Society of the Divine Wind

Tales from the Province: Feature Stories

First Vows by D Holman 2013 71

Five men profess religious vows, join the Divine Word Missionaries
By Theresa Carson

On Aug. 10, five men joined the ranks for the Society of the Divine Word as they professed religious vows at Techny, Ill. The five new members completed their novitiate and will continue their studies for priesthood and brotherhood in Chicago. They are Trieu Thien Cao, Viet Quoc Hoang, Charles Anthony Moat, Bau Van Nguyen and Binh Thanh Nguyen.

Trieu Thien Cao
A native of Vietnam, Trieu Thien Cao, 25, is thankful for his novitiate year. Free from academic pressures, he said that the novitiate is a time to focus on the inner life.

"It was a good year for me to look back and see what has happened in my life and where God is present in my life," he said. He cited a book by Thomas Green called "When the Well Runs Dry."

He was struck by how the author explained prayer in the religious life. "The novitiate prepared me for when my life runs dry; it taught me how to get it back [to finding energy through prayer] so that I can be faithful."

He also appreciated the opportunity to get to know the Divine Word Missionaries in their residence at Techny who have lived as brothers and priests for decades. "It was a great advantage to me—to see how they lived their lives. They had their own struggles, how they struggled with the vow of poverty and how they want to see themselves in the poor."

He said that the older missionaries inspire him. "After 50 to 70 years [in religious life and ministry], they’re still here, so there must be a way for me to resolve my problems. They give me hope to follow in [the religious] life."

When asked for examples of Divine Word Missionaries who inspire him, he named Novice Director Rodney Bowers, Assistant Novice Director William Seifert and Brother Daniel Yunck.

"Brother Daniel lived as a poor and humble brother in the Third World," he said. "He received $30 a year. When the water pump in his residence broke, the rector of the house refused to pay for it, so he went ahead and spent $8 to buy a new pump. That’s the picture of the missionary whom I want to be."

Cao first became acquainted with the Divine Word Missionaries shortly after he graduated from high school. One of his cousins suggested that he consider getting to know them, so he enrolled in a university in Saigon and lived in a house with SVD candidates. In 2007, the Divine Word Missionaries sent him to Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, to learn English and philosophy.

Cao will begin his studies at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) this fall as he prepares to become a priest.

Viet Quoc Hoang
Born in Vietnam, 29-year-old Viet Quoc Hoang came to the United States with his family in 1997. He was 13 at the time. During the first year in his new country, he said he lived as a "mute" because he didn’t know English.

"I was trying to reconnect and trying to communicate," he said. "I worked hard and used that year to push myself and learn English as much as I could."

He still remembers his first ESL teacher, Mrs. Riley. "She walked with me all through that year," he said. "She showed me the model of what a teacher should be."

Hoang learned so well that he earned a scholarship for high school that helped with school supplies and the purchase of a home computer. He later graduated from Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy.

A Come-and-See weekend at Divine Word College made him choose the Society of the Divine Word. "That weekend changed my path," he said.

In January 2011, he graduated from Edgewood and joined the SVD Associate Program the following month.

Hoang named Divine Word Father Felix Eckerman as someone who encourages him. Father Eckerman, 93, spent decades as a missionary in India. "His knowledge of mission work inspires me," he said. "He lives out the vows joyfully, understanding the depth of the vows. He’s so joyful."

Hoang’s journey to the priesthood will continue at CTU.

Charles Anthony Moat
Born in California and raised on the East Coast, Charles Anthony Moat, 32, served as a member of the Air Force Honor Guard before joining the Divine Word Missionaries. His military assignments took him to the White House and Arlington National Cemetery.

After Moat expressed an interesting in Catholicism, a friend introduced him to a Franciscan priest who was a Navy chaplain and to the RCIA program. Moat asked himself, "What do you want to do with your life? Would you be happy if you died tomorrow? I wanted to be about service."

Upon completing his commitment with the Air Force, he entered Divine Word College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

During his novitiate, he and Hoang taught religious education at Queenship of Mary parish in Joliet, Ill. "I could see myself in the future teaching," he said. "I’m still figuring out those gifts. I think I would enjoy parish life."

He continued, "I like a challenge. Religious life is a challenge. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t like a challenge."

Men whom he met this year who give him hope for the future include Father Eckerman, Father Charles Schneider and Father John Harpel—all in their 90s.

"They encountered dangers [in the missions], specifically malaria," Moat said. "Now they’re in their 90s, and they’re leading healthy lives even though they contracted malaria. They see the silver lining in everything. I admire their outlook."

This autumn, he will be a student at CTU.

Bau Van Nguyen
In 2003, Bau Van Nguyen, 24, and his family moved from Vietnam to California. During his high school years, he almost didn’t meet Father Bang Cong Tran SVD.

Bau Nguyen’s uncle asked him to attend a Mass and reception for a Divine Word Missionary at their parish. Instead, Bau Nguyen took the car and drove to his friend’s house, but feeling guilty, he returned home and went to the Mass. While there, Father Tran’s stories of Africa intrigued him.

"He had to cross rivers, scared of animals, carrying a chair to say Mass. He put it on his head and walked for long distances," he said. That curiosity led Bau Nguyen to Divine Word College from which he graduated in 2012.

He said that he enjoyed his novitiate year and the opportunity to get to know more Divine Word Missionaries. Another missionary who left an impression on Bau Nguyen is Father Schneider.

"He has a sense of ongoing, of never being fulfilled," Ban Nguyen said. "He always wants to know more about everything. He cares about his brothers in the community. Mobility is difficult [for him], but he still offers help to others in the community."

Bau Nguyen earned his bachelor’s degree at Divine Word College and will continue his studies at CTU.

Binh Thanh Nguyen
Binh Thanh Nguyen, 25, was born in a refugee camp in Bangkok, Thailand. His mother was two months pregnant with him when she and her husband left Vietnam in 1988. The following year, they moved to the United States. Binh Nguyen grew up in Massachusetts and later Texas.

Binh Nguyen came to know the Divine Word Missionaries by chance. Divine Word Father Binh Thanh Nguyen, a vocation director about 20 years older than the younger Nguyen, visited a family that was staying with the Nguyens.

Of the three young men with whom he spoke that day, Binh Nguyen was the one who ended up attending Divine Word College. "I fell in love with the college and the people," he said. "It’s one of the major blessings in my life."

He credits a Vietnamese nun whom he met at the college and the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters for nurturing his faith and vocation. "The best thing that I can do to return that love is to give it to others," he said.

During his novitiate, Binh Nguyen especially appreciated the opportunity to live in community with brothers and priests and get to know them as friends. He was moved by the example of Brothers Louis Gagnon SVD and Brother Joseph Hornek SVD.

Brother Louis is confined to a wheelchair, and Brother Joe is blind. They often are seen together. Brother Louis serves as Brother Joe’s eyes, and Brother Joe serves as Brother Louis’ legs.

"They’re best friends," Binh Nguyen said. "They’re adorable. Brother Joe is always happy. They are exemplary of what an SVD brother should be—happy and cheerful. They’re strong and built to last, positive and optimistic. It’s healthy to be surrounded by these guys. That’s what we should strive to be when we’re retired."

Other men whose examples have taught him what it means to be a Divine Word brother are his novice director Brother Rodney Bowers, Brother Mike Decker in Chicago, Brother Duy Linh in Epworth and Brother Damien Lunders in Thailand.

"To be a brother, you have to be strong and rooted," he said. "As a religious, you need a foundation in order to [spiritually] grow exponentially."

As a brother candidate, Binh Nguyen will attend DePaul University and study for a master’s degree in relational communication.

Article posted: August 13, 2013