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PROVIDENCE — For the diocese, it was a local ordination with an international audience.
On Saturday, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin ordained to the priesthood Rev. Mr. Hiep Van Nguyen, a native of Vietnam. Many of his family members gathered there to watch the live stream of the ordination at the parish of his brother, who is also a priest.
The ceremony was the largest gathering at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in recent months after public worship was suspended in March as COVID-19 began to take root across the nation.
Following prescribed guidelines for the return to public worship in the diocese last week, about 200 people, including about 50 priests and religious, practiced social distancing measures and spaced themselves out accordingly throughout the grand cathedral. Due to the guidelines, only a limited number of guests — by invitation only — could participate this year.
Bishop Tobin welcomed the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and all those who came from various parishes to participate in the special ceremony. He also extended a special welcome to Nguyen’s family, including his family and friends watching live from his native Vietnam.
“Dear friends, although we are separated by many, many miles, today the Church in the Diocese of Providence feels very close to you. In truth we are united as disciples of Christ as members of one Church, as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Thank you dear friends for sharing with us such a faithful, joyful and dedicated son of the Church,” Bishop Tobin said at a little past 10 a.m., directing his remarks to the proud viewers watching from 12 time zones ahead in the Diocese of Phat Diem, Vietnam.
In his homily, Bishop Tobin spoke directly to the elect.
“These are very special days for you. God made you for this moment,” he said.
The bishop spoke of how the Feast of the Holy Trinity being celebrated that weekend offered a very beautiful setting for both his ordination that day and the celebration of his first Mass as a priest on Sunday.
“As a priest, dear brother, your whole life, your ministry will be intimately connected to the life of the Holy Trinity. Your ministry is all about sharing in the life of God with others,” Bishop Tobin said.
“Keep always before you the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve and to seek out and save what was lost.”
In the most ancient part of the ordination rite, the bishop then followed the form of the Apostles in laying his hands upon the elect. Through this act, and the Prayer of Ordination, Nguyen was ordained by God as a priest forever.
After all of the other priests present then lay their hands upon his head, Father Frank Santilli stepped forward to vest the new priest.
Don Turbitt, a St. Philip parishioner whose independent work in Renewal Minstries along with Father Santilli first introduced Nguyen to the Diocese of Providence in 2011, read in English the First Reading from Isaiah, which was translated into Vietnamese in the ordination program.
“I was extremely happy to see Hiep ordained. It’s the completion of several years of work,” Turbitt said. “My mission work overseas has many blessings but having Hiep become a priest in our diocese is one of the greatest blessings.”
Father Nguyen’s aunt, Mrs. Trang Nguyen, delivered the Second Reading, from the First Letter of St. Peter, in Vietnamese.
His sister, Sister Hanhn Thi Bich Nguyen, L.C.H., and two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Albert and Maria Jacobs, presented the bread and wine.
Sister Hahn, a religious sister of the Lovers of the Holy Cross in Vietnam, which maintains a community in St. Louis, Missouri, where she serves, was filled with pride for her brother’s ordination to the priesthood.
“I feel so happy for Hiep, and proud too,” she said.
The siblings have another brother, a priest, and a sister living back home in Vietnam who watched the ordination online with a large group there.
“The whole family on both sides has come to my brother’s parish to watch,” Sister Hahn said.
Father Nguyen, born in 1986, the son of the late Thao Nguyen and Phuong Pham of Ninh Binh City, in the North of Vietnam, was raised in a very Catholic family. In addition to his brother, a priest of the Diocese of Phat Diem, he has a great uncle and an uncle there who are priests, and several great aunts and cousins who are religious sisters.
Before coming to the Diocese of Providence, he studied at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Saigon City, in the South of Vietnam.
In August 2011, while studying at St. Paul’s Seminary in Vietnam, he met Father Santilli and Turbitt, who were visiting at the time.
He was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Providence in June of 2012, and completed an ESL program at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, before entering formation at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 2014.
During his time in formation, Nguyen served at the following parishes in Rhode Island: St. John Paul II in Pawtucket, St. Paul’s in Cranston, St. Timothy’s in Warwick, SS. John and Paul in Coventry, Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, Jesus Savior in Newport, and St. Bernard’s in Wickford.
He offered his first Mass at St. Philip Parish on Sunday.
“This week has been a wonderful week for me,” Father Nguyen said following his ordination.
“I have never felt so peaceful and loved like this before. My heart is overwhelmed with joy for the Lord. He has chosen me to be His priest to proclaim the Good News and to bring souls back to Him even though I am not worthy.”