On May 25, Most Rev. Curtis Guillory SVD, bishop of Beaumont, Texas, ordained three men to the priesthood in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Techny. Divine Word Fathers Charles Anthony Moat Jr., Bau Van Nguyen and Victorin Oussoï have celebrated their first Masses and will travel to their first assignments soon. Today, we present Father Bau Van Nguyen.
By Theresa Carson
In the summer of 2017, Father Bau Van Nguyen faced a difficult transition. He left Panama, where he fulfilled his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP), and was still thinking in Spanish. After a quick stop in Vietnam to see family, he returned to Chicago and jumped back into school at Catholic Theological Union (CTU).
When the average student typically enrolled in three graduate level courses, Father Bau took five. To compound the challenge, he was still thinking in his third language.
“I lost some of my English, and I mixed up English and Spanish,” he said.
Before heading to Panama in 2015, he spent eight months in Mexico City, studying Spanish. He joined a class in progress and started two months behind his classmates from Vietnam and Indonesia. Within a semester, he had caught up.
He listened to the radio and conversed with native Spanish speakers. At nighttime in the central house where he lived, no one was afoot, so he’d go to the streets and eat five tacos for $2.
“I had a good time talking with the people,” he said. “On a rainy day, we’d just sit in a booth and I’d communicate with them with limited language skills.”
At Christmastime that year, he traveled to Chiapas to assist three priests and one brother in charge of parish and 84 communities in the region. One weekend, they visited six communities in one day.
The missionaries would travel an hour and a half to get to the first station. They drove and then walked to communities that they couldn’t reach by car. Some destinations they could not reach at all. People from the outlying villages brought hosts down from the mountain, so the hosts could be consecrated.
“That was my first experience of Mass with a priest in [a Central American] mission,” he said. “Many of those people speak only indigenous languages so we needed a translator to interpret parts of the Mass. It felt different, but I knew exactly what was going on. I enjoyed it. It was a mystical experience. God can understand all our languages.”
Once Father Bau mastered conversational Spanish, he moved to a suburb of Panama City. He ministered in a developing, rural area and lived at Alcalde Diaz parish in Medalla Milagrosa. Of the three priests in the parish, one became a bishop and one returned to Spain, leaving the third to takeover many of the responsibilities of the other two until a new pastor arrived.
Father Bau filled in where he could. He worked with youth, visited the sick and practiced adoration of the Eucharist.
“I need more skill to work with the youth,” he said with a smile. “They were quite a charismatic group. It took me a while to get used to it. But I was able to walk with them, leading them in prayer.”
During this past year, Father Bau completed his coursework at CTU in Chicago and served as a transitional deacon at Queenship of Mary parish in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Adapting to new cultures comes easily to Father Bau. Born in Vietnam, he moved to the United States with his mother and siblings when he was 12. The ninth of 11 children, Father Bau was five years old when his father ventured to their new homeland.
“Adjustment is not a big deal for me,” he said. “It’s easy for me to adjust to a practice or culture or something not the norm. I am an open person. It’s easy for me to be in a new place, to be with the people and be myself.”
His father once told him to be open to people, ask questions, and then people will receive you. He will practice that lesson again when he returns to Panama for his first assignment as a priest.
“I am an instrument of God,” he said. “Sometimes I can make an impact, but it’s not me. This is God’s grace that gives me the grace and time to do it. I am grateful that God uses me in a way to help people.”