Volunteer  creates beauty  at St. Anthony  

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

A typical Monday morning at Sts. Anthony of Padua and Le Van Phung Church in Baton Rouge finds a bevy of activity, as volunteers scurry about to remove elaborate floral altar arrangements that were used during the weekend Masses.  

flower lady photo 1 (page 1).tif

A flower arrangement created by Yen Tran Nguyen, a parishioner of Sts. Anthony of Padua and Le Van Phung Church in Baton Rouge, decorated the church for Mass on Mother’s Day. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Flower pots are being reworked, and vacuum cleaners are removing the final vestiges of flower petals, stems and greenery.   

The maestro of this floral symphony is Yen Tran Nguyen, the flower arranger at St. Anthony, and her troupe includes a gaggle of volunteers who are family members and friends of the floral designer at St. Anthony.   

For Nguyen, a beautician for 25 years and owner of her own salon in Greensburg, her unexpected detour into floral design has become a personal ministry, a way of thanking God who has blessed her with four successful children, two daughters and two sons, two of whom are doctors. Her daughters are both married and she has four grandchildren.  

“I say, ‘Thank God for everything you gave to me, so I can do whatever I can, just tell me,’ ” said Nguyen, who commutes one hour to attend St. Anthony. “So I go to school for flowers.”  

 The seeds of Nguyen’s part-time floral career were planted when a void was created after Sister Ngoc Tuyet Pham, who previously provided the church arrangements, was called to continue her education in Houston in July 2017. After Sister’s departure, Nguyen noticed an absence of blooms and, going out on a limb, approached St. Anthony pastor Father Peter Tan Viet Nguyen ICM (no relation) about putting a single fresh flower and candle at the base of both the statue of Mary and the statue of St. Joseph.   

“I told (Father Nguyen), at least one flower is alive at Mary and Joseph, one fresh flower so he’s alive and she’s alive,” recalled Nguyen. “You know, if the church doesn’t have flowers it’s
</span id=”8″>quiet but when it has real flowers, it’s better.”  

Mimi Tran, Nguyen’s sister and also a parishioner at St. Anthony, said her sister told Father Nguyen that she knew a little about flower arranging.   

“He said, ‘Okay, you can try it,’ to let him see. And, ever since then, he said, go ahead and continue what you’re doing, so she’s been doing it ever since,” explained Tran. 

“She does a great job,” said Father Peter Tan Viet Nguyen ICM. “She spends a lot of time on Saturdays decorating the church. I’m really thankful for what she does. A lot of time, families will stay after Mass to take pictures in front of the flowers, especially at Christmas and Easter.”  

From there, a special ministry blossomed as Nguyen began taking classes on floral arranging. With an eye for beauty and a skill for handling the greenery, Nguyen’s arrangements are more than just pleasing to the eye. They are also purposeful.  

“In Vietnam, every flower and every color has a special meaning,” stated Tran.  

Nguyen has created arrangements ranging from small bouquets for first communicants to giant vases filled with towering blooming branches on the altar. She also color coordinates flowers with the vestments of the priests and consults with Father Nguyen to help set the tone for each Mass.  

“On Holy Thursday, I use calm colors white and green,” explained Nguyen. “For Easter, I use white and yellow for celebration. It’s a celebration.”  

Nguyen also created a floral arrangement using rich red, white and blue flowers to sit on a table below an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with each color matching perfectly those in the image.   

Nguyen’s new calling has also been a family affair. Besides her sister, she’s also enlisted the help of her mother, Choi Nguyen, and family friend, Nhu Nguyen Nhat. The sisters’ husbands also join in the effort and Tran has asked for donations from her three college-age daughters to help pay for flowers. Other donations come from parishioners who might ask for special arrangements for significant occasions.   

During Lent, when the church decorations are low key, Nguyen spends her Saturdays working at her salon, donating the money she earns on those days to the flower fund. 

“When my husband and I came to Baton Rouge, we worked and didn’t have a high level of education. So we (did not) make a lot of money. I stay home and took care of the kids. We prayed, ‘God give me a good kid, eat and sleep, so I pray,’ ” Nguyen said. “So when I need a job, I went to school and became a beautician. My babies, they grow up like normal. It’s beautiful, they don’t get in trouble, nothing.”   

She has passed on her passion for service, encouraging others to celebrate the blessings of God by doing good works.   

“I tell everybody, I tell everybody in my family, I tell (all) of my friends, I say, ‘you pray, you need to (acknowledge that),” Nguyen said. “(They ask), ‘What do I have to do?’ I say anything, volunteer, you know? Clean up the church … anything.”

As her floral arrangements continue to invite parishioners to experience the fragrance of their faith, Nguyen’s words and examples will also help spread those seeds of faith.  

flower lady photo 2.tif

Yen Tran Nguyen designed beautiful floral arrangements in honor of the Blessed Mother for the month of May and Mother’s Day.