Missionary persevered through persecution and peril to become a priest

Father Joseph Minh Công Nguyen, 1958-2014

Nguyen,_Father_Joseph_Minh_for_webFather Joseph Minh Công Nguyen SVD, ordained in 2011, died peacefully at 3:40 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14 at the Divine Word Residence, following complications from strokes. Two of his younger brothers from Vietnam had been with him during his final moments and witnessed his last breath.

"Joseph faced many hardships during his time on earth, but he remained cheerful and positive," said Father Quang Duc Dinh SVD, rector of the Divine Word Residence at Techny. "He could have become embittered, but instead he grew in optimism. His life was deeply rooted in the Word of God."

Although Father Joseph Minh, 56, was a youth when he recognized his call to the priesthood, he wasn’t ordained to the priesthood until age 53.

Born in Thu Ðuc, Vietnam, Father Joseph Minh was the fourth child of Joseph Nguyen Van Dong and Anna Luong Thi Mau’s ten children. As a teenager in the early 1970s, he attended a Salesian seminary. However, when the Communists took control of his home country, the government confiscated the seminary. They imprisoned the seminarians in 1978. Nine years later, officials put him in jail a second time because of his Catholic faith.

Despite the setbacks, Father Joseph Minh professed perpetual vows with the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1984. Because of his refusal to join the army, the Vietnamese government thwarted his ordination to the priesthood. He then decided that the only way to become a priest was to escape the situation. He continued to work with the pastor of a small parish in Vietnam until an anonymous parishioner gave $1,000 for his escape.

In 1990, he embarked upon a boat in the cover of night. He and fellow passengers drifted at sea for two weeks, encountering turbulent storms and Malaysian pirates. They landed in Indonesia, where he lived in the Galang Refugee Camp for four years.

Father Joseph Minh immigrated to California in 1994 and eventually learned English and earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics. Before joining the Divine Word Missionaries, he worked in a test lab for a digital camera company in San Jose, Calif., and served the Church through music ministry. An accomplished musician, he played guitar, clarinet, flute, violin, saxophone, pipe organ, piano and drums. He was actively involved with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Association in Vietnam and the United States.

In 2002, he happened to hear a homily by Father Quang Duc Dinh about priesthood and religious life. It changed his life. Shortly thereafter, Father Joseph Minh joined the Divine Word Missionaries through its Associates Program. In 2004, he professed religious vows with the Society of the Divine Word.

As a Divine Word seminarian, he tutored students at St. Felicitas and ministered to the Vietnamese choir at St. Henry, both in Chicago. As a deacon, he served at Queenship of Mary in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

After ordination to the priesthood in 2011, Father Joseph Minh was sent south for his first assignment. He was associate pastor at St. Joseph in Livingston, Texas, for two years. For six weeks during the summer for 2013, he temporarily filled in for the pastor of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Opelousas, La. In July 2013, Father Joseph Minh was assigned to Sacred Heart in Greenville, Miss., and St. Francis of Assisi in Shaw, Miss., where he suffered a stroke while presiding at Sunday Mass.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother and his older sister. He is survived by three sisters and four brothers, all of whom live in Vietnam.

Visitation for Father Joseph Minh will be Friday, Nov. 21, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Chapel of the Holy Chapel in Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center. His funeral will take place on Saturday, Nov. 22, at 10:30 a.m. at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit Chapel, followed by burial at St. Mary Cemetery, Techny, Ill.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in the name of Father Joseph Minh Công Nguyen SVD. They may be made for the care of elderly and infirmed missionaries and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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