By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Deacon Kien Nguyen has been preparing for the priesthood since he was 14 years old.
As a child, Deacon Nguyen was a dedicated altar server and was inspired by his parish priest.
Deacon Nguyen, 36, 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 Minh Vu.
He grew up in Vietnam in a large Catholic family that placed importance on regular Mass attendance and family prayer. He is the second of nine children — eight boys and one girl.
His parents and grandparents, he said, set the foundation for his vocation to the priesthood.
“My parents and grandparents taught me how to pray when I was very young. It was very important for me,” he said in a phone interview last week.
His grandmother is particularly devoted to Mary and to the rosary, Deacon Nguyen said.
“She is very humble and loves the lady of Mary. She loves the rosary and taught me how to pray the rosary,” he said, noting that his grandmother, who is 89, prays a rosary for him each day.
Deacon Nguyen grew up in the Diocese of Vinh, located in central Vietnam. His parish priest — Father John Long Quoc Tran — visited his family once or twice each week. When he was 14, the priest asked Deacon Nguyen — and his family — if he wanted to follow him into the priesthood. At first, Deacon Nguyen recalled, he didn’t reply.
“I did not answer because I was afraid,” he said. “The next week he asked again and I said yes.”
At the time, Deacon Nguyen said, he didn’t know why he said yes but over the course of the next few years he began to “recognize” his vocation.
“During those years God revealed many things to me to help me understand the priestly life. I saw Father Long working hard to serve his people. He is a man of prayer and loves the church, loves the Mass,” Deacon Nguyen said.
“Those images and examples impacted me very much. It allowed me to think I could become a priest like him, to serve God’s people,” he said.
Deacon Nguyen lived with Father Long for 12 years. It was customary in Vietnam at that time for young men considering a vocation to the priesthood to reside in a rectory as part of their formation, he said.
During this time, he attended Duy Tan University where he studied the English language. He graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree and then entered pre-seminary studies for the Diocese of Vinh.
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 Nguyen to study for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
In 2014, he began his theological studies at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in Southern Indiana.
Deacon Nguyen said he feels as though God has led him to this juncture in his life. Though he entered seminary more than a decade ago in Vietnam, he now said he sees his place here, serving people in central Kentucky.
“I feel very peaceful and happy about how God worked on me. I love the people here. I love our priests, my brother priests, the Vocation Office and the archbishop. Those people are wonderful for me,” he said. “God is calling me to serve the people here at this point. I don’t think much about where I’ll be in the future.”
As a priestly motto, Deacon Nguyen chose a verse from the Book of Psalms to guide him in his ministry: “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful song.”
“Service is very important for priests. I think of ‘How can I serve God and serve God’s people without joy, without gladness?’ ”
In an effort to live out this motto, Deacon Nguyen said he spends time before and after Mass greeting parishioners.
“People go to church to worship God, but they also want to see happiness and joy in church. As a priest, we should be a sight of joy, gladness and comfort for people,” he said.
Deacon Nguyen completed a master’s in divinity at St. Meinrad last week.
He has been assigned to serve as an associate pastor of Holy Trinity and Holy Name churches.
He will celebrate several Masses of Thanksgiving following his ordination. The first will be May 26 at 5 p.m. at St. Gabriel Church, 5505 Bardstown Road, and the second will be May 27 at 10 a.m. at St. John Vianney Church, 4839 Southside Drive.
In June, he will return to his home parish in the Diocese of Vinh, Vietnam, to celebrate another Mass. At that time, he said, he will also remember his grandmother, who will soon celebrate her 90th birthday.