Three men profess perpetual vows with the Society of the Divine Word
September 22, 2015 – The growth of the Society of the Divine Word continues as three men professed perpetual vows at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Techny, Ill., on Sept. 19.
Forty-year-old Paul Aquino has never received a Facebook invitation that he hasn’t accepted. In the process, he has opened his life as a Divine Word Missionary to more than 4,000 Facebook friends.
"Facebook is one way of me witnessing to my faith," said the professional musician and educator who is studying for the priesthood. "If someone sends me a Facebook invitation, I accept it."
Paul’s philosophy comes from his appreciation of people who have remembered him from his previous ministries
"People I know from different parts of the world surprise me," said Paul, who says his priesthood has been 25 years in the making. "They still send old-fashioned Christmas cards. I value those things. You can see the effort. It takes effort and sacrifice to show your love and concern. I’m always excited to look in my mailbox."
In return, he makes a point to wish each of his Facebook friends a happy birthday and carries the encouragement of others into his continuing ministries.
Earlier this year, Paul returned from his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP), a requirement to complete preparation to become a Divine Word Missionary. He spent his in the outback of Australia. He spent a year living in Alice Springs, a small city of 25,000 in the remote desert predominantly inhabited by aboriginal people. Paul worked at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the only Catholic parish in Alice Springs. The parish drew residents of many cultures: Africans, Filipinos, Indians, Pacific Islanders and White Australians.
His experience among such a diverse community will help him as a deacon. This year, Paul will work at St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, home of the University of Chicago. He is believed to be the first Divine Word Missionary to fulfill his diaconate at St. Thomas the Apostle.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and that faith begins at home. In the case of 33-year-old Thien Duc Nguyen’s hometown, it took faith and family to birth a village.
"When I look back at my life, when I grew up, why I joined the SVD, I see a lot of grace," said Thien, who entered the Society of the Divine Word in 2000.
When Communists took control of North Vietnam in 1954, they gave Catholics an ultimatum: shed your religion or leave. So Thien’s great-great uncle, a diocesan priest, led villagers from the north to the south and into the Highlands of Vietnam. There, they cut through jungle, built homes, kept a watchful eye for tigers and named the village Vinh Hoa.
Today, the population of Vinh Hoa is approximately 5,000. Thien said that about 200 people born in his village have become priests, brothers and nuns. That number includes about 20 Divine Word Missionaries, and in Thien’s family alone, there are 30 members of religious orders.
Thien, who professed religious vows in Vietnam, came to the United States in 2009 to study English and theology. Thien was chosen to participate in a special Divine Word Program through which provinces in six countries exchange students. Thien wanted to learn the English language, so he asked his superiors to consider sending him to Australia, the Philippines or the United States.
After spending time at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, Thien began his post-graduate work at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For his CTP, he stayed in the Chicago Province and worked in economically disenfranchised parishes in West Virginia.
Thien will serve as a deacon at St. Henry, a Vietnamese-Filipino-American parish on Chicago’s Northside.
Hien Van Pham, 36, heard the stirrings of a vocational call when he was a boy, but it wasn’t until he was working at a racetrack that the idea of the priesthood truly took hold.
Born into a large Catholic family in southeastern Vietnam, Hien grew up in a rural area near the South China Sea. His family was poor but not destitute.
"We grew our own vegetables but lacked fish and meat," he recalled as he talked about eating cassava, a root vegetable, to help fill their stomachs.
To support his family and to pay for high school tuition, Hien took a landscaping job at a newly built dog-racing park. He grew fond of the director who hired him. The man had been baptized Catholic but had drifted away from the Church. When he expressed an interest in returning to his faith, Hien felt the desire to help him. That’s when Hien committed himself to becoming a priest so that he could help people in need.
"I want to find a way to accompany people [in their faith journeys]," he said.
Hien joined the Society of the Divine Word in 2000; professed vows in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 2006; and was sent to the United States in 2009. He studied English for two years at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, before starting classes at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
He fulfilled his CTP at St. Nicholas parish in St. Louis. This year, he will serve as a deacon at Queenship of Mary parish in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
These three men will be ordained to the priesthood next May along with about 200 other Divine Word seminarians studying in many different countries on six continents around the world. Founded in 1875, the Society of the Divine Word has more than 6,000 members who serve the spiritual and social needs of people in more than 70 countries.
Photos are available upon request. For more information or to set up an interview, contact Theresa Carson at 847-412-1606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.