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Brisbane Oratory novice swaps health care for spiritual care

Br John Henry Newman of the Oratory and a Vietnamese parishioner

New to Oratory: Br John Henry Nguyen and a Vietnamese parishioner hold his lay Mass missal which offers a Vietnamese translation of the Latin Mass. Photo: Br John Henry Newman.

HUNG Nguyen can spot a rotten tooth in seconds but after years of prayer he’s decided to study a new form of healing by becoming a priest.

The Adelaide-born Vietnamese Catholic has left behind a career as an oral health practitioner to join the Brisbane Oratory.

He entered the community on May 26 taking on a new name, Br John Henry Nguyen.

Br John Henry, who is one of six children, said he left behind his career treating children in a dental practice to become a spiritual carer in the Church.

“But I always loved that interaction with people on an everyday basis, and providing some kind of benefit, a health benefit,” he said.

“But I thought, why limit it to physical health? Why not look after people spiritually?”

Like all Oratorians, Br John Henry will take up a life of pastoral work and community living with his fellow Brisbane Oratory members, which at the moment include four priests and five religious brothers.

It’s hardly likely he will take up pastoral work at the dentist’s chair but it has become the running joke of the house.

“The brothers joke that if ever in doubt, they can set up a little room downstairs for penance or for extra income,” Br John Henry laughed.

“I think St Philip Neri (founder of the Oratory) would endorse that.”

He said the Oratory was special in that priests could journey with parishioners over their entire sacramental life, as the members were called to remain in one community for the duration of their Oratorian calling.

“I loved the fact that you have the support of the other brothers and the fathers, and the fact you’re in one particular spot being able to see generations of parishioners go through,” Br John Henry said.

“You have every chance of baptising an individual, and later on down the track maybe the privilege to celebrate their marriage for them.

“That’s something quite rare you don’t really get as a priest anywhere else.”

After spending the past three months in Brisbane, Br John Henry is now studying philosophy at the Toronto Oratory.

His parting gift to the Brisbane Oratory’s parish is already making use of his call to spiritually care for the flock, in particular, his fellow Vietnamese.

“There’s definitely a handful, probably about ten or so that I see regularly, and then every now and then there’s the odd person that comes out of nowhere and asks me if I’m Vietnamese and we hit it off,” Br John Henry said.

He said a number of Vietnamese Catholics were now attending the traditional Latin Mass at the Oratory but were having trouble understanding it.

Drawing on his reluctant days in Vietnamese language school, Br John Henry has created a lay Mass missal that offers the Vietnamese translation of the Latin Mass.

“As much as I look back and think it’s a horrendous experience for any child, I’m quite grateful for my parents for putting me through Vietnamese school,” he said.

He hopes the missal will help his fellow Vietnamese Catholics grow in their love for the traditional Mass.

Br John Henry said the Mass transcended language barriers and cultures, and was able to unite people of different ethnic backgrounds “under the universal language of the Catholic Church”.

He said the missals would help sanctify his fellow Vietnamese through a more active participation of the traditional Mass “just as the Mass has done for me”.

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