November 23, 2020

Divine journey: Man goes from Asian refuge camp to Mississippi altar

In 1991, Joseph Nguyen was living in a refugee camp with family members in the Philippines waiting to come to the United States.

Sunday, 26 years after arriving in the U.S. in 1993, the Rev. Joseph Nguyen, “Father Joseph” to his parishioners, was installed as the 18th pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Vicksburg. He succeeds the Rev. Malcolm O’Leary, who retired.

The installation ceremony, parishioner Janice Carstafhnur, said, is a custom at the church when a new pastor arrives. She and other church members said Nguyen is the youngest pastor the church has had.

Nguyen, she said, “Is wonderful; he’s filled with love and enthusiasm. He has a passion for youth, he’s just ready to lead and guide. He’s been a joy to have.”

Bishop Joseph Kopacz, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, who presided over the ceremony, said an installation ceremony is “a very special opportunity, because it brings the parish together.

“Also, it keeps that bond with the bishop and the diocese together. That’s what’s really neat about it; everybody remembers that we’re all part of the body of Christ. I know Father Joseph is very excited, because it gives the pastor that sense of ‘now I’m here.’”

A native of Vietnam, Nguyen said he found his vocation while living in the refugee camp, adding two missionary priests from the Society of the Divine Word inspired him to enter the priesthood by their dedication to serving others.

After arriving in the U.S. he entered Divine Word College seminary in 1995 and later attended the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. He was ordained in 2008.

In 2015, he was assigned as associate pastor for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Livingston, Texas. He came to St. Mary’s, his first assignment as a pastor, Sept. 1.

St. Mary’s, he said is a “nice church, nice people. We work together, and they help and support me a lot. We have a lot of unity.”

Parishioner Cherrie McClelland called Nguyen “a jewel. He came right on in here to St. Mary’s and fit in like he belonged here, like he’s always been here. We love him very, very much. We’re happy to have him here.”