Thien "Peter" Nguyen and Duyet "Anthony" Nguyen share more than a last name. Both of them came to the United States from Vietnam a few months ago through the efforts of a priest who helps Vietnamese seminarians pursue priesthood in America.
Now, Anthony and Peter are studying English as a Second Language (ESL) at St. John's University in New York City and are in formation at Cathedral Seminary in Douglaston, N.Y. Someday, they hope to be priests of the Albany Diocese.
Both men told The Evangelist that their call to religious life began in childhood. Anthony, 23, was just nine years old when he first thought of priesthood. The second-youngest of 11 siblings in a Catholic family in south Vietnam, he began following along with his mother as she went to church every day.
Anthony found the priest "interesting" in the way he served the people of his parish. When he told his family about his vocation, his parents told him, "We [will] pray for you to become a priest of God."
In north Vietnam, Peter, 33, grew up with nine siblings in another faith-filled Catholic family. He, too, was in elementary school when he realized "it was my desire to become a priest." He began studying with his parish priest to learn more about it.
Both men have siblings also in religious life, including in other countries. Some of Anthony's sisters are women religious serving in California and France; a brother is in religious life in the Philippines. Peter himself spent nine years in the Philippines with an international missionary congregation after completing university studies in Vietnam.
The two future priests said they were eager to be what they termed "missionaries to the U.S."
Anthony, who just graduated from college last year, was happy to meet a Jesuit priest from Boston College who periodically travels to the Albany Diocese to celebrate Mass with the Vietnamese community at Sacred Heart parish in Albany.
The Jesuit met with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger after taking a group of students from Boston College on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. The Bishop accepted the offer to bring several seminarians over from Vietnam.
Now, two more seminarians are working on Visa applications and appointments at the American Consulate in Vietnam.
Peter recalled hearing about the Albany Diocese and looking on the internet to find out more about it. Anthony said of his own journey to America that "God is leading my way."
The Albany Diocese is home to about 20 or 30 Vietnamese families, served by a Vietnamese Apostolate. They have a Mass in their native language once a month at Sacred Heart parish in Albany.
However, Rev. Quy Vo pointed out that the point of ordaining Vietnamese priests is not necessarily to serve the local Vietnamese community.
A native of Vietnam, Father Vo is pastor of two parishes in Herkimer County -- St. John's in Newport and Ss. Anthony and Joseph in Herkimer -- that have no Vietnamese parishioners. "We have to understand that we're not made for any particular group," he remarked.
Once the seminarians' English studies are completed -- for Peter, this summer; for Anthony, in December -- they'll move on to philosophy and theology studies.
The two men are excited. Anthony said he's a good listener who's able to share with people on a deep level; Peter said his strong faith and sociability will help him on the road to priesthood.
"I am called to share my faith story," Peter stated. While learning English has been a hurdle, "I hope to immerse myself not only with English, but with the culture. I'll try my best to respond to the needs of the Church."
For Anthony, this adventure is only beginning. From the time he decided to leave home to become a priest, he said, "I am not afraid of anything."