Jubilarian Profile: Khoa Nguyen Celebrates 25 Years as a Friar

Wendy Healy Friar News

This is the 16th in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The previous installment featured Kevin McGoff, OFM, of El Cajon, Calif. 

CROMWELL, Conn. — Five of the 13 children in the immediate family of Khoa Nguyen, OFM, went into religious life. Khoa and a brother became Franciscans, another brother is a Redemptorist priest, and two sisters belong to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and the Disciples of the Divine Master.

The path to the priesthood took a few twists and turns for this Vietnam native, who is marking a quarter of a century as a friar. He was able to realize his dream only when he fled his country in 1981 to come to the United States because, he said, men were not allowed to become Catholic priests in Vietnam.

As a graduate of the University of Saigon, Khoa was teaching school in Vietnam when, at the age of 25, he decided to flee the communist rule in his country. He joined the Vietnamese movement that carried thousands of refugees in small perilous boats to places like the Philippines from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Though Khoa left home alone, he has since welcomed his entire family to the United States. Khoa has served as priest both here and at home, and has devoted his ministry to spiritual direction and caring for Catholic Vietnamese communities.

Franciscan Formation
His introduction to the Franciscans came while he was attending high school at the Franciscan Minor Seminary in Thu Duc, Vietnam, where he received a solid foundation in the Catholic faith. While in a refugee camp in the Philippines, where many boat people initially landed, Khoa became acquainted with a diocesan seminarian volunteering there who encouraged him to go to the United States. Khoa took his advice and arrived in New Orleans in 1983, where he found a job typesetting at a Catholic Vietnamese magazine.

“When I worked with the people there, I thought that I might be called to be a friar. So I took the religious phone book, saw an OFM address, and called the vocation office,” which, at the time, was in Brookline, Mass. Khoa was invited to Boston to discuss a vocation in religious life, and soon after, he was accepted into the Province’s postulancy program at Holy Cross Church in the Bronx.

After his novitiate year, Khoa professed his first vows in 1990, and his final vows in 1994. After receiving his Master in Divinity degree from Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., in 1995, Khoa was ordained at St. Anne Church in Fair Lawn, N.J.

His first assignment was to at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, where he served as parochial vicar for three years. In 1997, he began studying for his doctorate of ministry degree with a concentration in interreligious dialogue in spirituality, while he was living at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md.

After graduating from CUA, Khoa asked if he could return to Vietnam to teach theology and spirituality at the Franciscan seminary where he attended school. “It is in the Vietnamese tradition,” he said, “as a sign of thanksgiving, to give back. When someone does something nice for us, we are grateful. So I wanted to go back and thank them. I felt I owed them something.” He ministered there from 2001 to 2005.

Sharing His Spiritual Journey
When Khoa returned to the United States, he was assigned for a year to Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., the Province’s house of studies.

In 2006, he returned to Vietnam to work at Mau Tam’s Parish, where he taught theology and spirituality in several schools while also translating theological books into Vietnamese. He returned to the United States in 2010 and was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville, S.C., because its neighboring Our Lady of the Rosary Parish had a large Vietnamese community.

After two years, he was sent to Sacred Heart Rectory in Dayton, Ohio, to serve as a chaplain and moderator of the Vietnamese community. After a year here, he moved to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, to be the full-time spiritual director for the local diocese. In June 2014, Khoa headed for Cromwell, Conn., where he has since served as a spiritual director and teacher of Holy Apostles College and Seminary, http://www.holyapostles.edu/ originally operated by the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles.

“Being a spiritual director is a blessing for me. I learn a lot from the people and can share with them about my spiritual journey,” said Khoa.

He is grateful to Holy Name Province for “giving me a lot of chances to be who I am.” Khoa also appreciates the friars for their openness and their wide variety of ministries.

In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, reading and playing tennis, as well as seeing his family in California. Khoa’s brother is a member of St. Barbara Province, based in Oakland.

He said he would like to be remembered simply as a Christian.

“I would like to think that I made a difference by being faith-oriented and in helping others define their faith,” said Khoa, who, with the other HNP friars commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession, was honored by the Province on June 24.

Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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