By Theresa Carson
On Aug. 5 at Techny, Ill., five men professed the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. They are Quynh Thanh Cao, Edwan "Manie" Manuel, Hoang Quang Nguyen, An Thien Nguyen and Quang Ngoc Pham. In the fall, they will begin classes at Catholic Theological Union as they continue on their way to the priesthood. Part five of five.
As a college student in Vietnam, Quang Ngoc Pham SVD, 26, thought he’d become a news reporter. However, that path gradually changed as he got to know his uncle, Father Peter Son Le SVD.
Quang and Father Son had not met before adulthood. Father Son had left his homeland as a teenager. In fact, nine of Quang’s mother’s ten siblings left Vietnam in the 1980s with the wave of refugees popularly called the Boat People.
Quang’s mother chose to stay in Vietnam to care for her aging parents. One brother, a diocesan priest, also decided to stay. For most of Quang’s life, he and his family lived with his maternal grandparents.
His grandfather encouraged his family to move beyond their immediate environment because he knew that it provided a different way of thinking about the world.
He had served as a lieutenant in the navy of South Vietnam before 1975. When the war ended, he was sent to a concentration camp. The family lost everything they had.
"I knew about my grandfather’s past life mostly through his own memoirs," Quang said. "Life was hard. That experience led to my grandfather’s vision to seek something more promising."
Years ago, when Quang’s grandfather was on his deathbed, the elderly man pleaded with his daughter to move to the United States.
"One of my grandfather’s last wishes was that my family would go to the United States," Quang said. "The day before he died, he repeatedly said, ‘Ask for the process for the documents.’ I think he wanted a fair opportunity for all of his children."
The family had actually applied for the U.S. migration visa 12 years before his grandfather’s death. "A short time before his death, we received a letter from the U.S. Embassy announcing the waiting time was over," Quang recalled. "With my grandfather’s counsel, my family decided to apply for the last step of the process. We were called for the interview 100 days after his death."
Quang completed his college coursework in English shortly before he, his mother and younger brother arrived in the United States the summer of 2013. His father joined the family about a year later.
Shortly after arriving, they received an invitation to Father Son’s perpetual vows ceremony at Techny, Ill. Even though Quang grew up in Nha Trang, where the Divine Word Missionaries have the headquarters of the Vietnam Province, the vow ceremony was his first exposure to the Society of the Divine Word.
"My uncle recruited me," Quang said as he admitted that his calling has been gradual with no ah-ha moments.
He enrolled in Divine Word College, where he was chosen as one of two students for an inaugural study abroad program in Mexico. Two summers ago, he and An Thien Nguyen studied Spanish in Guadalajara. While in Mexico, he indulged his interest in people with different perspectives and ideas. He enjoyed being in a Catholic country, surrounded by churches, statues and other signs of the faith.
"It built up my religious experience. We are different but have the same faith," he said. "That time gave me an idea of how my ministry should be in the future. I go not to change them but to change me."
Perhaps his interest in people different from himself began in school. In Vietnam, he worked as a translator for cultural events in which diplomatic guests and ambassadors participated. After moving to the United States, he found that American culture is more diverse than he expected.
"It’s interesting to be here and experience [the culture] for myself," he said.
In 2016, Quang graduated from Divine Word College with a bachelor’s degree in intercultural studies. During the past year as a novice, he undertook yet another ministry that introduced him to another culture—and another generation. He taught catechism to second-generation Vietnamese-American children at Queenship of Mary parish in Glen Ellyn, Ill. They are being raised differently than how he was raised, he said.
"The more I know, the more I am interested in being involved, to give it a try and see how it goes," he said about the discernment process. "As my uncle says, it’s a joint effort of many people."