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Refugee priest waited 12 years for his ordination day, last week he celebrated 25 years as a priest

Vocation quarters: Fr Stephen Kumyangi, Fr Joseph-Hien Van Vo, sacristan Hayden Kennedy, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Fr Huong Van Nguyen, and Bishop Ken Howell after the priestly jubilee Mass on June 29.

VIETNAMESE refugee Fr Huong Van Nguyen is well aware of the emotional roller coaster that comes with putting your life on hold.

The 71-year-old priest for the Brisbane archdiocese said he suffered anxiety, fear, isolation, and uncertainty when he had to wait 12 years to become a priest.

In 1983 Fr Nguyen was ordained a transitional deacon for his home diocese, a step that precedes ordination to the priesthood, but his ordination and others were blocked by the Vietnamese Communist government.

“Normally the transitional deacon is only six months, but for me it was a long time, 12 years,” Fr Nguyen said.

“So for five years I worked in Vietnam, I escaped in 1988.

“I was 40 years old when I left Vietnam.”

He ended up at a refugee camp in Malaysia, but through divine intervention, was only detained for one year.

“A priest, a Redemptorist priest, Australian, he went around the camp looking for vocations for Australia,” Fr Nguyen said.

“He picked me up in Malaysia and the Vietnamese from Sydney sponsored me.”

When he arrived in Sydney in 1989, Fr Nguyen decided he had two good reasons to try to make it up to Brisbane and eventually become a priest there.

The first reason was a man who was ordained with a priest he knew in Vietnam, and most likely his only connection to home.

The man’s name was Bishop John Gerry.

“The second reason is Brisbane, warm weather,” Fr Nguyen said.

“So two things – the friend of my former priest in Vietnam, and the Queensland weather.”

After three years in Sydney, Fr Nguyen arrived in Brisbane in 1993.

“From Vietnam, I looked to here – it’s paradise, it’s heaven here,” he said.

He spent the majority of his time either at the seminary in Banyo, surrounded mainly by young trainee priests, or at home learning English.

In November of 1995, 12 years after becoming a deacon, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Brisbane by the late Archbishop John Bathersby.

Fr Nguyen said throughout his lengthy wait, he never doubted his calling to the priesthood, but learnt that in extreme cases, it is a long journey.

“So we need to pass it with patience, not lose heart,” Fr Nguyen said.

“We walk for God and sacrifice everything to help people.

“Our vocation is joy but sometimes we suffer a lot.”

On Monday June 29, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, Fr Nguyen joined priests celebrating their silver, golden and diamond milestones for the Presbyteral Jubilee Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Having no family living in Australia, he was grateful to celebrate his 25 years as a priest with fellow clergy.

“With them, to thank God for 25 years,” he said.“I faced many struggles, but luckily, 25 years later, I can still stand up on my feet.” Unlike other priests celebrating 25 years since their ordination, Fr Nguyen is already close to retirement age.

“I do not have many years left but I love it,” he said.

“Every year, every day is a blessing to work.

“If you don’t appreciate life, you will not be happy.”

Columnist marks 60 years as a priest

Priestly life: Bishop Ken Howell with Holy Spirit Seminary rector Monsignor John Grace, Fr John Garrahy, Columban Father Warren Kinne, sacristan Hayden Kennedy, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Fr Bill O’Shea and Bishop Brian Finnigan.

IN 1982 Fr Bill O’Shea got a call that would send him on a 15-year stint as a newspaper columnist.

“The editor of The Catholic Leader at the time was John Coleman, and he rang me in 1982 and put to me – it was his idea – that we would have a column that would answer the questions of readers about church, faith, and anything they had to ask really,” Fr O’Shea said.

A skeptical Fr O’Shea proceeded to answer “Dorothy Dixers” written anonymously by The Catholic Leader staff at the time.

Within a few weeks, Fr O’Shea was receiving real questions from real readers.

“ I think I wrote that every week from 1982 to 1997,” he said.

“I wasn’t able to answer all the questions that came in.

“Plenty of questions made me think long and hard.

“And they finally collected those questions and answers and published two books, Questions Catholics Ask.” The job as columnist is only a speck of dusk is Fr O’Shea’s 60 year service as a priest.

He was taken back to the first day of his priesthood, his ordination in June 1960, at the Mass on June 29.

“There are only two left of those who were ordained that morning,” Fr O’Shea said.

Among Fr O’Shea’s long list of priestly duties, including his time as rector of the seminary when he was only 37 years old, and serving in various parishes, he said the highlight of his diamond jubilee was his three years in Rome.

“I was asked to go to Rome, invited in 1963 which was when the Second Vatican Council was in sessions,” Fr O’Shea said.

“I was there for the last three of the four sessions of Vatican II.

“That was a great experience, to be on the spot when so many things were happening.” In all his 60 years as a priest, Fr O’Shea said he had never experienced anything like the COVID-19 global health crisis.

Now living at Viridian retirement village in Boondall, Fr O’Shea said the village’s chapel had been closed for the past 15 weeks.

Mass resumed on the second last weekend in June for 20 people, but he is hoping more Masses can be available throughout the week.

“Since 1960 when I was ordained, there have been no pandemics that have shut down things like this, nothing like it at all,” Fr O’Shea said.

“It’s been an extraordinary time, really.”

Celebrating the gift of Christ these men have given to God’s people

SUFFERING and uncertainty come with signing the “blank cheque” on ordination day but not too many have regrets, Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.

Speaking to priests celebrating 25, 50 and 60 years of priesthood at a Mass in St Stephen’s Cathedral on June 29, Archbishop Coleridge posed a hypothetical question to the jubilarians: “Any regrets?” he asked.

It’s a question he would also like to ask Sts Peter and Paul “should I ever get to Heaven”.

“One question I would’ve asked is: “Any regrets?” Archbishop Coleridge said in his homily on June 29.

“I think both would have answered: ‘Lots of suffering, many mistakes, moments of hesitation and uncertainty yes, but no regrets’.” Archbishop Coleridge imagined the answers of his Brisbane priests would echo the answer given by the Apostles.

“They didn’t realise it all those years ago when the call came, but they were signing a blank cheque on the day they were ordained; and an unseen hand has been filling in the cheque ever since, in ways they didn’t imagine,” the Archbishop said.

“But regrets? Not too many, I suspect.” Archbishop Coleridge said there were no regrets because “the one who called them is faithful in ways that are clear only when we look back, as we do today”.

“Jesus Christ has been faithful to these men in ways even they barely recognise; and through them he has been faithful to God’s People,” he said.

“Today we celebrate not just these men and what they have given but the gift of Christ they have been to God’s People.

“It’s when – and only when – the faithfulness of Christ meets the faithfulness of those ordained that the priesthood becomes what God means it to be for his People and for the world.”

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