Rev. Tung Kieu (foreground) and Rev. Thuan Nguyen, from the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, met with Rev. Pierre Tran Dinh Tu, Bishop of Phu Cuong, Vietnam, during his visit to campus last fall. The two priests are studying in the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry through a partnership between BC and the Catholic Church of Vietnam. Also at BC are Sister Tuyen Nguyen (below) and Sister Chau Nguyen, who are enrolled in the Connell Graduate School of Nursing and taking courses at IREPM.
A Promising Partnership
Vietnamese religious leaders studying at BC see whole new world
By Reid Oslin
Four Catholic religious leaders from Vietnam are enrolled in graduate courses at Boston College this year, eagerly anticipating a return to their native land with pastoral and professional skills enhanced and sharpened in the University's classrooms and clinics.
When their courses of study are completed, the four will also find themselves with a new appreciation - and acceptance - of an American culture that includes New England snowstorms, Super Bowl football and Boston traffic.
Rev. Tung Kieu and Rev. Thuan Nguyen, priests from the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, are studying in the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. Sister Tuyen Nguyen and Sister Chau Nguyen, sisters of the Daughters of Charity and registered nurses, are enrolled in the community health nursing sequence in the Connell Graduate School of Nursing and also take courses at IREPM.
The group has come to Boston College through a partnership between the University and the Catholic Church in Vietnam that was launched when the Asian nation's highest-ranking Catholic prelate, Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, visited the campus in November of 2003. Their mission is to expand and enhance the presence and role of the Catholic Church in Vietnamese society.
"One of the important tasks we will face when we return to Vietnam," said Sister Tuyen, "is providing health care delivery, especially for the growing problem of HIV/AIDS. Not only will we be engaged in this work, but we will be training others how to work with the sick, not just giving medications. We can teach them how to talk with people who are ill, teach them about prevention and educate families how to live with and care for family members who are HIV positive and likely will come down with AIDS."
Sister Chau, who spent many years working with leprosy patients and their families in Vietnam's rural areas, noted that the two will be the first of their order trained to assist other nurses and health care professionals to work effectively with patients outside of a formal hospital setting. "We will look at our time in Boston as one when we learned so much about how to help people," she said. "Boston College has great resources and contacts with the health care system in Boston. We have been treated wonderfully by the other nurses, Dean Barbara Munro and our personal studies director, Asst. Prof. Rosanna DeMarco."
The visiting priests expect similar dividends from their Boston College studies. "When we return to the parishes," said Fr. Thuan, "we can bring new ideas to help our people, especially the young people. We hope to address the issues of young people, not only in religion, but in everyday life."
Fr. Tung, who is also a skilled musician, is interested in improving his liturgical music skills while studying in IREPM. "I can use music to work with parish groups who are preparing liturgy. When people get together with music, it is the natural thing for them to discuss issues of faith and their personal lives."
"The partnership with the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City is an example of Boston College's commitment to the world church," said Julio Giulietti, SJ, who as director of the University's Center for Ignatian Spirituality proposed the partnership to Cardinal Man. "It demonstrates Boston College's willingness to encourage less affluent churches, often under social and political stress, to deepen their faith and serve their people more effectively."
In addition to their graduate-level course loads, the four Vietnamese students have quickly acclimated themselves to their temporary Boston home. Fr. Tung has been celebrating Mass for Asian prison inmates at MCI-Norfolk and Fr. Thuan has said Mass and heard confessions for Boston's Vietnamese Catholic community at St. Ambrose Church in Dorchester. Sisters Tuyen and Chau are working with senior citizens in a community health center in Boston as part of their community nursing practicum.
Although none of the visitors had seen snow before this winter's onslaught of the white stuff, all report that they have managed to adjust to New England's frigid conditions.
The recent NFL Super Bowl was another new phenomenon for the Vietnamese students. "I don't really understand [American] football, but I can see that the people here are very fond of sports," said Sister Tuyen.
Fr. Tung said, "I even got to see a football game in BC's stadium. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I understand all of the rules."
Fr. Tung conquered a challenge even greater than football rules when he recently qualified for a Massachusetts driver's license. He learned to drive in his native Ho Chi Minh City, a metropolitan area of more than 7 million people that has some of the most congested roadways in the world. "The traffic in Boston is better," he conceded, "but I am more familiar with the roads back home. The road system here is a big change for me.
"It is most difficult."