Newly-arrived religious order puts parish ‘back to normal’

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Sr. Clara Oanh Nguyen, Sr. Teresa Hoa Nguyen, Sr. Mary Tuoi Bui and Sr. Anna Ngoc Nguyen, Lovers of the Holy Cross of Saigon, pose at St. Louis the King near an Our Lady of La Vang statue overlooking a refugee boat-shaped flower bed.
(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

GLENDALE — There’s no doubt the 49 religious congregations serving the Diocese of Phoenix have a special love for the faith.

It’s embedded in the name of the newest one. Four sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Saigon left Vietnam in December to establish a community at St. Louis the King Parish and School.

Once they acquire transportation and a driver’s license, they will offer faith formation in their native language at Holy Spirit Parish in Tempe on the weekends where there is also a regular Mass in Vietnamese.

Flags representing the various countries of families at St. Louis the King Parish and School adorn the the Glendale school’s facade. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

The sisters are in the diocese to serve the faithful of all languages, however. There are five distinct communities at St. Louis the King Parish and at least 26 countries represented at the school, with as many flags adorning the school’s façade.

“Our mission is to serve the parish: to serve youth, education, health and pastoral care,” said Sr. Mary Tuoi Bui, who serves as the local mother superior and pastoral associate.

There was some overlap between the sisters before Sr. Betty Duduka, right, got called back to Uganda. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Only two months into their apostolate, they’ve already fulfilled most of their mission. Sr. Clara Oanh Nguyen and Sr. Anna Ngoc Nguyen took over helping in the school library and extended care when Sr. Betty Duduka, a Sister of the Sacred Heart, was called back to Uganda Jan. 29 to resume teaching kindergarten. Sr. Clara could ultimately teach if needed — she was an education major.

The duo also serves together when leading the Vietnamese choir at St. Louis the King. Sr. Teresa Hoa Nguyen is the sacristan.

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Fr. Joseph Bui, pastor, said the sisters’ arrival was a long time coming. He has been at the nearly 56-year-old parish since 2004 and has seen St. Louis the King grow. There are another 450-some families at the church and the student body has at least doubled, including newcomers from Vietnamese Martyrs Parish just over three miles away.

With Lovers of the Holy Cross, Fr. Bui could effectively obtain the support he needed and return the school to its roots. St. Louis the King opened in 1965 with a mix of Sisters of Humility of Mary and lay teachers.

“We’re back to normal,” Fr. Bui told The Catholic Sun after posing for a picture with the sisters in front of a new Our Lady of La Vang statue.

Fr. Joseph Bui, pastor, poses with Sisters of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Saigon in front of a fairly new statue at St. Louis the King in Glendale. Our Lady of La Vang overlooks plants growing in a boat-shaped flower bed symbolic of a refugee’s journey, particularly those from Vietnam like the sisters and priest. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

“They come here. They have the habits. They show the people that we continue to bring the love of God to the parishioners and students,” Fr. Bui said. “The man and the woman have the family. I need the sisters around to help me. I cannot handle by myself the parish.”

Sr. Mary Bui serves as pastoral associate, a role a Congregation of St. Agnes sister once held. Lovers of the Holy Cross now fill in other parish roles the St. Agnes sisters held until shortly after Fr. Bui — no relation to the new mother superior — became interim parochial administrator in 2013. Fr. Bui was appointed pastor a year later.

Welcoming religious life back to St. Louis the King was a natural step for Fr. Bui personally, too. The order is from his home diocese in Vietnam and two of his own sisters are religious sisters, including one who is a Lover of the Holy Cross serving elsewhere.

“They are nuns. They are sisters. The parish sees their love and faith to serve God and the people,” Fr. Bui said. He recalled parishioners being excited and happy when they heard the sisters were coming. They identified the sisters’ arrival as “a special gift from God.”

Lovers of the Holy Cross (LHC)

Founded:

Ash Wednesday, 1670, in Kien Lao, Vietnam Founder: Bishop Pierre Lambert de La Motte

Charism:

Imitating Jesus Christ Crucified through a life of contemplation, ­sacrifice, and service by building up the local Church and ­society, with concern for the ­suffering, especially women and children.

Service in the Diocese of Phoenix:

• St. Louis the King Parish and School in Glendale

• Holy Spirit in Tempe
(forthcoming)

The Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross Sisters dates back to 1670 with each community belonging to the local bishop it serves. There are 29 communities in Vietnam alone with the closest U.S. one in Los Angeles.

The four sisters serving at St. Louis the King say their community is more than 150 years old. The women largely knew their religious calling at a young age after meeting sisters of various orders. Sr. Mary knew by age 11, but wartime regimes had her praying about it for five years before she could enter.

Sr. Anna wanted to enter at age 18, but her father thought she was too young. She continued her college education, served in a school and finally entered at age 25. Sr. Clara was a professed sister by age 24.

“I went to the congregation when I was very young — 16,” she said. The habit and a different sister’s gentle demeanor attracted her.

That’s how Sr. Teresa Hoa also began discerning religious life. She saw the sisters in her village as holy and wanted to emulate that. She entered the convent after high school and also has relatives who belong to Lovers of the Holy Cross. Sr. Teresa hasn’t completely set aside her previously acquired nursing skills either. They come in handy when helping with the school’s extended care.