The Catholic Commentator

A phrase from a simple Vietnamese prayer was an early preview of the calling that Deacon John Vu would ultimately answer.  

Roughly translated, the prayer, which is traditionally recited at meals, says, “Thank you for this meal. When I become your disciple, I will praise you.”  

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Bishop Robert W. Muench, right, ordained Deacon John Vu as a transitional deacon during ordination ceremonies on May 26 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge. Deacon Vu is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in May 2019. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator

 

“When I thought of that as a child, I thought it meant you had to be a priest,” said Deacon Vu. “I figured that prayer locks me in.  

“That was the first starting point that made me think about becoming a priest.”  

A few years later but still at a young age, while attending Mass, the priest asked those in the congregation who had thought about being a priest to stand up so he could bless them.  

“For some reason, I stood up,” Deacon Vu recalled. “That was another one of the beginning points where I felt called.” 

Deacon Vu took the penultimate step to priesthood on May 26 when he was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop Robert W. Muench at St. Joseph Cathedral. Deacon Vu will spend the next five months at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs under the pastoral tutelage of pastor Father Frank Uter before returning to complete his final year at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.  

Deacon Vu is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in May 2019, which would complete a journey that seem preordained but also strewn with spiritual potholes.  

After graduating from LSU with a degree in biological science, he recognized the crossroad he faced in his life. He had already been accepted into LSU Medical School but the call to priesthood was still beckoning. Deacon Vu also understood that if he started medical school he would never likely pursue the priesthood.  

Paradoxically, he also recognized that if he entered the seminary and it did not work out, there would be little chance of him entering medical school.  

“So I thought I would give it a try to see if the Lord is calling me to serve him in a different way,” Deacon Vu said. “The thing with following God’s call – it’s not always easy to do it completely.  

“There’s a reluctance to following God’s call and the devil is always pushing you the other way. Even though I had the feeling (of being called to the priesthood) I pushed it off throughout high school and college because I always felt a strong desire to be a biological father, to have a family. I always thought the priesthood is not suited for me; that I would not have that kind of family.”  

Once he committed to entering the seminary, the immediate challenge was timing, since by that time it was mid-July with school scheduled to start less than a month later. 

“So I thought there was a zero chance I would get in,” he admitted, adding that he enlisted the aid of his brother Father Joseph Vu, who is administrator at St. Philomena Church in Labadieville, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Plattenville and St. Anne Church in Napoleonville.  

Deacon Vu acknowledged that it was only through God’s will he was accepted on such a tight timeline.  

But those early days as a seminarian were not easy as he confronted two significant obstacles. The first was a sense of belonging, and for the first 18 months doubt was his daily partner, wondering if he was meant to be there because “I was just looking around at the people and thinking these people are so holy.  

“They pray 24/7. I was thinking I don’t belong there.”  

An introverted personality added another layer of complexity. He even admitted that during the first year he was “pretty much anti-social” and besides the events he was required to attend “you would not see me around.”  

The second major obstacle confronting Deacon Vu was “embracing celibacy and not being able to have a family or be a biological father.”  

Calling it the natural desire for every human being, he said he faced one of his most difficult moments when serving a summer at St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany with pastor Father Jamin David. Deacon Vu said watching the families interact with each other during Mass and other events rekindled his paternal yearning.   

But a life changing talk with his spiritual director opened Deacon Vu’s heart to his vocation. During the conversation, he asked his spiritual director how does anyone know for certain if the priesthood is where they are called to be.  

“He told me that the way I was I would be a good father biologically or spiritually,” Deacon Vu said. “For me that helped tremendously, knowing that I had the option to be a biological father or spiritual father, and it was up to my choice along with God’s will.  

“That was a very freeing moment for me.”  

At that point, he cast aside all doubt and became engaged in the seminary life, to the point where this past semester at Notre Dame he was involved in numerous activities, to the surprise of his classmates, several who later admitted they did not know him except by name.  

“It’s very beautiful how I have seen myself transformed in seminary and how God has changed me from being very much anti-social to becoming very open,” he said. “Just seeing the change in me is a very beautiful thing.”  

Deacon Vu is looking forward to his final year of formation, eager to soak up the knowledge he will gain by working with Father Uter, learning the daily routine of a priest. But he is even more eager for a year from now, to begin his role as a father, just not the father he anticipated.  

And like so many callings, it all started with a simple prayer.