By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Father Joseph Thien V. Nguyen received a heartfelt welcome to the Roman Catholic priesthood May 22 during his ordination Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. The 36-year-old former accountant and native of Vietnam is the first priest to be ordained for the Diocese of Davenport in two years.
“It’s nice to have a new man in the ranks,” said Father Robert Busher, rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral, at the close of Mass. With the addition of Fr. Nguyen, the diocese has 102 active and retired priests to serve approximately 100,000 Catholics in 22 counties.
“There’s a great sense of joy to see another man called to the presbyterate,” said Deacon Bob McCoy who proclaimed the Gospel at the ordination Mass. “It gives all of us, including those in the pews, a sense of hope.”
For Fr. Nguyen’s mother, Mary Thau Luu, seated in a front pew in a traditional Vietnamese outfit, her son’s ordination was an answer to prayer. She and Fr. Nguyen’s brother, Tam Nguyen, traveled from Vietnam for the ordination Mass.
The nearly two-hour liturgy began with a procession which the Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Honor Guard led to the sanctuary. Following the Knights were servers, seminarians, deacons, priests, masters of ceremony, and Bishop Emeritus William Franklin and Bishop Martin Amos.
After the opening prayers of the Mass and the Scripture readings, Father Marty Goetz, diocesan vocations director, testified to Deacon Nguyen’s readiness for priesthood. Bishop Amos announced the election of the candidate for the Order of Priesthood and the congregation applauded.
In his homily, which focused on the roles of a priest, Bishop Amos referred to Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habit 3, he said, advises putting first things first. Developing that habit begins with identifying key relationships an individual has in various life roles. “What would I hope that key person or persons would say at my 80th birthday?” the bishop asked.
In applying that question to Deacon Nguyen, Bishop Amos said he must remember that he is a child of God who needs to have a relationship with God. “For that role to develop you must be: a holy man, a man of prayer, you must spend time in personal prayer and reflection and meditation, and make your annual retreat,” the bishop advised. “All of your other roles flow from your spiritual life and your relationship with God. Remember you cannot give what you do not have. At your 80th birthday, wouldn’t you like to hear God say: Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Bishop Amos also referred to the priest’s role as pastor. “While there needs to be boundaries to your time and energy and at times you will need to say no, to be a servant leader is to follow after the heart of Christ. There will be difficult people, but the most blessed moments for me have been in ministering to God’s people,” the bishop said.
“A worthy tribute statement at your 80th birthday could be: ‘Everyone calls you Father for a good reason,’ or ‘Thanks for traveling with us and sharing the good times and the bad.’”
As a homilist, “Let your homily come from your heart, your study, your reflections on the Scriptures, your knowledge of your people, and your prayer. For many this is their spiritual nourishment for the week. Don’t tell them everything you know every time. You will often find that you are preaching to yourself. Listen, and practice what you preach.”
As a liturgist, “celebrate the sacraments as the church prescribes them and make them outward expressions of something internal. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours for and with your people,” Bishop Amos said. He described distractions from within and outside — the crying baby, the yawning parishioners, fidgeting servers. “So you need to be recollected and remember: sometimes liturgy is messy.”
Whatever roles he has, Bishop Amos reminded Deacon Nguyen: “Be a loving Father, a gentle shepherd and a wise teacher. May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.”
Following the homily, Bishop Amos asked Deacon Nguyen questions about his ability to accept the responsibilities of priesthood. Deacon Nguyen eagerly, but inadvertently, answered one question before Bishop Amos finished asking it — which elicited a chuckle from the congregation.
Following the Promise of the Elect, Deacon Nguyen knelt before Bishop Amos and placed his hands between the bishop’s hands as a sign of humility and obedience. Then the deacon lay prostrate during the litany of the saints as the people in the assembly prayed for him in song, along with the Diocesan Ensemble, asking for the intercessions of the saints. After the litany, Deacon Nguyen knelt before Bishop Amos who laid hands on the candidate’s head. Priests from the diocese and elsewhere did the same, repeating an ancient gesture from the time of the Apostles.
Bishop Amos recited the prayer of consecration, after which Deacon Nguyen was ordained the newest priest of the diocese. Father Tom Doyle, a retired diocesan priest, and Fr. Goetz assisted Fr. Nguyen in putting on his priest stole and chasuble. Bishop Amos anointed the new priest’s hands with sacred chrism, signifying that he is to offer sacrifice to God and to sanctify the Christian people. Then Fr. Nguyen received the gifts to be offered at the altar. The Kiss of Peace followed; for some in the assembly that ritual was the most moving of all. The bishop embraced Fr. Nguyen and then the other priests embraced him as a sign of the newly ordained being joined in the Order of Prebyters.
“It was so beautiful seeing all the priests hugging him,” said Mary Costello, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral. “It’s touching — the relationship between priests.”
Fr. Nguyen joined the bishop and his fellow priests at the altar for the consecration of the Eucharist.
“I am very happy I’ve engaged my life in the Church,” Fr. Nguyen said after his ordination. “I give all of myself, my love, my understanding, my knowledge.”
And he’s looking forward to his first assignment: parochial vicar at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.