Four deacons will be ordained as priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at a Mass of Ordination June 2 at 10 a.m. at St. Louis Cathedral. The deacons are, from left, Vincent Nguyen, Dominic Arcuri, Cletus Orji and Thien Nguyen. [Photos by Frank J. Methe | CLARION HERALD]
PROFILES OF THE PRIESTHOOD CLASS OF 2018
DEACON DOMINIC ARCURI
Parish assignment: Pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Destrehan.
First Mass of Thanksgiving: June 3, 11:30 a.m., at his home parish, St. Joan of Arc in LaPlace, where he’s been a permanent deacon for 17 years.
‘Accept God’s will’ without knowing why
By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Deacon Dominic Arcuri still has the holy cards Dominican nuns at St. Peter School in Reserve – who nudged him to be a priest in elementary school – gave him. They knew something he didn’t yet realize, writing on the back, “Accept his will. You’ll never know why.”
He told the nuns the tight Roman collars weren’t for him. But, Deacon Arcuri said, the Lord must have said “Aha,” and, for the next 40 years, he wore a starched shirt and tie in the banking industry. “The Roman collars are a lot more comfortable than a shirt and tie,” he now jokes.
While he took a circuitous route to get here – a banker, husband, father of two, deacon and grandfather of four – Deacon Arcuri will be ordained a priest of the archdiocese on June 2.
Because of Deacon Arcuri’s 17 years of experience as a permanent deacon, he was fast-tracked to become a priest. During his academic studies, he lived at Notre Dame Seminary while continuing his stint as deacon at St. Joan of Arc.
“Going back to class after not having gone in 50 years was quite an experience,” he said. Deacon Arcuri said his younger seminary peers helped hone his computer skills.
Deacon Arcuri said people have mentioned how his practical rather than theological homily approach reaches them where they are, saying, “Mixie, you should have been a priest,” because they relate the Gospel message through his sharing of joys and challenges as a son, spouse and father.
In 1984, Father Peter Bergeron, then St. Joan of Arc pastor, asked him to consider the permanent diaconate. He and his wife Tru, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, finally accepted in 1997. Arcuri was in the January 1998 class, something he said became a blessing in his life.
About six months earlier, in May 1997, his parents were murdered in their LaPlace home, leaving his family distraught.
“God was so good. That (diaconate) class embraced us, and they were such a beautiful support group that helped us move forward,” he said.
When his wife died in 2015, the Lord pressed on his heart. Deacon Arcuri sent a letter to Archbishop Gregory Aymond expressing his priestly desire. That letter prompted a quick response from the archbishop, resulting in a meeting. He went on a directed silent retreat at Grand Coteau and then met again with the archbishop.
Deacon Arcuri said a sign that he was on the right track came at the silent retreat when, at the end, a retreatant told him, “I’ve been praying for you all this retreat. I feel like the Lord is saying your wife is behind you 100 percent.”
“If I was looking for confirmation, the Lord hit me on the head,” he said.
Deacon Arcuri is awaiting his chance to consecrate the Eucharist and hear confession, “letting Christ lead me in that confessional because I am representing him.” He also hopes people continue to seek him when troubles arise. His heart is open.
“By the power of the Holy Spirit, hopefully, I will be able to do something to help them carry the crosses they bring to me and let them know that God loves them,” he said.
He can’t wait to arrive at St. Charles Borromeo, a parish where his roots date to paternal grandparents’ marriage there; his mom attending school; and relatives buried there. “I feel so blessed to be assigned there,” he said.
Deacon Arcuri said he had only one passion upon retirement – to serve God’s people.
“I guess you can call it retirement,” he said about being a priest. “It’s not work. It is a privilege to be a shepherd to some of God’s people.”
DEACON THIEN THE NGUYEN
Parish Assignment: St. Francis Xavier, Metairie
First Mass/Masses of Thanksgiving: June 2, 5:30 p.m., Mary Queen of Vietnam
(Vietnamese language Mass); June 3, 11 a.m., St. Philip Neri, Metairie; June 10, 11 a.m., St. Anselm, Madisonville
Jesus’ message of courage hit home
By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Deacon Thien The Nguyen cherishes the Gospel scene in which Jesus, walking on water and momentarily mistaken for a ghost, tells his terrified disciples: “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mt 14:27).
“Anytime I feel fearful or nervous, I feel the Lord walks with me. He helps me to calm down and feel confident in ministry,” said Deacon Nguyen, who will cultivate that trust and confidence as parochial vicar of St. Francis Xavier Parish following his June 2 ordination to the priesthood.
Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, Deacon Nguyen didn’t give much thought to becoming a priest until he was a high school junior. His uncle, a newly ordained Dominican priest based in Calgary, Alberta, asked to speak to the then-16-year-old on a long-distance call from Canada.
“He asked me, ‘Do you hear Jesus calling you to become a priest? Are you interested?’ I said, ‘No’ right away,” Deacon Nguyen recalled. “My uncle was laughing when I said that, but he didn’t give up.”
Although mostly uninvolved in church ministry up to that point, the teen, inspired by his uncle-priest, promised to stay open to the idea of the priesthood. He began teaching CCD, singing in the choir and remained active throughout college as he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Deacon Nguyen felt something nag at him when he took up a second degree in law studies.
“I realized that my heart was not in it. I kept thinking about the priesthood,” Deacon Nguyen said, noting that his vocational attractions continued to occupy him when a Baton Rouge-based friend of his uncle’s offered to sponsor the young man’s studies abroad.
In 2008, Deacon Nguyen entered the summer English program at LSU, transferring to Baton Rouge Community College for a year of studies in math and literature to hone his language skills.
“During those first six months in Baton Rouge I felt like I had lost the ministry in my home parish (in Vietnam),” Deacon Nguyen said. “I didn’t have a chance to go to church in Baton Rouge very often. I felt something empty in my heart. I missed the church, and I wished I could go to Mass every day.”
As he was wrestling with this, Deacon Nguyen’s uncle phoned him again about the priesthood. This time, his answer was yes. In 2009, Deacon Nguyen entered the discernment program offered by Notre Dame Seminary, enrolling in literature, math and sign language classes at Delgado to retain his student visa.
He entered Notre Dame Seminary in 2010, spending the subsequent eight years engaged in the challenging curriculum and perfecting his English.
During his deacon internship at St. Philip Neri, Deacon Nguyen gained experience in delivering homilies, taking Communion to the elderly and performing baptisms.
About 10 people from his family, including his uncle, his parents and four siblings will be present at his ordination Mass.
“I am looking forward to providing all the pastoral care, especially the sacraments for the people,” Deacon Nguyen said. “I enjoy talking to people and learning about their lives.”
DEACON VINCENT KIEN TRUNG NGUYEN
Parish Assignment: St. Ann, Metairie
First Mass/Masses of Thanksgiving: June 2, 4 p.m., St. Agnes, Jefferson; June 3, 11 a.m.,
St. Cletus, Gretna
Mother prayed for his vocation in the womb
By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
He didn’t know the story until recently, but when Deacon Vincent Kien Trung Nguyen was in his mother’s womb, she prayed that her ninth and final child would one day become a priest.
Sadly, Mrs. Nguyen died before she could see her son go the full distance, passing away last year on her son Vincent’s birthday.
“I think my family was truly my first seminary. My mother was the biggest supporter of my vocation to the priesthood,” said Deacon Nguyen, who grew up 60 miles south of Hanoi, in northern Vietnam.
Although restrictions on religious freedom enacted by Vietnam’s communist regime had loosened by the time he came of age, Deacon Nguyen was well acquainted with their impact: His uncle had been jailed twice because of his own desire to become a priest 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 until the end of his life,” said Deacon Nguyen, who was able to go to Mass freely and become an altar server at 6.
The attraction to the priesthood lessened as he entered adolescence but came rushing back at 19, when the bishop of Hanoi invited the young adult to a Christmas Day Mass at a hospital for lepers.
“(I was inspired by) seeing the sick and also seeing the good shepherd in the bishop who went to the hospital to visit the sick on Christmas Day,” Deacon Nguyen recalls. “On Christmas Day you can say Mass in the cathedral; you can spend that afternoon with your family. But instead he went to the hospital to visit the sick. I think I heard the call to become a good shepherd like him.”
Deacon Nguyen went to law school in Hanoi for four years, residing in the bishop’s rectory and assisting him in liturgical celebrations.
After doing well in the seminary entrance exam, Deacon Nguyen was invited to study in the United States in 2010. He immersed himself in the English language at Divine Word College in Iowa before earning a master’s degree in philosophy and religion at Illinois’ Mundelein Seminary.
He recalls being impressed by Archbishop Gregory Aymond during trips to New Orleans to attend friends’ ordinations.
“He really knew his deacons and his priests personally. He knew the personal vocation stories of each one, and he told the story during the homily,” said Deacon Nguyen, who enrolled at Notre Dame Seminary in 2016.
As a deacon intern at St. Cletus in Gretna, Deacon Nguyen experienced the joys of baptisms and weddings and the sad moments of illness and death.
“My experience of visiting people in the hospitals reminded me of the very first moment when I was seriously thinking about the priesthood – in the hospital for the lepers,” said Deacon Nguyen, who hopes to invite more young people into church ministry at his first priestly assignment at St. Ann.
“When there are young people serving during Mass, the other young people in the pews will say, ‘If my friend does it, I can do it, too!’”
DEACON CLETUS ORJI
Parish Assignment: Our Lady of Lourdes, Slidell
First Mass/Masses of Thanksgiving: June 2, 4 p.m., St. Pius X, New Orleans;
June 10, 9:30 a.m., St. Joan of Arc, LaPlace.
I, myself, have felt God’s mercy
By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
After one year as a transitional deacon, Deacon Cletus Orji says his vocation to the priesthood has come into even clearer focus as he has strived to incorporate the four pillars of seminary formation: human, pastoral, intellectual and spiritual.
“A seminarian should be a balanced person so that after our ordination when we go into a parish and minister to the people of God, we can do that in an effective way,” said Deacon Orji, a native of the southern Nigerian village of Eziawa.
His parish internship at St. Pius X in New Orleans allowed him to preach for the first time, and it provided the real-life experience to flesh out his meticulous homiletics practice at Notre Dame Seminary.
“I had the opportunity to preach every two weeks at weekend Masses and every day for weekday Masses,” Deacon Orji said. “That gave me the opportunity to make practical what I had learned. In the beginning, I was trying to be a little strict in going with what we were taught in the seminary. But as time went on, I adapted to the reality of the situation and tried to make the homily about the people in front of me.”
Deacon Orji writes out his homilies but has learned to focus on people in the congregation “to see if the expression on people’s faces let me know if they are really getting what I am saying.”
During his internship, Deacon Orji also presided at eight baptisms and led a Bible study on the Book of Revelation, tying together that Scripture with the celebration of the Mass.
“I linked that to our active participation in the Mass,” Deacon Orji said. “I think it came out well, to the glory of God.”
He also visited homebound parishioners and those in an assisted living residence, bringing them Communion and praying with them.
Deacon Orji has close ties to his family of eight siblings. He was nourished in the Catholic faith by his devoutly religious parents, who recited the rosary daily. That practice eventually led to an attraction after high school graduation to consider entering the seminary.
He entered the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology, which is affiliated with the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, to study philosophy and complete a master’s program in bioethics.
Deacon Orji had hoped that his mother and one of his brothers could come to New Orleans for the June 2 ordination, but they could not obtain a visa to enter the U.S. He hopes to visit his family after his ordination if he can get the proper travel documents himself.
He is most eager to celebrate the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.
“That is where we meet God,” he said. “Pope Francis said in one of his letters that God is reaching out to us and we encounter that in confession. I myself have experienced God’s mercy in so many ways. I understand the joy that comes from forgiveness, because I myself have been forgiven and God continues to forgive me. I am looking forward to being an instrument of God’s forgiveness to his people.”