Age: 39

Hometown: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Home parish: Incarnation Church, Glendale

Parish assignment: St. Cornelius Church, Long Beach

When Hieu D. Nguyen first experienced the power of the Eucharist, he thought it was odd because he had been recently going to Protestant churches. He was flabbergasted by the experience of the body and blood of Christ.

And then he was captivated.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I want to go to this,’ ” Nguyen recalled.

Nguyen didn’t grow up Catholic, so his experience was earned. He lived the early part of his life in his native Vietnam, mostly with his mother and sister while his dad worked in the United States. At age 11, his father came calling and the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for four years before coming to California, eventually settling in Westminster.

When Nguyen was 11, his father, previously a Buddhist, converted to Catholicism and wanted his son baptized, which he was.

But that burst of faith in the family was fleeting.

Nguyen continued living his life, going on to study physics at the University of Southern California. While pursuing advanced degrees at UC Santa Barbara and armed with a Bible and Protestant friends, he began hearing the call from God.

“I rediscovered my faith in grad school,” Nguyen said. “God already put the call in, in some of the ways he was speaking to me. I remember one of the passages was the Gospel of John: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you.’ ”

But Nguyen still didn’t want to be a priest, yet.

“It didn’t excite me, what I knew about the priesthood,” Nguyen said. “One of the priests at my parish, he celebrates Mass on Sunday and then goes back to his rectory. I didn’t want to be that guy because it seemed like too long for me. I wanted to be married and have a family.”

Yet, Nguyen wanted to be loyal to God, so he took to attending charismatic retreats. During a three-day retreat in Houston, Texas, he finally got his answer just in the nick of time.

“Right from the beginning, I asked God to just make it clear to me,” Nguyen said.

For most of the retreat, God seemed silent. In the final hours of the last day, Nguyen started feeling desperate. Then he began to think: What’s the most important thing to me?

“In that moment, I thought, no, not even the priesthood is that important to me, or my career was most important to me. It’s love. If I don’t have love, I would be like a dead tree. And then right in that moment, the priest came in and prayed for me. And I felt this tremendous love.”

Songs began playing, people were dancing, and lyrics were projected on a screen that changed Nguyen’s life forever: “For you I came and for you I died.”

“I knew that was for me,” he recalled. “So after that, I surrendered. I thought, if someone loves me that much, I can lay down my life for that person. So after that, I decided, OK, I’m going to apply to the seminary.”

As a priest, Nguyen would like people to encounter Jesus Christ similar to how he experienced him that first time with the Eucharist, or the burning in his heart at the charismatic retreat.

“I would love to be a bridge for people to meet Jesus in that way,” he said.

But more so, he wants people to hear how his experience — and theirs — could connect to God.

“A lot of what I know of God is experiential, and then later, I learned the theology behind it,” Nguyen said. “And I think the people out there, if you give them just theology, it can only go so far. But if you give them the experience, they themselves will go to adoration….”

From Angelus News