“Are all of your sons here?”
Time and time again, that’s been the Pope’s question to his aides when addressing the appointment of bishops. Citing the Old Testament story of the calling of David, from Francis the line is less an innocent query than a marching order to “go and fetch” those who, like the boy shepherd-turned-king, are off working far afield.
In this, for nearly a decade and a half, one group has been glaringly conspicuous by its absence: the sons and pastors of the roughly 4 million Asian faithful in the US, a community whose constant growth – and ever more prominent sense of commitment – has arguably made them Stateside Catholicism’s most vibrant, and visibly dedicated, bloc….
Yet absent from the “center” – that is, until now.
Breaking a 14-year drought for the Stateside church’s Pacific influx, at Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope named Fr Thanh Thai Nguyen, 64 – a Vietnamese “boat person” (refugee) serving until now as pastor of St Joseph’s parish in Jacksonville, Florida – as a second auxiliary bishop of Orange: the 1.3 million-member Southern California fold which claims the nation’s largest Vietnamese contingent.
With the nod, the bishop-elect – just the latest of the ongoing “Auxnado” that’ll add some 30 new assistant hats to the US bench – becomes only the fourth Asian ever to be called into the American hierarchy.
While Asian-Americans merely make up some four percent of the nation’s 75 million Catholics, the community’s sense of devotion has, in recent years, seen them provide a full quarter of the US’ priestly and religious vocations – in other words, pulling roughly six times their weight. That disparity is even more overpowering out West; among other examples, Orange’s own priesthood class this year was comprised of one Anglo, one Korean, and four Vietnamese ordinands, the latter community long dubbed the “new Irish” in the California church and beyond.
One of 11 children who entered a Vietnamese minor seminary as a teenager, by the mid-1970s Nguyen (pron. “Noo-WIN”) and his confreres came under the close scrutiny of the Communist government, culminating in a stint under house arrest.
Fleeing his homeland by boat with 26 of his relatives, their 28-foot vessel was caught in a tropical storm at sea, after which the family was left without food or water for ten of the 18 days it took for them to reach the Philippines, where they would spend nearly a year in a refugee camp.
Able to come to the US thanks to family already living in Texas, the future bishop was taken in by a friend in Connecticut, where – still to be ordained and knowing little English – Nguyen got his start as a janitor at a Catholic Charities facility in Hartford, picking up the language by taking night classes. After several years teaching in inner-city public schools, he returned to discernment with the La Salette Missionaries, who urged him to consider the priesthood after initially applying to be a brother.
Following studies at the Jesuits’ Weston School of Theology (since merged into Boston College), he was ordained in 1991, at the age of 38. Three years later – having been invited to minister to a rapidly-growing Vietnamese presence in northeast Florida – Nguyen incardinated into the diocese of St Augustine, taking the reins of his first assignment there after his then-pastor, Fr Robert Baker, was named bishop of Charleston in 1999.
In the 4,000-family pastorate he’s held until today – the largest outpost in Florida’s founding diocese; its ample church (above) opened in 1999 – the bishop-elect has overseen sprawling community spread across a combined nine weekend Masses in English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Missal, plus a school of 550 students, and everything else that comes with both.
Full story at Whispers in the Loggia.
On any given Sunday, the Garden Grove campus of Christ Cathedral — a postmodern glass structure accompanied by an 18-story stainless steel steeple that serves as the hub of Catholic life in Orange County — is a flurry of different languages.
A 6:15 a.m. Mass in Vietnamese is followed by a 7:45 a.m. Mass in Spanish, then ones in English, Chinese and Spanish again — and on throughout the day.
“The cathedral reflects the diocese as a whole in terms of diversity and where it is now,” said Tarra McNally, assistant director of evaluation at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture. “If you look at the Diocese of Orange, that’s the future of the Catholic Church in the United States over the next 50 years.”
Full story at The LA Times.