Meet Father Tuan

This article was taken from the Minooka/Channahon Life Newspaper

New pastor brings unique look at life, faith

Van Nguyen believes he is example of why ‘God is awesome’

By Kris Stadalsky — Shaw Media Correspondent

Created: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 11:15 a.m. CDT

Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 11:26 a.m. CDT

Father Tuan Van Nguyen stands at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Minooka. Van Nguyen, who survived a journey out of South Vietnam when he was 18, joined the local parish in June 2012. (Kris Stadalsky photo for Shaw Media )

MINOOKA — When Father Tuan Van Nguyen visited his homeland of South Vietnam two years ago to celebrate 25 years as a priest, it was a joyful yet emotional time for him.

Tuan made the journey from Minooka all the way to Phan Thiet, the town in which he grew up, to celebrate with family and friends in the church where he received his sacraments as a young boy.

As the new pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Minooka – he joined the parish June 2012, Tuan now calls Minooka his home. It’s been a long journey for Tuan, sometimes difficult and uncertain, but one he says is more about God than himself.

Tuan was born and raised in a fishing village in South Vietnam. He was one of nine brothers and sisters who lost both parents at a young age.

While his country had been at war for nearly his entire life, when the communists took over South Vietnam in 1975 the 18-year-old Tuan escaped the country in a fishing boat with his older sister and brother-in-law.

“When communists took over, they closed the school and confiscated it. They closed the church,” Tuan said. “It was a period of turmoil, uncertainty and doubt in our lives.”

Afraid of being drafted into the communist party or being sent to a concentration or labor camp, the three joined 34 others to escape the country. Tuan’s sister was six months pregnant.

They had to sneak out of town, hide in the brush and quietly wait until a small fishing boat picked them up on the beach.

“We were in fear of being arrested,” he said.

Two of his other sisters had twice attempted to escape the country, were caught, arrested and held for a time.

Out at sea, in a cramped fishing boat, they faced three ferocious storms that had taken many other boats down along with their occupants.

During the trip, they encountered a Russian oil tanker and everyone aboard the boat had to hide in the little cabins below so it appeared to be just a fishing boat, Tuan said.

For 10 days, 37 people on a tiny boat withstood the brutal sea, fearing both drowning and being caught.

“The important thing, as I reflect on the journey, is I see the hand of God. It was God who saved us,” Tuan said. “So many people lost their lives in the ocean.”

When they arrived in Malaysia, they were taken to a refugee camp. While they were supplied food and cared for by the American Red Cross, they were never allowed to leave the camp, which was surrounded by fencing and locked.

During his 10 months in the camp, Tuan spent his time studying English. They had to wait for a country to accept them and someone to sponsor them.

He was too young to think too deeply about his future or even the present, but under the guidance of his sister and brother-in-law, he just accepted what was happening.

In July 1977, now four of them – his niece was born in the refugee camp — were brought to Illinois. They were sponsored by a cousin of Tuan’s brother in law with assistance from Catholic Charities. They first settled in Wood Dale.

“I was so shocked, everything was new, it was a totally new world to me,” Tuan said.

In Wood Dale, Tuan was taken under the wing of Father Bill Ryan of Holy Ghost Church. He helped the family get an apartment, get funding and the essentials they needed. He was also the one Tuan spoke to about going into the seminary.

“I owe my life to God and I want to give back what God has given to me,” Tuan said. “That’s the reason I wanted to give my life to God as a priest. I always say God is an awesome God.”

Tuan went to St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center in Joliet for a year, spent four years in college seminary at St. Meinrad in Indiana and another four years at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

He was ordained in June 1986 at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet. He served for six years at St. Mary’s in Downer’s Grove, four years at St. Francis of Assisi in Bolingbrook and 16 years at St. Alexander in Villa Park before coming to Minooka.

Since his own journey began 38 years ago, Tuan has sponsored other members of his family to come to the United States. Two of his brothers also escaped via fishing boats. Only his two older sisters remain in Vietnam. Now he has many grand nieces and nephews to be proud of.

When Tuan returned to his boyhood home in 2011 to celebrate, it was a joyful day but he also felt the sadness of not having his parents there to celebrate with him.

“I wished my parents were there; then it hit me they are in heaven watching,” he said. “I felt so blessed to be there to celebrate at the church where I was baptized and received my sacraments.”

Tuan has felt right at home since he came to Minooka and St. Mary’s Church. He was a bit nervous at first, but the loving, faith-filled parishioners have made him feel right at home.

“The love of the people in the parish makes so much of a difference in the lives of the priest. I feel so comfortable with them, I love them and I know they love me,” he said.


“It’s been a long journey, but I am committed to it. I love what I do as a priest and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s about God, not about me.”


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