The Catholic Commentator

Father Than Vu was dubbed “the Ninja priest” by the students and faculty at St. Aloysius School, demonstrating swift and precise martial art moves during school assemblies. But his “weapons” were spreading joy, giving students his undivided attention and instilling in them that they can do anything they want to do.

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Father Than Vu was a beloved pastor at St. Aloysius School, as he was noted for his deep involvement with the students. Photo provided by St. Aloysius School

 

There was mutual love and respect between the St. Aloysius students and Father Vu, according to assistant principal Gay Hebert.

“Whenever Father Than needed a lift, he would come to the school and spend time with the students,” Hebert noted. “He would eat lunch with the children in the cafeteria and talk to them. He just gravitated toward the children.”

Father Vu was enthusiastically received by the students, who remembered him as always smiling and light-hearted.

“He had a great sense of humor. He was always happy and wanted everyone to be happy,” said sixth-grade student Michael Chatelain.

“He talked to everyone. He would meet people one time and remember their names,” said third-grade student Lane Plauche. He often filled gaps in conversations or presentations with a joke.

Macie D’Angelo, also in third grade, pointed out Father Vu made students feel like they were being listened to. If there were a group of students talking, he would make sure that everyone had a chance to speak. If he was giving a homily to the children or asking them questions in an assembly, if they raised their hand he would bring the microphone to them so everyone could hear them speak. And he made them feel special, at school and church. She noted that when one 8-year-old was baptized at the church, he carried her from the baptismal font.

Setting the example, Father Vu urged the students to reach out to others.

“He inspired us to talk to everyone – when you see a situation where there’s someone in need, you go over there and help them,” said Ella Barnhorst, an eighth-grade student.

And he was a motivator. Barnhost noted that during one school assembly he told the students, “You are so fortunate. This school has given you so many opportunities. Whatever you want to do, you can do.”

Father Vu regularly participated in school activities up to the end of his life. Plauche noted that at the past parish fair, which supported the school, Father Vu hopped on a monkey on the carousel ride. He also attended Grandparent’s Day and hosted a cupcake party for the school.

Father Vu gave his all to the school, said Hebert, noting that just a couple of days before his death, he called the school to take care of business.

Even as the cancer set in and he lost his hair, Father Vu expressed joy at the school. The priest received numerous hats, and he wore them at the school, including a top hat, hat with earflaps and his favorite cabbie or “bee-bop” hat.

The giving flowed back and forth from school to Father Vu. When the school gave him a “Priest by day, Ninja by night” t-shirt, he proudly wore it around school.

Father Vu occasionally called on assistance from the students when preparing for his Sunday homilies, such as the time he asked the children to teach him how to use a yo-yo that he would use to make a point during his homily, according to D’Angelo.

It came naturally that as the cancer progressed, the children would outpour their love to Father Vu. As Father Vu underwent treatment for his cancer, the school had a school- and parish-wide prayer for him over the intercom weekly. During one of his hospital stays, the children made a spiritual bouquet for him. Father Vu had a picture taken of him with the bouquet in the hospital bed.

“When in terrible pain, he would read the cards,” Hebert said.

When Father Vu passed away, the students did what they had done all along for him – they prayed. They gathered together, held a living rosary, prayed and read Scripture.

Hebert said she hopes once the shock and initial grief over Father Vu’s death subsides, happy stories will surface, because she believes that is the way he would want it to be.

“This was one of the happiest parts of his life – being in a parish with a school,” Hebert said.