Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa is carried into his ordination celebration Dec. 30 in Laos.
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
It was quite a journey for Andrew Souksavath Nouane Asa after word got out he wanted to become a priest.
That journey reached its culmination Dec. 30 when the former student of St. Joseph Seminary was ordained to the priesthood in his home diocese of Pakse in Laos.
From communist-ruled Laos, Nouane Asa (Andrew is his Christian name) came to the Edmonton Archdiocese in May 1997 at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil. MacNeil had heard of the humble man from former Canadian senator Jean Forest.
Without knowing a word of English, Nouane Asa arrived at the Edmonton International Airport and was quickly partnered with Father John Hesse, then pastor of St. Michael's Parish in Leduc.
"At first, he had trouble adjusting to the culture. There was the language and then the meals - those sorts of things. But he was very humble. He really did well," said Hesse.
For their 50th wedding anniversary, Forest and her husband Rocky travelled to southeast Asia in 1996 with a couple from Winnipeg, whose parish priest had visited Laos on several occasions. The Winnipeg Archdiocese was interested in sponsoring a student to train for the priesthood. Those plans fell through.
Archbishop MacNeil was open
At the time, Forest was on the board at Newman Theological College. She approached MacNeil about the possibility of a Laotian coming to study at Newman.
"He was always open to any possibilities of having young men training for the priesthood. He promised to look into it," Forest said from her home in Victoria.
Several months later, Hesse arrived on her doorstep with a young seminarian. The Forests quickly invited them in for dinner. That was the moment the connection was made.
"I asked the young man where he was from. He said he was the student from Laos about whom I had spoken to Archbishop MacNeil. Rocky and I were absolutely stunned. It was a wonderful visit."
Man of courage
Forest said she has met Nouane Asa several times following that visit.
"He was always so grateful to have the opportunity to study at Newman.
"He is a courageous man to have even dreamed of such a vocation in a communist country. And then he carried it out. It's very impressive."
In September 1997, Nouane Asa began a four-year program studying philosophy with the Benedictines at Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C.
During school breaks, he would live with Hesse.
In 1999, Hesse was appointed pastor in Peace River where Stacey Rhodes-Nesset was pastoral assistant. She recalls Nouane Asa enjoyed playing soccer with her two children while he visited Hesse.
"Father Souksavath is a very special person. He accompanied Father John to the extended care hospital where we celebrated weekly Eucharist with the residents. He assisted in liturgies, Father John included him in all his activities, including golf," she said.
"He received wonderful spiritual mentoring from (Hesse) about the life of a priest."
4 years in St. Albert
Hesse moved to St. Albert in 2001 where he served as pastor of Holy Family Parish. Nouane Asa entered St. Joseph's Seminary and Newman Theological College in the fall. He graduated with a bachelor of theology degree in 2005.
Nouane Asa returned to Laos later that year where he began his pastoral work, primarily with Catholic youth.
Rhodes-Nesset travelled to Laos in December to attend the ordination with her family. "The whole village had a festive atmosphere to it. About 1,500 people came from Laos, Thailand and Cambodia," she said.
At his first Mass, Nouane Asa celebrated the Eucharist using a chalice Hesse had given him. He is one of four priests for the diocese.
"He is a very gentle person, but he shows leadership," Rhodes-Nesset said.
Now teaches seminarians
In Nouane Asa's primary village, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul run a day care, gather the people for Sunday liturgy and produce coffee beans to support the mission.
Nouane Asa will also teach English and Scripture to the 18 seminarians of the diocese.
Hesse says Nouane Asa would like to thank every individual - from MacNeil to the Forests to Laotian communities in Vancouver and Winnipeg - for helping him become a priest.
"His family was poor so he always appreciated the help that was provided for him," Hesse said. "His life has always been centred on the Church."