Seven to be ordained transitional deacons

Seven men will be ordained transitional deacons, the final step before ordination to the priesthood, by Archbishop Gregory Aymond May 20 at a 10 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. Four men will be ordained for the archdiocese and the other three for another diocese or religious order. The ordinands are, seated from left to right, David Frank (New Orleans), Brother Peter Nghi Tien Nguyen (Missionaries of Faith), Felix Hinambona (Archdiocese of Tororo, Uganda), Brother John Oyugi (Missionaries of Hope); standing, Thien Nguyen (New Orleans), Cletus Orji (New Orleans) and Vincent Nguyen (New Orleans).

 

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Following are the vocation stories of each ordinand.
DAVID FRANK

Age: 28
First assignment as deacon intern:
St. Catherine of Siena, Metairie, June-October 2017
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon:
“Getting involved at the school, with youth groups and meeting families … and meeting married couples and couples preparing for marriage.”

Frank witnessed faith from priests
By Christine Bordelon

Even though he didn’t attend Catholic schools growing up – he was home-schooled – David Frank experienced Catholic life as an altar boy for seven years at St. Peter Parish in Covington, with Father Bill McGough, then pastor.
 
“I got to see the joyful life he lived as a priest,” he said.

His thoughts of the priesthood were further nurtured at the Legionaries Catholic boys’ camp in Folsom.

“There were a lot of priests in my life, and they were all good witnesses of the joy of their vocation and made me think of discerning the
priesthood.”

Knowing he might enroll at Notre Dame Seminary, he attended Christendom College, a Catholic college, in Front Royal, Virginia, earning a bachelor of arts in philosophy in 2012.

“My discernment got stronger and made me want to return to become a priest for the archdiocese,” he said.

Frank applied to the seminary after graduation and entered in 2013.

The seminary gave Frank familiarity with parish life, having spent a summer assignment at St. Ann Parish in Metairie helping with Vacation Bible School and the youth group.

“I loved it,” he said. “One thing I didn’t do very much but liked is visiting the sick in the hospital … and at home. … It’s a clear image of bringing Jesus to people. They’re waiting for you, but they are not waiting for you – they’re waiting for Jesus. You’d be surprised how easy it is to minister to sick people. Maybe the fear sometimes is, ‘Who am I intruding on the situation?’ but it’s important to remember it’s not about you. … You’re welcomed because Christ is welcomed.”

During seminary, he also has enriched the faith of fourth graders at St. Rita School in New Orleans. He said during Lent, he enjoyed explaining words used during Lenten prayers such as sepulcher and human respect.

Frank’s ministry with students will continue during his diaconate internship at St. Catherine of Siena. While not yet given exact duties, he’s toured the parish, talked to Father Ronald Calkins, pastor; Father Tim Hedrick, parochial vicar; and met school principal Kimberlie Kilroy.

“I know I’ll be preaching a lot and going on an outing with altar servers and the youth group,” he said. “I’m looking forward to being more present at the school.”

 

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THIEN NGUYEN

Age: 32
First assignment as deacon intern:
St. Philip Neri Parish, Metairie, June-October 2017
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon:
“Preaching the homily. I am also hoping during my diaconate ministry that I get to visit and know lots of people in the parish and try to learn about their life and faith and bring lots of people to the Catholic faith and try to convert non-Catholics to the church.”

Thien Nguyen loves life in New Orleans
By Christine Bordelon

Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Thien Nguyen didn’t have an inkling of being a priest in the United States, although he began discerning the priesthood in 10th grade.

“I didn’t make the jump then,” Nguyen said. “There was lots of thinking.”

By the time Nguyen came to America at age 23, he already had a chemical engineering degree and a year of law from Vietnam under his belt.

He first arrived in Baton Rouge, staying with sponsor Ha Dinh, a friend of his uncle’s – Dominican Father Vuong Nguyen – he had met while Dinh visited family in Vietnam. He lived in Baton Rouge for a year, taking general studies and English (to improve his speech) at Louisiana State University and Baton Rouge Community College on a student visa.

While discerning, Nguyen had visited Dominican discernment groups but saw how their priest assignments were nationwide; he preferred a diocesan lifestyle. He met Father Nghiem Van Nguyen (pastor at Mary Queen of Vietnam in New Orleans) and former Archdiocese of New Orleans vocations director Father Luis Rodriguez and moved to New Orleans when invited by Father Nghiem. The Cao family – Dinh Cao and his wife Trang Tran – of Metairie sponsored (and still sponsors) him while he studied at Delgado Community College. A year later in 2010, he was accepted into Notre Dame Seminary.

“Seminary has been enjoyable,” Nguyen said. “I’ve had many opportunities to serve in parishes during internships and vocation talks. It’s helped me see what the priesthood looks like.”

Even though Vietnam was communist, Nguyen said his “District 8” neighborhood had faithful Catholics who had fled north Vietnam in early 1950s.

“Within a couple of miles, there are like seven churches,” he said.

His parents’ faith impacted him.

“My parents went to Mass every day – my dad at 5 a.m., and my mom at 5:30 p.m. evening Mass.”

He also said his faith was nurtured in his religion group in his home parish of Binh Thuan, where his parents still attend Mass.

“The priest in my home parish put a lot of work into the religion program and attracted many people to the CCD and youth programs,” Nguyen said. “Even after we finished confirmation, a lot of youth continued to study religion and became religion teachers. I did that, too. We continued working with the CCD program and trained for two to three years to become CCD teachers.”

Nguyen is looking forward to working as a deacon with Msgr. Harry Bugler, pastor of St. Philip.

“He will give me opportunities to do homilies during the week and sometimes during the weekend,” Nguyen said. “Only 10 years ago I was teaching religion in my home parish, but now I will be preaching to a whole congregation.”

 

 

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VINCENT NGUYEN

Age: 31
First assignment as deacon intern:
St. Cletus, Gretna, June-October 2017
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon:
“I am looking forward to being out there with the people of God to share with them, not just in moments of joy in baptism and weddings, but also in the sad moments of illness and death. I want to bring the message of God’s love and mercy to those I am about to meet and serve.”

Vincent Nguyen: My family ‘seminary’
By Peter Finney Jr.

Vincent Nguyen grew up in Nam Dinh, about 60 miles south of Hanoi in the northern part of Vietnam, and he saw firsthand the restrictions his country’s communist regime placed on religious freedom that affected just about everything in daily life.

Nguyen’s uncle wanted desperately to become a priest, but he was jailed several times for his religious beliefs and had to wait nearly 40 years to enter the seminary. He was ordained in 1998 and died in 2000.

“He gave me a great lesson of being faithful to the Lord till the end of his life,” Nguyen said. “When he was young, the communist government closed the seminaries, so he had to wait. In the meantime, he was helping out the pastor in my home parish, teaching catechism, visiting the sick, serving as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and training altar servers. He would do whatever the pastors wanted.”

His uncle’s image of a faith-filled priest struck home with Nguyen. In 2004, he served a Mass for his local bishop in a hospital for lepers located in an isolated village and felt drawn “to serve the Lord and his people, especially the poor and the sick.”

Nguyen came to the U.S. in 2010 to study at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. In 2016, he moved to New Orleans and entered Notre Dame Seminary to study for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

As the youngest of nine children in his family, Nguyen said his faith was nurtured by his parents and siblings, who prayed the rosary every evening.

“I think my family was truly my first seminary,” he said.

While he has not seen his family in seven years – “I really miss them” – he will be joined May 20 for his ordination to the transitional diaconate at St. Louis Cathedral by his 74-year-old father, Huynh Nguyen, one of his brothers, an aunt and an uncle.

“Everyone in my family is involved in some activity in the life of the parish community,” he said. “My dad is an extraordinary minister, my mom and sisters are members of the parish choir and my brothers are all altar servers. I would definitely say my family is my first seminary.”

 

 

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CLETUS ORJI

Age: 34
First assignment as deacon intern:
St. Pius X, New Orleans, June-October 2017
What are you most looking forward to in your ministry as a transitional deacon:
“I look forward, among other things, to administering the sacrament of baptism, proclaiming the Gospel and delivering homilies.”

Cletus Orji was raised on the rosary
By Beth Donze

As a youngster growing up in the southern Nigerian village of Eziawa, Cletus Orji dreamed of becoming a doctor. But as one of nine children born to devoutly Catholic parents, thoughts of a religious vocation occasionally would pop into his head.

“I went to a secular high school, but because of my mother and father, it was easy for me to live my life in such a way that I was close to the faith,” Orji said. “The two of them were really devoted to the Catholic faith. Going to Mass was not optional for us.”

Orji was enrolled from birth in his parish’s chapter of the “Blue Army,” which promotes the messages of Our Lady of Fatima. Catholics from surrounding villages gathered monthly for an outdoor rosary procession and assembled twice a week in church to say the rosary and study Scripture. They also visited and prayed for the sick.

“One of the messages of Fatima is to say the rosary every day,” said Orji, citing his lifelong devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Orji’s attraction to the priesthood increased after high school graduation, he said.

“Deep in my heart, I knew I had the desire to be a priest, but at the same time, I was afraid to go to the seminary,” Orji said. “This fear led me to ask for a sign from God; I wanted God to make it clearer to me whether or not he was calling me to be a priest.”

A few weeks later, Orji received his sign: a family friend addressed him as “Father.”

“When I inquired to find out what she meant by that, she said, ‘Do you not know that you are going to be a priest?’” Orji recalls. “I smiled and told her, ‘Please stop saying that; I am not going to be a priest.”

After a full year of discernment, though, Orji’s fears “disappeared” and he entered the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, to study philosophy and complete a master’s program in bioethics.

His original intention was to become a Theatine priest, but when that congregation left Nigeria, Orji explored the possibility of studying for the diocesan priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. He transferred in 2014.

“The way theology is taught here is so good. We have what we call four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual,” Orji said. “We are always trying to integrate all four of these into our lives – and not just concentrate on one of them – so we can be a balanced person.”

Three other Notre Dame seminarians to be ordained to transitional diaconate for Uganda, two religious orders

 

 

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FELIX HINAMBONA

Felix Hinambona, 26, is studying for the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda. He is one of 10 children and served as an altar server and played the drums in his parish and school choirs. He entered the seminary at age 13 but struggled when his older brother died unexpectedly, wondering if he should return home to care for his aging parents. His mother told him the story of how she had dedicated Felix to God when he nearly died of pneumonia at 6 months old. The family prayed the rosary every night. He did not relish the idea of leaving Uganda to come to New Orleans for his theological studies, but he said, “The church in New Orleans received me with open arms, and now I call not one or two my family but many of you. … I rediscovered my true Felix – happy –  and now I can’t avoid smiling.”  

 

 

 

 

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BROTHER PETER NGHI TIEN NGUYEN

 

Brother Peter Nghi Tien Nguyen, 34, is a member of the Missionaries of Faith, a religious order founded in Italy in 1982 with a charism of serving the church as priestly missionaries. He was born in South Vietnam as the youngest of 10 children. He was attracted to community life after high school when he was invited to play soccer with members of the Missionaries of Faith. After graduating from college, he spent two years in the novitiate and took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in 2008. After three years of theology studies in Vietnam, he came to New Orleans and in 2015 professed perpetual vows at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church. “I hope that I will become a priest of the Catholic Church,” he said. “I hope that as a priest I can contribute my abilities to build a good society and a prayerful community.”

 

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BROTHER JOHN OYUGI

Brother John Oyugi, 35, is a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Hope, which has a charism of ministering to those struggling with drug or alcohol abuse or who have been victims of violence or oppression. He is a native of Kenya, the eldest of six children. After high school, he did pastoral work with his uncle, Father Stephen Angila, in a parish as he discerned a vocation to the priesthood. “Doing pastoral work, I gave my life wholeheartedly to serve God and his people,” he said. “I became committed in my Catholic faith, a love for God, for the sacraments of the church and a love for the people of God; a love and due respect for the church and her teachings, and a desire to share my faith with people for the glory of God. … I feel God has called, and I am very ready to serve him and his people.”

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