By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald
One of the rich traditions of the Vietnamese Catholic community is for a priest to serve as a “godfather” or spiritual mentor to a young seminarian or a woman who is discerning a call to the priesthood or religious life.
Father Dominic Huyen Nguyen, the longtime administrator of Our Lady of La Vang Mission church who died May 25 from the effects of a recent stroke, did exactly that for at least seven men who are now priests, Father Joseph Long Dinh of the Diocese of Charlotte said at Father Dominic’s Funeral Mass June 6 at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans.
“To my knowledge, Father Dominic had at least seven ‘godchildren’ – three priests, including Father Anton Ba Phan of New Orleans, and four nuns,” Father Joseph said. “Our godfather dedicated his life to serve those entrusted to his care, even ignoring his physical well-being.”
Worked long hours
Father Dominic was ordained in Vietnam and was a pastor of a large parish in Da Nang; principal of the parish’s elementary, middle and secondary schools; and a military chaplain for two infantry regiments in the region, Father Joseph said.
Father Joseph was just 11 when Father Dominic sponsored his entrance into the minor seminary in Da Nang.
His duties as pastor, principal and chaplain required incredibly long hours, Father Joseph said, so much so that Father Dominic learned to take cat naps whenever he could catch a moment to rest.
Father Dominic once was so tired that just after entering the front door of a local convent, he fell asleep on the floor still wearing his military uniform, Father Joseph said.
“He was on call most of the time,” Father Joseph said. “He lived a very simple life, using a military jeep for traveling, sleeping in a tiny bedroom, eating whatever was prepared for him with no demanding and no complaints. He sacrificed himself for the kingdom.”
Helped to establish Our Lady of La Vang in Gentilly
Father Dominic arrived in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and, for several years, he worked as a fisherman and janitor to earn a living while trying to find a diocese that would accept him for priestly service.
He entered the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1983 and was the founding administrator of Our Lady of La Vang in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood, a mission of Mary Queen of Vietnam. Over the years, Father Dominic inspired his parishioners to build a large outdoor shrine to Our Lady of La Vang, and each year on her feast day, a festival is held, highlighted by a Mass, a procession through the neighborhood with her statue and elaborate Vietnamese dancing.
“Now we can see the fruit of his labor with this wonderful shrine,” Father Joseph said.
Father Dominic had a special devotion to eucharistic adoration, leading the congregation in an hour of adoration before celebrating Mass.
“He never stopped working,” Father Joseph said. “Even in his retirement, he returned to Vietnam, where he founded a religious community, the Daughters of Our Lady of La Vang.”
“Father was a man of faith and a man of prayer,” said Father Phan, a chaplain who currently serves at University Medical Center and Christopher Homes’ Nazareth Inn, one of Father Dominic’s godchildren who was sponsored during his seminary studies. “He dedicated his life and his service to God, the church and his people,” Father Phan said. “He did that tirelessly through the course of his life. After many years, he adopted me as his spiritual son.”
“He was a very hard-working priest,” said Father Luke Hungdung Nguyen, pastor of St. Anthony Church in Lafitte and St. Pius X Mission in Crown Point. “I came from California, and ever since I came here to study for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, he always supported the seminarians. Once a month, he would invite all the Vietnamese seminarians to go out and eat. He was like a father to all of us.”
Father Luke said he will remember the inside of Father Dominic’s car, “which was always filled with pots and pans. He was a traveler priest. He was a military chaplain, and he knew no hardship. He would sleep in his car. He persevered, and his focus was always the Eucharist.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.