By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
The idea of becoming a priest has been prominent in Deacon Minh Vu’s mind all his life.
His mother promised his vocation even before he was born, though it would take Deacon Vu many years to find his way to seminary and desire the priesthood for himself.
Deacon Vu, 34, is one of five seminarians who will be ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz May 26 at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St. The other four ordinands are: Deacons Robert Barnell, Brandon DeToma, David Farrell and Kien Nguyen.
Deacon Vu is the youngest of seven children and grew up in a devout family in the Diocese of Vinh, located in central Vietnam. The family often went to church twice a day. His mother taught him the catechism, Catholic songs and how to pray.
“I was her friend and student. Every morning she woke me up by saying, ‘My son, the birds already woke up and are glorifying God, should we not do the same?’
“That was the best lesson about loving, about glorifying God. It’s not something that is an obligation; it’s not burdensome but very joyful,” he said in an interview at the Maloney Center last week.
His mother’s brother, Father Linh Dinh Nguyen, was
also a key figure in his vocational journey.
“He lived a simple life. He always put his prayer life first. He is the kind of person that always puts others’ concerns before himself,” he said.
In addition to his uncle, there were a number of other religious and priests in the family. And Deacon Vu was expected to follow the same path.
“My mom offered me to God when I was in the womb. When I was a child, people would ask what I wanted to do when I grew up. I would say I wanted to become a priest without fully understanding what that meant,” he said.
In many ways, he said, he did not have a normal adolescent or high school experience because of this expectation.
“I didn’t understand how burdensome that expectation was until I was in high school,” he said.
When he was in college at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, he decided to take some time away from the idea of becoming a priest and from pursuing seminary. He considered becoming a politician because he wanted to create real change for people, he said. He did so without telling his mother or family about his doubts.
In the midst of these doubts, Deacon Vu had an encounter that began to change his mind. He met children who lived on the streets of Saigon and felt a pull, he said, to approach and speak with them.
“We started talking and they asked me questions, such moral and profound questions that I didn’t have answers for,” he said.
He began to see the street children often and also came to know a group of street vendors. Through these experiences, he said, the notion of becoming a priest began to slowly come back to him.
“I sat down with them and listened to their stories, many stories that were never told because no one listened to them,” he said.
The idea of becoming a priest became clearer the more time he spent with these people.
“I can be an instrument of Christ to them. My ear can be an instrument. Sitting down with them, I can be the ear, the heart of Christ,” he said.
After he earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 2005, he spent time working as a journalist and preparing for the seminary entrance exam.
In 2007, he entered the seminary for the Diocese of Vinh, where he studied philosophy, humanities and spirituality.
In 2012, the Bishop of Vinh — Bishop Paul Nguyên Thai Hop — sent the seminarian to Dubuque, Iowa, to study English at Divine Word College as part of his priestly formation.
An agreement between the Vietnamese bishop and Archbishop Kurtz brought Deacon Vu to study for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
In 2014, Deacon Vu began his theological studies at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Southern Indiana.
There have been times, he said, when he has wanted to give up and leave the seminary. But then he remembers the street children.
“Whenever I think about them, my heart starts dancing and jumping with love when I tell that story,” he said. “I want to be a priest for them.”
Deacon Vu said he never imagined he would serve the people of central Kentucky as a priest.
“I never imagined I would be sent to the U.S. All these things are done by the Holy Spirit. God always has a plan that is very different from ours,” he said.
As a priestly motto, Deacon Vu has chosen a verse from the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians: “I hold you in my heart.”
“Holding people in your heart, praying for them, worrying about them — it’s something you can do everywhere, any time,” he said. “I always want to have room for others in my heart.”
Deacon Vu completed a master’s degree in divinity at St. Meinrad earlier this month.
He has been assigned to serve as an associate pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky.
His first Mass of Thanksgiving will be at St. Michael Church May 26 at 5 p.m. In June, he will return to his home Diocese of Vinh, Vietnam, to celebrate another Mass.