By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator 

As Deacon John Vu prepares to be ordained a priest, he ponders about 50 years down the road and presenting to a seminarian a chalice given to him by a priest celebrating his 50th anniversary to the priesthood this year.  

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Deacon John Vu, left, raises the chalice that has been given to him by Father Frank Uter, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs during Deacon Vu’s going away liturgy after the transitional deacon served a five month internship at ICC.  Photo provided by Julie Kennison  

 

The gift of the chalice is what Deacon Vu and Father Frank Uter, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs, call “providence.”  

In July 2009 Deacon Vu was discerning at St. Joseph’s Seminary in St. Benedict whether he should leave or continue his journey to become a priest. He accepted an invitation by Father Paul Gros to attend a luncheon with him at Immaculate Conception Church that set him confidently on the path to the priesthood.  

At the luncheon the ICC staff celebrated with Father Uter the fifth anniversary of their coming together as a staff and Father Gros’ fifth anniversary ordination to the priesthood and first assignment at ICC as parochial vicar.  

“We had a nice time; young John Vu didn’t say much as he was a bit shy,” recalled Father Uter.  

After thanking everyone at the end of the meal, Father Uter mentioned that in 2019 he would be ordained to the priesthood for 50 years.  

“We all heard from John Vu, loud and clear. ‘That’s when I will be ordained,’ ” said Father Uter.  

That day stuck in Father Uter’s mind, and when he saw Deacon Vu a few years later Deacon Vu enthusiastically said yes when Father Uter asked if he would like his chalice when he was ordained. Father Uter had the chalice’s box repaired and paten re-plated, and it was “ready to go.”  

“Then one day out of nowhere I received a call from the Vocations Office asking if Deacon Vu could come out here and do his five-month internship with us,” said Father Uter. “It was a real shock. No one knew the chalice story or that I even knew Deacon John.”  

When Deacon Vu was at ICC, Father Uter had a nameplate made with Deacon Vu’s name on it.  

“I told him I would have my name taken off it and have his placed there,” said Father Uter. “He said, ‘No, leave it, and one day I will be able to give it to someone, and all three names will be there.’ ”  

After Communion at Deacon Vu’s going away liturgy Oct. 13, Father Uter gave Deacon Vu his chalice, along with the papers with the design of the chalice.  

Deacon Vu said the offering bolstered his commitment to pursue his vocation to the priesthood.  

“When he offered me that chalice, he had the confidence that I would finish formation and I would become a priest. And I thought to myself … ‘You know if he had that confidence …’ Then I told him if God calls me to the priesthood I would be glad to receive it from him,” said Deacon Vu.  

As he accompanied Father Uter during his daily life during his internship, Deacon Vu said he learned a lot about what it means to be a minister of God’s word and sacraments.  

“I would go with him on home visits and participate in many of the ministries,’ ” said Deacon Vu. “And he’s always there, like for everything. He always makes the time at least to pop in and check on (parish ministry meetings and activities) and just begin prayer with them. He makes that effort and it’s great for me to see that, yes, the pastor’s presence is important. And even though as a pastor you’ll be very busy you should still set up a couple of minutes to visit those meetings to tell them that you care – right? You care about their ministry, you support their ministry.”  

Such lessons were among the nuggets of knowledge Deacon Vu gleaned from Father Uter.  

“He’s a great priest,” said Deacon Vu. “He’s been a priest for almost 50 years. So there’s a lot to be learned from him. He has a lot of wisdom to give. So I was thrilled that he also has one of the biggest parishes in the Baton Rouge diocese. And that was the experience that I was missing being at smaller parishes (for summer seminarian assignments). So I was really happy that I was being assigned to a bigger parish with a priest that is very skilled, very prayerful and holy. 

“He knows his way around; he’s had experience with life.” 

Deacon Vu said he is touched by Father Uter’s gift and will remember him every time he raises the chalice, which has a handle encircled by an engraving of Jesus and the 12 Apostles. </span id=”20″>

“I was just blown away that he would be so generous to offer me that. Not only from the aspect of giving away something that you’ve used that you’ve held dear and valuable for 50 years, but giving it to someone that you barely know at that point (a young seminarian).”  

To which Father Uter smiled and says, “You know it had all been planned.”  

Deacon Vu is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood along with Deacon Timothy Grimes on May 25 at St. Joseph Cathedral.