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Florida priest, former Vietnamese refugee, named a bishop for Orange, Calif.

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, Calif.

Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him Oct. 6 to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, California. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St. Augustine)

Born in Vietnam, Bishop-designate Nguyen, 64, fled the country in 1979 by boat with his family and spent 10 months in a refugee camp in the Philippines before arriving in Hartford, Conn., in 1980. After brief studies at Hartford State Technical College, he became a math and science teacher in Hartford public schools.

In 1984, he joined the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, studying at Merrimack College and the Weston School of Theology, both in Massachusetts. He was ordained to the priesthood May 11, 1991.

For the next eight years, he worked in parishes in Georgia and Florida. In 1999, he was incardinated into the Diocese of St. Augustine. He has been pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville, Florida, since 2014.

Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine said he learned of Father Thanh’s appointment Sept. 27, the day Pope Francis launched the two-year campaign, “Share the Journey.” The global initiative is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled their homeland due to poverty, violence, persecution, and war.

In 1979, Father Thanh and his family escaped Vietnam during the war. They fled by boat, and after 18 days at sea, they landed on the shores of the Philippines. He lived in a refugee camp for 10 months before moving to the United States in 1980.

“Father Thanh knows the plight of refugees, and he understands their journey seeking a safe home and the ability to support their families,” Bishop Estevez said in a statement. “He has a genuine gift when it comes to ministering to people of diverse cultures.”

“Now that reality is beginning to set in, I need to start the process of letting go and letting God,” said Bishop-designate Nguyen in a statement about his appointment. “Yes, letting go of familiar places, familiar faces, Bishop Estevez, the presbyterate of the diocese, parishioners, and staff of St. Joseph and Christ the King parishes who have played an important role in my priestly ministry for more than 20 years.”

While he was a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette serving in the St. Augustine Diocese, Bishop John J. Snyder, then head of the diocese, named the priest parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville.

In September 2001, Bishop Victor B. Galeone, newly named to head the diocese, appointed him pastor of the parish. Through his leadership and initiative, he brought harmony to the Vietnamese community by celebrating a Sunday Mass in Vietnamese and building a Vietnamese Center where cultural traditions among the youth and elderly are preserved.

As pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Bishop-designate Nguyen has been instrumental in strengthening the faith community by celebrating its cultural diversity through parish events throughout the year. He has also built a social/youth hall and added a youth Mass. The parish is about to launch a $4 million capital campaign for parish improvements.

“Father Thanh has not only promoted unity in the parish, but he has fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than any other parish in the diocese,” said Bishop Estevez.

The Diocese of Orange, headed by Bishop Kevin W. Vann, has a large Vietnamese Catholic community.

The Southern California diocese is the 10th largest in the country and one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has 1.3 million Catholics.

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Knights of Columbus founder ‘loved the priesthood deeply,’ says Archbishop Lori

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. —The priesthood of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, “models the teaching of recent popes,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori.

Four men carry a 4-foot statue of Father Michael J. McGivney past an honor guard at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Conn., Aug. 14. The Mass celebrated the 125th anniversary of the death of Father McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/Mary Chalupsky, The Catholic Transcript) See MCGIVNEY-MASS Aug. 18, 2015.

Four men carry a 4-foot statue of Father Michael J. McGivney past an honor guard at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., Aug. 14. The Mass celebrated the 125th anniversary of the death of Father McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. (CNS photo/Mary Chalupsky, The Catholic Transcript) See MCGIVNEY-MASS Aug. 18, 2015.

“St. John Paul II said that the priest’s personality must be a bridge to Christ, and indeed Father McGivney’s unassuming, lighthearted-yet-determined character attracted many to the Catholic faith and to St. Mary’s Church,” said the archbishop, who is supreme chaplain of the Knights.

“When Pope Francis tells priests to acquire the smell of the sheep and to bring the Gospel to the margins of society,” he continued, “I think of Father McGivney. He loved the priesthood deeply.”

Archbishop Lori made the comments in his homily for a Mass marking the 125th anniversary of the death of Father McGivney. The prelate also was principal celebrant of the Aug. 14 Mass at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven.

The church is where Father McGivney, a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. He was an assistant pastor there when he gathered a handful of men in the church basement to start the fraternal organization.

Archbishop Lori spoke of how the priest influenced those early Knights in embracing the organization’s principles.

“These men would not have committed to the principle of charity had they not seen in Father McGivney a man of tireless pastoral charity, who reflected God’s love through acts of personal generosity and compassion,” he said. The men also would not have committed “to the principle of unity had they not seen how Father McGivney brought together the people of St. Mary’s Parish and how he served as a source of unity in the wider community of New Haven.”

The priest’s witness of fraternity also had an impact on those early Knights’ commitment to that principle.

“Father McGivney was not only the father but also the brother to his parishioners and indeed to anyone in need,” Archbishop Lori added.

The priest is a candidate for sainthood. The Father McGivney Guild was formed in 1996 to promote his cause; the Vatican approved opening the cause in 1997.

Father McGivney was declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI, recognizing his heroic virtue. A miracle attributed to his intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.

In general, one confirmed miracle is needed for beatification and a second such miracle is needed for canonization. Archbishop Lori spoke in strong personal terms about Father McGivney, whom he said he considers his “parish priest, the parish priest of my soul.” “Every morning I pray to him and I pray that he be canonized, as I know you do. Every day I load his plate with all kinds of intentions,” he added.

Based in New Haven, the Knights of Columbus has about 1.9 million members in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, Poland, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Panama, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guatemala, Guam and Saipan.

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