|Fr. Peter Khuong Huynh LC.|
The Doctor Dreams
I dreamt of being a doctor.
God dreamt me of me being His priest.
After nineteen years, both of our dreams became
When I was a boy, I was fascinated
by doctors. Medics would rush a dying patient into the
ER and the only hope the patient’s family had
lay in the hands of a doctor. Doctors could
tear people apart, extract their illnesses, piece them back
together, prescribe medicine afterwards, and all the while, assure the
recovering patient they were going to be just fine.
It was a career where one could actually use
his knowledge to heal others physically. I liked the idea
of that, though admittedly, I was also attracted by
the other benefits that came with being a doctor:
big house, stable income, those cool white lab coats and
the power of an illegible signature.
The Dawn of
I am the oldest of three boys,
all born within three and a half years…too close in
age to be friends growing up. In a family
with three competitive and rambunctious boys, our home was
anything but peaceful and quiet. Report cards, distance off
a bike ramp, round-house kicks, quantity of uneaten vegetables at
dinner, street basketball, dodge ball with baseballs, Legos… every
activity presented an opportunity to prove oneself superior to
the others and to claim bragging rights, whether expressed
verbally or physically. Our individual talents developed naturally and
distinctively, under the threat of fraternal humiliation.
became a talented athlete, quick at self-defense. John developed a
businessman´s mind and a politician’s tongue from all the
practice he had proving his innocence to our parents,
while simultaneously convincing them of his two older brothers´
guilt. In constant competition with the talents of my
younger brothers, I excelled in academics and arts. Strangely enough,
it was ultimately through these perpetual fraternal rivalries that
we formed the strong bond we share as brothers
My brother Jason´s story is somewhere in the book
you are holding now because God actually called both
of us to serve him as his priests, and now
he, too, is a Legionary. John, our youngest brother,
was at one time a teacher at Pinecrest Academy;
today, he serves as the youth minister for the Archdiocese
My parents’ sacrifice and trust
what he was doing when he put three highly
flammable and intense personalities together in the same household,
and he did so under the patient and generous
care of my parents. My parents are saintly people. It
would have been impossible to raise us three boys
if they weren’t saints (or at least saints in
Our parents knew what sacrifice and trust
were. Born and raised in Vietnam, they were devout
Catholics in a country torn apart by war and Communism.
As the Red Army and Vietcong rolled into Saigon
with armored tanks in 1975, they were forced to
flee, independently from one another. My mother escaped as one
of the “Boat People”, while my dad fled with
the South Vietnamese Navy to the Philippines.
flight, they saw families being brutally torn apart; they witnessed
lives being taken; and they heard the howls of
many horrors and true hopelessness. In their most desperate
plight, they turned to and trusted in God—and He was
there. He must have been there; otherwise, what were
the chances of them meeting again on the small
island of Guam – surrounded by thousands of miles of
the salty Pacific Ocean? What was the likelihood of
them finding their way onto a U.S. commercial airplane,
together with hundreds of Vietnamese refugees making the flight
to Philadelphia to start a new life as Americans? What
were the odds of them getting married and giving
birth to and raising these energetic boys?
too many seemingly random reunions, casual coincidences, and mini-miracles
to claim that God was absent or oblivious to
such meaningful events. My parents knew firsthand how trust
requires sacrifice, and we learned from them how sacrifice
Me, a priest? But I’m normal...
my two younger brothers and I would often serve
mass as altar boys. My pastor, Monsignor Kiernan, had
a great altar boys´ system set up that involved military
rankings. Every mass that a boy served would earn
him points. Once enough points were gained, we were
given promotions. The higher the rank, the more responsibilities
we had and the more opportunities we were given to
command and assign roles to lower ranking altar boys.
Monsignor himself was the 5-star general, and the associate
pastor, a 4-star.
My youngest brother, John, enjoyed
altar serving so much that he decided he wanted
to be a 5-star general one day – a pastor.
He began playing mass at home, which Jason and
I found to be childish and annoying. For most 10-year-olds,
church is a drag. Even though I was an
altar boy I found the mass to be long and
boring. Sunday was supposed to be a day of
rest and joy, but instead, it became a dark
and dreadful experience. A perfect week that consisted of good
grades in school, sprinkled with fantastic birthday parties and
pizza nights, was always wrecked with an unpleasant function
right in the middle of the weekend. Every week
my parents had to endure the same drama starring my
brothers and me. “Do we have to go? We
don’t want to go. It’s boring!”
So when John
conducted "mass" at home, our mother would force us to
sit down and "attend". He would take Wonder Bread,
pound it flat with the bottom of a cup,
and then cut out a host with the top of
it. He poured out a cup of apple juice
to be wine and ruined his bed sheet to make
it into a chasuble. A mixture of fraternal hostility
and boredom fueled my dislike for John´s mass. I
already dreaded Sundays since it meant attending a long ritual
and sitting through long discourses that I was never
able to relate to, so being forced to participate
in the reenactment of this in my home was not
at all welcome to me.
Jason and I
mocked and laughed at John, commenting on how boring his
homily was. We tried to find every possible way
to disrupt or destroy John’s mass. We purposely read
the incorrect readings, turned the communion songs into a rap,
and ran into the kitchen to put peanut butter
on the flattened bread we received at communion. Before
long, our frustrated little brother excommunicated us. I was happy
that I didn’t have to go to "church" anymore.
In spite of our simply being jerks, though, I
actually admired John’s zeal, his steadfast dedication, and his
openness to becoming a priest one day.
As we were leaving our parish church after
one excruciatingly long Sunday mass, my parents stopped and
began chatting with the pastor. “Here we go again,” I
mumbled under my breath (but loud enough that my
younger brothers could hear). Seeing that the conversation was
not going to end any time soon, we migrated slowly
over to the votive candles and began playing with
the flames and hot wax. After a time, the
pastor gave a good hearty laugh at whatever my parents
had just said; then, he paused and, in a
more serious tone, said “Your boys would make great
“Really?” exploded my youngest brother. John’s excited response
made my hot-wax-finger-dipping stop abruptly for a moment. I
pretended that I had not heard anything and continued
entertaining myself. Before I had time to put another
coat of wax on my finger, though, the pastor turned
to Jason and me and asked, “What about you
Jason’s response was a series of incoherent words, followed
by several incomplete phrases – a response typical of
an embarrassed 9-year-old. I said nothing. I forced an
awkward smile and hoped that Mom would come to my
My thoughts at that moment were, “I am too
young to die…I am perfectly normal…why should I be
a priest?” I had my own preconceived notion of the
priesthood. I thought men who became priests were ones
who were unqualified to be anything else in life…
that they had no option other than the priesthood.
me, it was quite clear: I was not going
to be a priest – period. I assured myself that
with the grades I was getting, I would grow
up to be a successful doctor. I would find
a pretty girl to be my wife and we would
have a huge family and live happily ever after…like
The fake smiled worked, and Mom began
talking again. Although I was able to escape the
pastor’s interrogation unscathed, the inquiry haunted me for weeks: “What
The first Legionary priest I met
turned into months and the pastor’s question slowly faded away…mostly.
When it did resurface, it was only a faint,
feeble whisper that was immediately drowned out by my
cold “forget it!”. My response was resolute – until the
day I met a Legionary priest.
A new kid
and his younger brother came to the sacristy one
day to serve at mass. I eyed them and
looked for their rank. They were new altar boys who
had just moved from Chicago. Since I had been
recently promoted to corporal, my words carried some weight.
“You guys can be candle-bearers.” That’s how the Gannons and
the Huynhs met. Their older brother was a Legionary
seminarian studying somewhere far, far away.
organized great parties in the summer. The kids would hang
outside in the pool, while the adults would meet
inside and socialize. One day, with flip-flops on my
feet and a towel slung over my shoulder, I was
making my way through their house to the pool
where my buddies and their sisters were. I was surprised
to see a tall young priest among the adults
in the kitchen. He was dressed all in black
from neck to toe. He had a smile across his
face and lemonade in his hand. Mrs. Gannon saw
me and called me over to meet this new priest.
“Hi, I am Father David Kluk,” he said, holding
out his huge hand for a shake. My hand
barely fit in the palm of his, but we shook.
I noticed that the priest and all the adults
were smiling and looking at me. Since I was a
naturally shy kid, I wanted out. I mustered just
enough guts to ask my mom, who happened to
be standing nearby, if I could go out to the
pool. She nodded and I zipped away. As I
left, I said to myself, “Man! That is the youngest
priest I’ve ever met!” Soon, though, the familiar sound
of joyful cheers, girls screaming and giggling, and splashes
from the guys playing chicken reached my ears, and I
thought no more about the priest.
several weeks later, my mom asked my brothers and me
to go outside and wait for a guest she
was expecting. She wanted us to be there to welcome
him and invite him inside. Sure enough, a car
rolled up and parked in front of our house.
It was Father David! We invited him in and after
he sat down, we began asking him what he
did besides saying mass. He talked about his youth work,
retreats, and summer camps. Pulling out a photo album,
he showed my brothers and me pictures of a
boarding school in New Hampshire for boys thinking about
the priesthood. “That’s funny,” I thought, as I looked at
a picture of a bunch of students rushing into
the lake in pursuit of a duck, “these boys are
going to be priests!? But they look happy and
they’re having a lot of fun!”
As the summer
began, Jason and I decided to attend a weekend retreat
led by Fr. David. I don´t remember exactly how
he convinced me to go, but I am certain that
a weekend without my youngest brother played a significant
part in the decision.
I never had so much
fun in my life (that did not involve lighting aerosol
cans or throwing a neighbor’s cats off the porch!).
This priest was the first person who showed me
that learning about Christ and having fun were compatible. His
virtue talks and homilies were engaging, funny, and interesting.
When we had a competition to see who could
bring the biggest stick for our bonfire, Fr. David hauled
in a 12-foot tree. I could not believe he
organized and played capture-the-flag in the woods with us.
I saw in this priest a new side of the
priesthood which I had never considered. “This priest is
cool!” I shouted at my parents when they came
to pick me up.
He was gently overturning my
misconception of the priesthood. Those called to be priests
are normal people. They are not freaks of nature or
angels incarnated. They have their characters, defects, and personalities.
Even Christ chose his apostles from a smorgasbord of
characters and personalities. Four fishermen, a tax collector, two
zealots, a scholar, and an accountant. They were ordinary
people – chosen for an extraordinary mission.
Doctor to Spiritual Doctor
I remember thinking as a child
that the most generous people I knew exuded natural warmth
and love in their cheerful smiles, while the meanest
people I knew were the most selfish ones. I
recall being aware that many seemingly successful people, over
time, became rather self-centered, and I even knew of some
who ended up sadly contemplating suicide. They appeared to
have everything—but everything they had was ultimately for themselves.
the summer of 1993, I went to visit the
Immaculate Conception Apostolic School, the school in New Hampshire
that Father David had mentioned to me. It was not
exactly the way he described it: it was better!
There, I was surrounded by guys my own age
who felt called to give of themselves and serve the
Lord. Personally, I was beginning to understand where God
was directing the yearning that He had planted in
me to be a doctor. I was certain that He
wanted me to fulfill that dream, but I could
see now that the path He had in mind for
me was not the one I had expected…He wanted
me to be a spiritual doctor. God was redirecting
my passion for helping and curing others physically, toward helping
those battling spiritual sickness and restore themselves to spiritual
health. After that amazing summer program, I decided to
stay for the whole year.
Looking back now, I can
see clearly how God has been with me all along,
guiding me and channeling me towards "our" dream. He
placed instrumental people in my life, all of whom
have played key roles in guiding me along this path:
my parents, my two younger brothers, Monsignor Kiernan, the
Gannons, Father David, everyone who has spiritually adopted me
throughout these years, and those who have constantly supported
me and prayed for me.
It has been nineteen
years since I made the decision to attend the Apostolic
School and join the Legionaries of Christ. I am
here now as a priest because God wove my
own dream of becoming a doctor into His dream for
me, and He created for me a unique avenue
through which I am able to heal and serve. "Our"
dream took years to become a reality, and I
have not regretted a single day of my long
As a new spiritual doctor, I am awed by
the way God – the true Physician – has chosen
to work through me to bring spiritual well-being to
all those I encounter.
PETER KHUONG HUYNH was born in Belleville, New Jersey, on
March 5, 1981 and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is the oldest of three sons; his younger
brother is also a Legionary of Christ priest. In
1993, he entered Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor,
New Hampshire. He entered the novitiate in Cheshire, Connecticut,
in 1998, making his first vows in 2000. He
studied two years of humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut. For
three years he did youth work in the Heartland;
taught and mentored at a Legionary school in St. Louis.
He earned a master’s degree in philosophy in 2009
and a bachelor’s degree in theology in 2012 from
the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome, Italy. He
currently serves as the youth minister in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.