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Rest in God’s Call
VIETNAM | WHO WE ARE | TESTIMONIES
Fr. Thanh Nguyen, LC (Vietnam)

Fr. Thanh Nguyen, LC (Vietnam)
Fr. Thanh Nguyen, LC (Vietnam)


Neither Communism, nor the “Boat People” ordeal at sea, nor its pirates could drown out God’s call. For those whom he calls, he also paves the way. My path began from the shores of Vietnam when I was two weeks old. My family struggled for dear life in our escape from the tyranny of our country.

Escape from Communist Vietnam

Before sunrise, in 1977, my mother rushed frantically from our home to where my father’s boat was waiting for us. She and some two dozen people of our escaping crew took the raft hidden near the shore and headed towards our boat, anchored a stone’s throw away. I was two weeks old and tightly braced between her arms. The boat departed with my parents, their six children and friends. Our food lasted a day. The rest of the week, our body reserves and three days’ ration of a cup of watered down milk barely kept us alive.

A great sea storm was gathering. On the second day of the journey, the winds and clouds released their fury. Soon the boat’s compass failed. For three days, our boat was tossed and drifted aimlessly in the open sea.

Ten days into the trip, the passengers were still drifting about in the hope of finding land and nourishment. The boat’s fuel was close to running dry, and its passengers only barely surviving. Each person lay about passively to conserve the little energy they still had in their bodies. When land suddenly appeared on the horizon, everyone perked-up, relieved from the desperation they had suffered.

Relief and Further Ordeal at Sea: Thailand

The citizens of the island eagerly welcomed us and kindly offered us food. After a couple of days, we were given directions for the refugee camp in Songkhla, Thailand. My dad had the boat’s compass and the rotors fixed. Well nourished and invigorated, we set off to our next destination.

That afternoon, however, our little boat was overtaken by pirates. We watched them approaching. While we shuddered with fear, the pirates pillaged and carried away the scanty goods we possessed, taking all except our lives.

God protected us and led us safely to Thailand. What a relief to have arrived at the shore! This relief was quickly shattered when we were denied entry. My family spent the next two weeks living on our boat tied to the dock. Later, Thailandese soldiers loaded us into trucks and ushered us to a location near their military camp. Here, in this open forest camp, I was cleansed by the waters of baptism. For the next four months we awaited sponsorship from overseas.

Mom, Alone, Lays the Foundation of Faith in the Home

Once we arrived to America, we had no way of knowing that only three years remained of my father’s life. In 1981, he passed away after struggling with lung cancer.

My mother raised a family of eight children all by herself: seven boys and one
Fr. Thanh greets the Holy Father in St. Peter´s Basilica after serving at the Easter Vigil in 2009.
Fr. Thanh greets the Holy Father in St. Peter´s Basilica after serving at the Easter Vigil in 2009.
girl. (The last one, a boy, was born two weeks after my father passed away. His birth was quite an ordeal: on the way to the hospital, the car that was taking my mom to the hospital was involved in a car accident, and my brother was born on the side of the road.) She struggled arduously to satisfy all our needs. Our faith took priority. For me, as I look back, she stood as a solitary pillar of faith immersed in a culture and mingled with a people whose language remained foreign to her.

At my mother’s knees, I learned and memorized prayers. Daily Mass was a joyful obligation. She led by example. Not infrequently she attended two Masses a day. Devotion to Mary had a special place; we often prayed the Rosary together. This spiritual nurturing equipped me for the more turbulent years awaiting me.

Parish life was very lively. The parish youth group was numerous and offered many activities. I remember attending one of the summer camps when I was eight years old and thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic activities and religious instructions that we were offered. The zeal and self-donation of our parish priest, Fr. Luong, had a positive impression on me concerning the priesthood.

Turbulent Years

From age ten until I entered the Immaculate Conception Apostolic School (ICAS) in New Hampshire, when I was nearly thirteen, I grew increasingly rebellious. I was filled with restlessness inside. I sought fulfillment in something or someone, and yet I could not discover what it was. I became increasingly less docile and disciplined. Soon, I picked up on smoking in private. I became involved in fun and pranks, even occasional shop-lifting and fistfights, and these smothered my taste for prayer or anything spiritual. One ember remained lit under the ashes, however: my conscience. My mother had formed it well, and it guided and protected me from tumbling into more serious moral pitfalls.

Could God Be Calling Me?

In the summer of 1987, I met my first Legionary priest, Fr. Anthony Bannon. Coming home from summer school, I was surprised to see him seated in our living room, in a circle with some minor seminarians from ICAS, with my mom and my older brother, who entered ICAS that summer. A glow of happiness and peace radiated from this priest. His demeanor captivated me.

The day my brother took a plane to head to ICAS, I sat grim on the living room couch. My mother had returned from the airport and was now sitting on the other side of the room with my older brother.

“I’d like Thanh to try out the minor seminary in three years when he’s old enough,” she said.

“I really doubt they’d accept a troublemaker like him,” my brother shot back. That made a big impression on me. Shortly after this, another brother of mine came in the room. He said, “They wouldn’t accept the wise-guy; even if they do, they won’t put up with him for more than a year, Mom.” My mother repeated the same thought to him. This showed me that I needed to change. I resolved to prove them wrong.

The summer of 1990 came around. Well, I did change, though perhaps not all for the better. I was, however, still resolved to try ICAS out. I signed up along with some two dozen boys, took my general knowledge test (although I felt horrible about it) and spoke with Fr. Bannon.

My brother Vinh, by now a junior in the minor seminary, served as Fr. Bannon’s secretary during his visit to our parish. After the test and interviews, my brother collected all the applications. There, on our living room bookshelf, the white folders were neatly stacked. Home alone and curious to see what chance I had to be one of five to be invited to ICAS, I decided to peek into the envelopes. My hands hurriedly opened the first envelope and searched for the green report card. The first was a straight-A student. Not bad. The second and then the third report card from the stack glared at me with the same results, and my heart



















sank. What chances would I have? My curiosity died as I realized that my low grade point average would place me close to the bottom of the list of candidates. Maybe this was not for me after all.

That evening, I confessed to my brother what I had done without hiding my disappointment and discouragement. No sooner had I finished than he corrected my attitude. “All right, I will be open to whatever God wants,” I said.

On to the Novitiate!

Two weeks later, the phone rang at our house. The voice told me to get ready to come to ICAS. We were all surprised. Before two weeks had passed, I was sitting nervously on a plane that would fly me to New Hampshire.

I was twelve years old. I had no idea what this whole new experience would be like. All I knew and felt was that this is where I felt God was leading me. Perhaps for this reason my interior and exterior restlessness seemed to abate, although I did not lack personal difficulties. God had done a great job up in preserving my life and faith. Amidst physical and moral storms, He had always been present.

I loved the sports and activities the school offered. We were so busy having fun that I did not even feel homesick.

Still, the habits I had brought with me to the Apostolic School needed a lot of sorting out and purification. Already during the summer camp I got into a few arguments and fist-fights. One of my older friends told me that if I did not control myself, they would kick me out. The only place that I remember not getting into a fight was the chapel.

Despite personal difficulties and disciplinary problems, I was always sincere with my superiors. I loved my vocation a lot and was very proud of becoming a Legionary. This did not eliminate moments in which I felt like going home. At such moments, I spoke very openly to my superiors and was always relieved by their help and advice. In my visits home, I defended my vocation when necessary.

My superiors were like brothers and fathers to me. Though I sometimes rebelled interiorly when they asked me to do something I did not like, I perceived that they cared for my formation and for my own good. I was moved by their example of prayer and sacrifice for us.

When I transferred to Cheshire, Connecticut, where the high-school students used to live, Fr. Kevin Meehan became my rector. He was like a father to me. It was a tough period of interior purification, but the extraordinary team of formators helped me through it. The fun activities and competitions that they put together helped me to continue to form virtues and motivated me to be generous with Christ.

When I moved to Cheshire, my brother Vinh was studying at the Legionaries’ college of humanities, which was located in the same building as the Apostolic School. Towards Easter of my senior year, I learned that Vinh would be leaving the Legion. My world caved in on me, but Fr. Kevin helped me get through it.

Rest in God’s Call

  1. Despite the many difficulties that God allowed for the purification of my soul, my last years at the Apostolic School were a very happy period of my formation. I really looked forward to the novitiate. For me it was the continuation of the response that I had already made to Christ and nurtured during these years.

The words once heard by the prophet Jeremiah, often re-echo in my ears, reminding me that my vocation and strength comes from God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

God calls whomever he wishes. I have been greatly blessed to be one among them. Thanks to the providence of God, to the loving formation I have received from my mother—centered on God’s will no matter what—and to the zeal of Fr. Bannon and so many other people, I was able to chance upon a pearl invisible to human eyes. Unworthy though I am, he gave me this gift and supplied the graces I need to give up everything in exchange it.

Fr. Thanh Duc Nguyen was born in Phu Quoc, Vietnam, on August 24, 1977. He entered Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, New Hampshire in August, 1990. On September 14, 1995, he became a novice of the Legion of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut, until September 2, 1997, when he made his first religious profession. He did a year of humanities studies in Cheshire, Connecticut, and studied philosophy in New York until 2000. From 2000 to 2001 he did youth work in St. Louis, Missouri, and Houston, and from 2001 to 2004 he was a dean of students at Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in New Hampshire. He studied at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College from 2004 to 2009, where he obtained his licentiate in philosophy and his bachelor’s in theology. He is currently a dean of students and a member of the formators’ team at the Apostolic School in Mérida, Venezuela.

The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who were ordained on December 12, 2009 have been published in the book "I Call You Friends". During this Year for Priests, let us pray for all priests, so that their self-giving to God and to people will bear abundant fruits of grace and blessings.


PUBLICATION DATE: 2009-12-12


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