Maryknoll, New York – June 2, 2014 – Father Lam Minh Hua of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers has traveled the world in such a short time. He began his journey in Vietnam as a young boy. Along with his parents and brother, Father Hua eventually came to America to settle in Tacoma, Washington. Later this year, he will be assigned to serve in mission in the Africa region as the newest priest of the Maryknoll Society.
Father Hua, 28, was ordained on Saturday, May 31, at the Maryknoll Society Mission Center in Ossining, New York. The Mass of Ordination at Maryknoll’s Queen of Apostles Chapel was celebrated by His Excellency Archbishop Bernard Anthony Hebda, coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. Maryknoll Superior General Father Edward M. Dougherty was a concelebrant along with more than 50 priests from the Maryknoll Society and other religious groups. Later in the day, Father Hua received his missionary crucifix at the Maryknoll Sending Ceremony that presents candidates to the world as Maryknoll missioners. Father Hua hopes to join three other Maryknoll priests who already serve in mission in South Sudan.
Father Hua celebrated his first Mass at Maryknoll’s Queen of Apostles Chapel on Sunday, June 1. He will celebrate Mass in his home parish of St. Ann in Tacoma during the weekend of June 14-15. The Sunday, June 15, Mass at 4 p.m. will be celebrated in Vietnamese.
Blessed by Pope Pius X on June 29, 1911, the 103-year-old Maryknoll Society follows Jesus in serving the poor and others in need in 27 countries that include the U.S. As the foreign mission society of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, Maryknoll shares God’s love and the Gospel in combating poverty, providing healthcare, building communities and promoting human rights. All Catholics are called to mission through baptism and confirmation, and Maryknoll’s mission education outreach in parishes and schools throughout the country engages U.S. Catholics in mission through vocations, prayer, donations and as volunteers.
Faith Travels From Vietnam To Tacoma
Father Hua was born into a Catholic family in the hamlet of LaNang on the outskirts of the eastern coastal province of Da Nang in Vietnam. One of his vivid memories from early childhood was walking to church each Sunday with his parents—Hung Minh Hua and Tu Thi Doan—a younger brother and a cousin who helped raise the boys.
“I remember clearly, it was far,” said Father Hua, “but we walked together every Sunday, no matter what.”
His parents were rice farmers. His father had been a seminarian, and then he served during Vietnam’s war on the side of South Vietnam. He was captured and held by the North Vietnamese for eight years. Father Hua’s family eventually was granted permission to emigrate, and they arrived in the United States 21 years ago when the new Maryknoll priest was seven years old.
In their adopted American home of Tacoma, Father Hua and his brother, Vien, learned English in public school. Both boys became altar servers, which Father Hua considers his first ministry. He also joined the Boy Scouts, where the values of loyalty and bravery were instilled at an early age.
“Home pretty much ran like we were still in Vietnam,” recalled Father Hua. “There was Vietnamese food, I spoke in Vietnamese with my parents but English with my brother. I believe my vocation was the firm result of not only a deeply religious family background, but also my continuous, active participation in my faith communities since I made first Communion at the age of eight.”
While both boys adapted easily to a new language and culture, the transition was more difficult for their parents. Their father’s English gradually improved and he secured a job as a custodian in a middle school. Their mother worked at a clothing store. The family eventually purchased a home during 2000, when Father Hua was in high school, and that same year he became a volunteer counselor in his parish, Sacred Heart Church in Tacoma, to help others of his generation—the youth from age eight to 16. The Catholic Vietnamese community in Tacoma, which is within the Archdiocese of Seattle, transferred from Sacred Heart Church to St. Ann’s Church during 2009.
It was in his local parish that Father Hua first learned about the work of missionaries in the U.S. and the work of Maryknoll around the world. Randomly, he had selected a book about a Jesuit missionary (Pierre-Jean De Smet) who worked with Native Americans during the 1840s. At that moment, Father Hua felt a longing not just for the priesthood but also for mission work. When he told his pastor, the priest walked to the vestibule of the church to find a copy of Maryknoll magazine.
“The stories in the magazine motivated me to learn more,” said Father Hua. “As I learned more about Maryknoll, I also learned more about my own vocational calling. Since I went through the public school system all my life until college, I depended on weekly religious education and my church life to foster my faith, wherein I found strength through being an ‘active’ Christian.”
Devotion To Maryknoll
Father Hua soon was in contact with the Maryknoll vocation office. As he attended Saint Xavier University in Chicago to earn a degree in philosophy with minors in history and religion, Father Hua participated in retreats and visited a Maryknoll mission in Cambodia.
Witnessing outreach to people with AIDS in a program managed by Father James Noonan (Diocese of Burlington, Vermont), Father Hua recalled that Father Noonan “…went places where no one else would go. He touched people, visited them and prayed over them. It really attracted me to what Maryknoll does in terms of living out the Gospel.”
Upon graduation from college during 2007, Father Hua entered Maryknoll and secured a master of divinity degree with a concentration in world mission at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
During his studies, Father Hua spent two years in Tanzania to learn Swahili. He also witnessed and participated in the work in Musoma of the late Maryknoll Father Ramon McCabe (Diocese of Winona, Minnesota). Father Hua experienced overwhelming poverty and crushing conditions that were coupled with grace and hospitality from the local people.
In recalling an invitation to dinner at the home of one couple, Father Hua said that “we sat down to eat and there was one plate of ugali (maize porridge) with three spoons. It was barely enough to feed one person, this one plate, and the wife was pregnant, but they were so happy to be sharing this plate with me.”
At a parish on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, Maryknoll Father John Waldrep (Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana) encouraged Father Hua to venture out on his own.
“There was this little village, kind of an outstation. It was far from the regular parish,” said Father Hua, explaining that the rural people walked more than an hour to church. This reminded Father Hua of his childhood walk to church every Sunday. Within a week, with Father Hua’s encouragement, the people cleared an overgrown plot of land in the middle of a field close to the village and they began bringing poles, tarps, sticks and wood to build their own church.
“Father Waldrep sent me out there to see what I could do. Every Sunday, when I got there, I’d see they’d added more poles, more tarp. It was a really beautiful way to pray, out in the middle of nature. They were people of great faith. They came every week, bringing their own chairs and mats. The beauty of this experience is that because I said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ they were able to build that little outpost church. If I hadn’t gone out there, they would have had no one to say ‘yes.’ That’s all they were waiting for. They were all ready.”
As the newest priest in the Maryknoll Society, Father Hua now is ready for his work in mission.