Powerhouse of Prayer
The 39 years of Vietnamese Catholic history in the Archdiocese of New Orleans largely can be traced to these men, who passed through Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, in 1975 after fleeing their war-torn country. Some of the future priests were mere infants or children at the time. Front row, left to right, Father Paul Van Tung Nguyen, who was 26 when he arrived at Fort Chaffee; Blessed Sacrament Father Viet Chau, 35; and Father Joseph Duc Dzien, 21. Back row, Father Joseph Dau Van Nguyen, 25; Father Vinh Dinh Luu, 2 months; Father Luke Hungdung Nguyen, 11; Father Joseph Man Tran, 9; Father Bac-Hai Viet Tran, 22; Father James Bach, 25; and Father Lich Van Nguyen, 22. This eight-page pullout is a tribute to the Vietnamese Catholic presence in the archdiocese over the last four decades.
The history of Vietnamese immigration to the United States is relatively recent. Before May 1975, most Vietnamese residing in the United States were spouses and children of American servicemen in Vietnam. Then, on April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to Viet Cong troops, which decisively ended the Vietnam War. This marked a big event for America as well as the Vietnamese people. Suddenly, there were more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees departing from their native homeland to various countries in the world.
From their homeland, they were airlifted or fled Vietnam on U.S. military cargo ships and then transferred to United States military bases in Guam, Thailand, the Wake Islands, Hawaii and the Philippines. The entire operation of transferring the massive number of refugees was nicknamed “Operation New Life.” From the various bases, they were transferred to four refugee camps throughout the United States. The four main centers for refugees were Camp Pendleton in California, Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania.
In May 1975, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, with his prior experience of resettling Cuban immigrants in America, realized the Vietnamese refugees needed to be resettled in America as soon as possible. By the end of May, he was the first archbishop in America to visit the Vietnamese refugees in Fort Chaffee. He was accompanied by Father Michael Haddad, who was director of Catholic Charities of New Orleans. Originally Archbishop Hannan wanted to sponsor just 100 Vietnamese families through Catholic Charities, because he thought an average Vietnamese family consisted of four or five in a household.
For the Vietnamese, the “family” meant everybody in the village, including parents, children, grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. One particular Vietnamese family had 97 “extended members.” By the time Archbishop Hannan left Fort Chaffee, he decided to sponsor 1,000 families in New Orleans. In his openness to provide homes for Vietnamese refugees, he unknowingly was providing for the future needs of the church of New Orleans. Many of the young souls in those refugee centers would go on to religious life or be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Many of the current Vietnamese priests in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have some connection to these refugee centers.
A few weeks later, the first 200 families trickled into New Orleans, half going to the Versailles Apartments in New Orleans East and the other half going to Kingstown Marrero Apartments. The majority of the Vietnamese refugees were Catholic, and so the church played a big part in their daily life. New Orleans naturally attracted many Vietnamese because of its familiar environment of sub-tropical climate, a super rich and convenient Mississippi River that runs across Louisiana just like the Mekong River runs across Vietnam and proximity to water resources for fishing. All these things reminded the refugees of home.
The first three priests to arrive in New Orleans in the summer of 1975 were Father Joakim Nguyen Duc Viet-Chau, Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong, and Father Tran Cong Nghi. Father Nghi, who came from Fort Chaffee, was the first director of the Vietnamese Apostolate under Archbishop Hannan. Father Viet-Chau and Father Andrew Tuong came to New Orleans from Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Father Viet-Chau resided at Hope Haven and cared for the Vietnamese on the West Bank. Father Andrew Tuong resided at St. Elizabeth Home on Napoleon Avenue and cared for the Vietnamese on the East Bank.
THE HISTORY OF THE VIETNAMESE COMMUNITIES ON THE EAST BANK
A. The History of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish
Shortly after the visit of Archbishop Philip Hannan to Fort Chaffee, the refugees were anxious to head southward to discover their new home. As more families continued to trickle into New Orleans throughout the summer of 1975, the Archdiocese of New Orleans had the unenviable task of marshalling its resources to provide for the refugees. A memorable and funny story was told that a group of 11 families, cared for by Father Andrew Tuong, arrived in New Orleans during the summer of 1975. This group of 11 families was transported on an old, rusty school bus heading to New Orleans East, but somehow arrived at the parking lot of Abramson High School on Read Boulevard around noon – during school hours. The principal and staff members of the school were in shock to see a busload of strangers wanting to enter their facility to use the restrooms and wandering around the school parking lot. Out of natural fear, they called the police to report the incident. After a long struggle to overcome the language barrier with this group of strangers, the principal of Abramson High School recognized only two words – “Philip Hannan” – and so he called the archbishop.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans urgently sent Father Haddad to lead the bus to the Versailles Arms apartment complex. Mrs. Melanie Ottaway, the owner of the Versailles Arms, was delighted to receive new tenants. In order to provide for the spiritual welfare of the newcomers, Father Andrew Tuong temporarily used one of the rooms in the apartment to hold daily Masses for the people. Archbishop Hannan assigned Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong to be the first administrator for the Versailles Vietnamese Community that summer.
In June 1976, Father Tran Cong Nghi, director of the Vietnamese Apostolate, resigned to study in Rome. Meanwhile, Archbishop Hannan invited Father Dominic Mai Thanh Luong from Buffalo, New York, to take over the Vietnamese Apostolate Office. Also, Father Dominic Luong became the administrator of the Versailles Vietnamese community called “Hung Vuong Community of the Vietnamese Martyrs,” while Father Andrew Tuong became his assistant administrator and collaborated with Father Viet-Chau, and Father Tue to start the “Dan Chua” Vietnamese Catholic Magazine.
The first task taken up by the community was to build a portable altar and a platform, which would really be easy to set up and dismantle. With these the newcomers were able to have outdoor Masses, which accommodated the multitude of people attending Mass for almost a year and half. In inclement weather, Mrs. Ottaway allowed the tenants to move the services into the community room and scheduled more Masses to serve the crowd.
People began to adjust their lives in the new land. Word got out among Vietnamese refugees that families and friends were settling in New Orleans, making it an even more enticing destination. The Vietnamese settled mainly in New Orleans East but also in parts of Algiers, Avondale, Marrero and other places on the West Bank. Rents were cheap, the real estate market was affordable, and the housing units were run-down, but the presence of the industrious Vietnamese community has since revitalized these areas.
Throughout 1976, the long term weather forecast was for a severe winter, so the community began its first fund-raising campaign to raise $18,000 for the purchase of a mobile home to operate as the new chapel. The mobile chapel was placed at the end of Peltier Drive exactly one week before Christmas. The people felt that they had prepared the best place possible for the Child Jesus to be born unto the community. The mobile chapel had neither heat nor power, so whenever the Mass was celebrated, nearby residents ran several extension cords from private apartments to the chapel to provide power.
By early summer of 1978, the community administrator was served with an eviction notice from the court that stated: “You are violating the rights of private property. Your mobile home must be removed within three days.”
Father Dominic Luong was in a panic to find a location to move the mobile chapel away from private land. He even posted announcements to give away the mobile chapel if someone would remove it, but no action was taken. As a last resort, he approached the Archdiocese to request a loan to purchase some land from the same owner who wanted to evict him earlier. Archbishop Hannan agreed to purchase three lots of land at the corner of Alcee Fortier Boulevard and Peltier Drive for the community.
The chapel was completed in late August 1978. The community proudly named it the Vietnamese Martyrs Chapel. Archbishop Hannan came to bless and dedicate the chapel on Sept. 3, 1978. By this time the population had grown to 3,000. Upon settling in the city of New Orleans, the refugees and immigrants brought along whatever works and skills they could offer – in factories, fishing, the shrimping industry, the service industry and also by doing odd jobs. As they became more established, many Vietnamese caught the entrepreneurial spirit and opened small businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, beauty and nail salons, and gift shops. By the summer of 1980, Father Andrew Tuong moved to work full-time in the Vietnamese Apostolate Office that handled the Vietnamese Magazine, while Father Michael Viet Anh and Father Viet Hung Nguyen assisted Father Dominic Luong in caring for the “Hung Vuong Community of the Vietnamese Martyrs.”
The faith among the burgeoning Vietnamese population was blossoming and bearing much fruit. Devotion to the church and family life within the Vietnamese Catholic community did not go unnoticed by the Archdiocese. On Dec. 10, 1983, Archbishop Hannan issued a decree providing for the creation of a new personal parish, the Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish for the Southeast Asian Catholics of the Archdiocese, and named Father Dominic Mai Thanh Luong as the first pastor of the parish and Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong as his associate pastor. Remarkably, the personal parish of Mary Queen of Vietnam was the first of its kind for the Vietnamese people in the United States, which became a model for all other archdioceses in the United States to follow.
Within months, the parish began a fund-raising campaign for a new church to be built on a 4.5-acre lot at the intersection of Dwyer Boulevard and Willowbrook Drive. The present church took eight months to complete, at the cost of $750,000.
The progress from a mobile home chapel to a permanent, pre-engineered mission-chapel-building was quite a leap for the community. Going from a 300-seat mission chapel to a 1,000-seat church was quite a feat!
Within these highlights and the unfolding of events, the faith of the Vietnamese Catholic community has come a long way. On Saturday, Nov. 29, 1986, Archbishop Hannan consecrated the brand new church for Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish. A year later, the religious education building was built to provide CCD instruction to all children of the parish. This same building continues to be used for multipurpose church functions.
In reflecting on its own history, the Vietnamese people, as a parish community, recognized that they have received countless blessings and favors from God through the intercession of Mary. The five-year period from 1986 to 1991 marked the most prosperous time in congregation participation. In the summer of 1991, Father Andrew Tran was assigned to the Assumption of Mary Mission Church in Avondale. Father Dau Nguyen was his replacement for three years, together with the presence of a resident, Father Peter Bang Nguyen. In July 1994, Father Peter Nam Van Tran was transferred to Mary Queen of Vietnam Church to take over as a parochial vicar for the following three years. From 1999 to 2004, Father Michael Nam H. Nguyen was assigned parochial vicar while Msgr. Dominic Luong remained the pastor.
On April 24, 2003, Pope John Paul II appointed Msgr. Dominic Mai T. Luong as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange (California). Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes filled the vacancy with Father Nguyen The Vien as the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish, while Father Luke Dung Nguyen became the parochial vicar.
The cohesiveness and resilience of the Vietnamese community were proven after Hurricane Katrina decimated almost all of New Orleans East, including the large Vietnamese neighborhood called Versailles. The indomitable Vietnamese were among the first to return to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods, giving momentum to rebuilding efforts in the East and the rest of the city. Many Vietnamese feel the experience has brought the community even closer together. After Katrina, the population of Mary Queen of Vietnam had dropped from 1,000 families to more than 400 families.
On July 1, 2010, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond reassigned Father Dominic Nghiem Van Nguyen from St. Matthew the Apostle Church in River Ridge to Mary Queen of Vietnam as pastor. Father Dominic Nghiem continues to serve as pastor with Father Joseph Nguyen Van Nguyen as the parochial vicar. The census of the parish has bounced back from over 400 to more than 1,000 families, a sign of rebirth and hope.
B. The History of Our Lady of Lavang Mission
Due to the need for spiritual care by the Vietnamese living in downtown New Orleans, Metairie, Kenner and nearby areas, a new community called the “Downtown Community” was established by Father Dominic Luong on Nov. 12, 1977. The majority of the people who joined this “Downtown Community” were young, single people and accidental singles, who were separated from their spouses because of the ravages of war.
Beginning in 1978, Father Dominic Luong invited Father Nguyen Ngoc Thanh to celebrate Mass every first Sunday of the month at the chapel of Notre Dame Seminary for the “Downtown Community.” But due to the lack of transportation, they decided to celebrate Mass at any home that was convenient for the majority of this community.
At Christmas 1979, Father Luong invited Father Nguyen Thanh Bang, a newly ordained priest, to be a chaplain for the Downtown Community. Father Bang celebrated Mass every Sunday for the Downtown Community. Unfortunately, due to the lack of interest and participation by this Downtown Community, Father Bang went back to his religious order. This Downtown Community was in limbo for about two years.
At Christmas 1981, once again Father Dominic Luong invited the people in the Downtown Community to celebrate Christmas Mass together. By this time, the Vietnamese Downtown Community increased due to more people moving into the city because of their better job situation and the convenience of living close to work. Many Vietnamese living in the Downtown area of New Orleans felt the need for an active community. So, Father Dominic Luong invited Father Ngo Duy Linh to be a chaplain to the Downtown Community. After a few months, things did not work out in the Downtown Community, so Father Ngo Duy Linh departed to France for further studies. Unfortunately, the Downtown Community was again in limbo for approximately three more years.
In the spring of 1984, Father Dominic Luong decided to revitalize the Downtown Community. So, he invited Father Nguyen Duc Huyen to be a chaplain to this community. Father Nguyen Duc Huyen celebrated his first Sunday Mass for this community at 2546 Columbus St. There were 28 people in attendance at this Mass. As a show of support in revitalizing this Downtown Community, many Vietnamese seminarians from the “Tan Hien” religious community and “Thanh Sinh Cong” or young college students, attended Sunday Mass regularly.
Right after Easter in 1984, the Downtown Community gathered to discuss the needs of their community, as well as the possibility of renaming the “Downtown Community.” Since the majority of the people in the Downtown Community were Catholic, they thought it was appropriate to limit their activities to only church activities. They also decided to drop the name of “Downtown Community” and chose the new name of “Resurrection Community.” Of the estimated 400 Vietnamese living in the downtown area of New Orleans, 252 Catholics were registered in the Resurrection Community.
Since there were regular Sunday Masses celebrated at the house on Columbus Street, it was natural to attract more people to join the Resurrection Community. However, the house on Columbus Street could not accommodate the gradual increase in number of people. Father Huyen decided to rent a bigger house on 2509 Columbus Street, naming the new worship space “St. Rose Center.” Each week there were more than 200 people attending Mass.
Due to the rapid growth of the Resurrection Community, Archbishop Hannan decided to establish a mission church with a new name, because Resurrection Parish already existed. On April 24, 1988, the new mission church was born, with the name of “Our Lady of La Vang Mission,” which continues to be under the care of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish. From that time, Archbishop Hannan officially assigned Father Nguyen Duc Huyen as administrator of Our Lady of La Vang Mission.
In October 1990, Father Huyen, with the approval of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, bought the Lutheran Church and its facilities. Being an old building, the church needed repairs and also had to be updated for Catholic worship.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, 1992, the new La Vang Mission Church was consecrated by Bishop Robert Muench, who was touched because it was his first consecration of a church as a bishop.
On May 9, 1993, the first Festival of Our Lady of La Vang New Orleans was organized, and continues to be celebrated every year since then on Mother’s Day weekend.
On July 2, 2012, Father Huyen officially retired from his ministry to Our Lady of La Vang Mission. On the same day, Father Joseph Thang Nguyen was assigned to replace Father Huyen as the new administrator. There are approximately 140 families currently enrolled.
On July 2, 2014, Father Thang was reassigned to St. Joseph Parish, and Mary Queen of Vietnam was to provide for the care of Our Lady of La Vang Mission.
THE HISTORY OF THE VIETNAMESE COMMUNITIES ON THE WEST BANK
C. The History of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Parish
The Kingstown Marrero Apartments is inside the boundary of St. Joseph the Worker Parish on Ames Boulevard. The pastor of St. Joseph the Worker at that time was Father Doug Doussan. Father Doussan visited the new refugees and tried his best to help them to adjust to living in New Orleans. Father Doussan used the resources of St. Joseph the Worker Parish for many social ministries, such as teaching English, finding jobs for the refugees, providing transportation to hospitals, schools, and grocery stores, etc.
In September 1975, Archbishop Hannan assigned Father Joakim Nguyen Duc Viet-Chau, S.S.S., to be the first chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Marrero. With the help of Father Doussan and St. Joseph the Worker, Father Viet-Chau was able to celebrate daily and weekend Masses for the refugees, as well as any other sacraments that were needed. Father Viet-Chau also opened the first CCD program and language classes in both Vietnamese and English.
At that time, there were too many Vietnamese family members living in the same apartment complex, which violated the law limiting the number of people living in the same apartment. So Father Viet-Chau, with the help of Catholic Charities, looked for more apartments to comply with state laws on housing. In order for him to function more efficiently, Father Viet-Chau established the first Vietnamese “parish council” in Marrero. The president was Mr. Hoang Tu Lap, the vice president was Nghiem Van Phu and the secretary was Hoang Duong Duyet. Mr. Nguyen Van Tien was the social worker.
By the end of the summer of 1975, Kingstown did not have enough capacity to house the refugees who were still coming to New Orleans. So the Vietnamese Resettlement Program, through Catholic Charities, had to look for new housing in other places, such as Woodlawn, Avondale and Bridge City. At the same time, the duties of Father Viet-Chau expanded from Marrero to Bridge City.
During the summer of 1977, Father Vu-Han, who was an associate pastor in New Mexico, came to New Orleans to visit the Vietnamese priests whom he knew in the refugee camps. Among the priests whom he visited were Father Viet-Chau, Father Tran Cong Nghi, Father Pham Van Tue and Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong. At that time, Father Tran Cong Nghi was director of the Vietnamese Apostolate for the archdiocese. Father Vu Han immediately liked the warm weather as well as being around his people, and he offered to stay in New Orleans if he was needed. Of course Father Tran Cong Nghi told him he could stay because Father Viet-Chau had his hands full caring for the two Vietnamese communities in Marrero and in Bridge City. With the approval of Archbishop Hannan, Father Vu Han was assigned to be a chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Marrero (also called Tu-Do community) as well as an associate pastor for St. Joseph the Worker Parish. At the same time, Father Viet-Chau moved on to care for the Vietnamese in Bridge City (also called Toan-My Community).
After serving the Vietnamese community in Marrero for three years, Father Vu-Han asked Archbishop Hannan for a sabbatical. In this complex situation, all the priests in the Vietnamese Apostolate got together and suggested that Father Viet-Chau should return to Marrero. Father Viet-Chau agreed, and things returned to normal in Marrero. Father Viet-Chau reestablished a new parish council, whose president was Mr. Bui Ngoc Thanh. Father Viet-Chau also invited the Sisters of Lovers of the Holy Cross of Phat Diem to come and serve the Vietnamese people in Marrero by teaching CCD and the Vietnamese language to the children.
Around 1980, Father Viet-Chau and the parish council came up with a plan to buy properties in order to build a church. They foresaw the need of the Vietnamese community in Marrero to have their own church, because the Vietnamese population was exploding. This plan was proposed to the people at the right time, because it echoed the sentiments of the people to have their own place of worship. After attending and using the facilities of St. Joseph the Worker for five years, the parishioners realized how inconvenient it was using St. Joseph the Worker’s facilities. In the first planning-meeting, the Vietnamese families in Marrero contributed more than $70,000 dollars. Of course, Father Viet-Chau and everyone in the community were enthused, and they dove into the plan to build the church right away.
In 1983, Father Viet-Chau, with the approval of the Vietnamese community of Marrero, bought the property, where the current church is established. While the church was being built, Archbishop Hannan decided to unite the Vietnamese communities on the West Bank and East Bank, by establishing Mary Queen of Vietnam Personal Parish, which contained four mission churches: (1) Vietnamese Martyrs Mission in New Orleans East; (2) Immaculate Conception Mission in Marrero; (3) St. Joseph Mission in Woodlawn; and (4) Assumption of Mary Mission in Avondale. At the same time Archbishop Hannan assigned Father Dominic Mai Thanh Luong, who was director of the Vietnamese Apostolate, to be the pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam in New Orleans East, including the 4 mission churches on both sides of the Mississippi River.
After that, Father Viet-Chau asked to return to his religious order so he could concentrate on working to expand Catholic Media Communications, such as a Vietnamese Catholic Magazine called “Dan Chua,” and selling religious books and magazines to the Vietnamese people all over the world. This Catholic Media outreach involved a number of Vietnamese priests and lay people in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Before leaving, Father Viet-Chau recommended that Father Vu-Han return to Marrero, now called Immaculate Conception Mission. Father Vu-Han agreed to take over the Immaculate Conception Mission and also to finish building the church. Father Vu Han was administrator of Immaculate Mission in Marrero until 1995, when Archbishop Francis B. Schulte decided to separate the Vietnamese on the East Bank from the West Bank into two separate parishes. Mary Queen of Vietnam would remain the personal parish for the Vietnamese on the East Bank, with Our Lady of La Vang as its mission church.
On the West Bank, Archbishop Schulte wanted to combine the three mission churches of St. Joseph in Woodlawn, Immaculate Conception in Marrero and Assumption of Mary in Avondale into one new parish. So Archbishop Schulte decreed that St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh would be the personal parish for all Vietnamese on the West Bank. Immaculate Conception Mission became St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Parish, whose pastor was Father Vu-Han. Father Joseph Tue became administrator for St. Joseph Mission in Woodlawn, and Father Andrew Tuong became administrator at Assumption of Mary Mission in Avondale. All three priests lived together in the same rectory located in the vicinity of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Church.
In the summer of 2008, Father Vu-Han retired from his ministry as pastor of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh and moved to California. Father Joseph Pham Van Tue was assigned to be the new Pastor of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh. In November of 2008. Father Joseph Pham Van Tue officially went to St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh to be the pastor. Father Joseph Tue served at St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh until he died on April 2, 2013, due to cancer.
In May 2013, Father Peter Tran Van Nam was assigned to be the new pastor to replace Father Joseph Tue. His assignment was effective on July 1, 2013. Father Peter Nam has been pastor of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh until today.
In May 1975, what is now St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Parish began as a small Vietnamese apostolate, then became Immaculate Conception Mission, and finally became a full-fledged parish. St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh has come a long way. Right now the parish has more than 500 families. The church, the school and the parish hall have all been paid for. The parish has no debt.
D. The History of St. Joseph Parish in Algiers (Woodlawn)
This is the second community on the West Bank. Due to the lack of housing in Kingstown, Marrero, the Vietnamese Resettlement Program of Catholic Charities had to look for other places for the refugees who came after July 1975. The Woodlawn apartment complex was available at that time. Right away, about 50 families were resettled in Algiers. Of course, the majority of them were Catholic. This community is located within the boundaries of Holy Spirit Parish, and the pastor of Holy Spirit at that time was Father Allen Roy.
Since there were no Vietnamese priests available to care for the refugees in Algiers, Father Roy and the Holy Spirit Parish Community welcomed the Vietnamese refugees with open arms and tried to reach out to them the best way they could into their parish. Besides Father Roy, there were many other people who need to be acknowledged for their major contribution to the Vietnamese community, such as Sister Rita Hardy, the Marianite Sisters of Holy Cross and a group of Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as many other people too numerous to name.
During the beginning of the Vietnamese community in Woodlawn, Father Viet-Chau got permission from the Little Sisters of the Poor to use their chapel in order to offer Masses on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation to the refugees. Outside the offering of the sacraments, Father Viet-Chau also established other ministries to reach out to refugees, both Catholic and non-Catholic, and he assigned Mr. Pham Thinh as representative for the Vietnamese Community in Woodlawn.
At the end of 1975 when Fort Chaffee Refugee Camp closed down, Archbishop Hannan invited Father Pham Van Tue to come to New Orleans to care for the Woodlawn community. He assigned Father Tue to be the administrator for the Woodlawn community to lessen the heavy work of Father Viet-Chau.
Not long after his arrival in Woodlawn, Father Pham Van Tue established the first representative committee for the community. The officers were: Mr. Vu Huu Chuong as president, Mr. Vu Nhu Lai as vice president and Mrs. Nguyen This Soi as secretary and treasurer.
In 1980, the Woodlawn Community became St. Joseph Mission Church under the care of Father Pham Van Tue as administrator. Father Tue served as St. Joseph the Worker Mission until November 2008, when he was reassigned to be the pastor of St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh Parish in Marrero. Father Tue had served a total of 32 years at St. Joseph Mission.
At the same time, in November 2008, Father Peter Tran Van Nam was assigned as administrator of St. Joseph Mission, where he served for almost five years. By July 2013, Father Michael Nguyen Ngoc Thanh was assigned to be the new administrator to replace Father Peter Nam. After 39 years in existence, the St. Joseph Mission has 400 registered families.
On May 31, 2014, on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, Archbishop Aymond decreed that St. Joseph Mission would officially become St. Joseph personal parish on July 2. Father Joseph Thang Nguyen took possession of St. Joseph Parish that very same day as its first pastor.
E. The History of Assumption of Mary Parish in Avondale
Once the housing capacity was reached at Kingstown in Marrero and at Woodlawn in Algiers, the Vietnamese Apostolate, in collaboration with Catholic Charities, found new housing for the refugees in the Normandy apartment complex in Bridge City. This complex was not as large as the other two in Marrero and Algiers. Around 100 families were resettled in this area. This community was located in the territory of Holy Guardian Angels Parish, whose pastor was Father J. Anthony Luminais.
Once again Father Viet-Chau was assigned by Archbishop Hannan to care for this new community of refugees in Bridge City. With the approval of Father Luminais, Father Viet-Chau was allowed to celebrate Masses in the Vietnamese language in Holy Guardian Angels Church as well as other sacraments. Everyone was delighted about the situation.
By 1977, the population of the refugees continued to multiply in the Bridge City area. Father Viet-Chau began to look for more housing and a place to build a church for the Vietnamese refugees. He found a community in Avondale where they were willing to rent houses to the refugees. The Avondale community had vacant land where Father Viet-Chau could eventually build a new church.
In 1978, Archbishop Hannan assigned Father Joseph Nguyen Viet-Hung as administrator in Avondale. By 1979 Father Viet-Hung was transferred to a new assignment, and Archbishop Hannan assigned Father Viet-Chau officially as administrator of the Avondale Community. This Avondale Community is located within the territory of St. Bonaventure Parish. While planning to build a new church in Avondale, Father Viet-Chau was given permission to celebrate Masses in the Vietnamese language at St. Bonaventure Parish. He succeeded in raising money to buy the land for the new church.
In 1983, Father Joseph Ngo Duy Linh was assigned to replace Father Viet-Chau as administrator of the Avondale Community. In 1985, Archbishop Hannan presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for the mission, with the given title of the Assumption of Mary Mission Church. By 1987, the Assumption of Mary Mission Church was finished, and Archbishop Hannan presided over the first Mass and consecrated the new church.
In 1990, Father Joseph Ngo Duy Linh retired and by April 1991, Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong was assigned to be the new administrator. Father Andrew died on Nov. 21, 2010.
In February 2011, Father Jacob Nguyen Bach was assigned to be the new administrator to succeed Father Andrew Tran Cao Tuong.
In July 2013, Father Viet-Chau was assigned to be the new administrator again for the Assumption of Mary Mission Church.
Today, the Assumption of Mary Mission Church has a total of 161 registered families.
On May 31, 2014, on the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, Archbishop Aymond decreed that St. Joseph Mission would become officially Assumption of Mary Personal Parish on July 2, 2014. Father Hoai Nguyen took possession of Assumption of Mary Parish that very same day as its first pastor.
This history of the Vietnamese presence in the church of New Orleans has not been well known up to this point, even amongst the Vietnamese faithful themselves. Our hope is that the Vietnamese will recognize how their faith and struggles have not only affected them, but also transformed the cultural and spiritual landscape of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The smallest of actions has eternal implications, just like little old Vietnamese women who grew sprigs of mint in their own backyard to fund the building of their churches. It is always the poor, the refugee, the outcast or forgotten who have contributed the most to the Body of Christ.
Presently, many of the Vietnamese priests, religious and lay faithful are not only active in their own ethnic parishes and communities, but have integrated themselves into the spiritual life of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the United States at large.
Born of war and suffering, the Vietnamese refugees came to these shores with nothing except their faith and the American Dream. They have enriched the gumbo of life that we call New Orleans.