By Maureen Smith
The ordination Mass of Binh Nguyen, José de Jesús Sánchez and Rusty Vincent had joyful overtones from the very start. Not only was it the first time in many years more than one man was ordained at a time in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle, but it was celebrated Saturday, May 31, the Feast of the Visitation, when St. John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb upon hearing our Blessed Mother’s voice and sensing the presence of the Lord in her womb.
The men being ordained reflect the diversity of the universal church as well as the diversity of the local church in the Diocese of Jackson. Father Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, has served the Vietnamese community around Forest. Many of these Catholics came to Mississippi thanks to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) efforts to resettle refugees after the Vietnam War. Members of the community gather regularly to honor and celebrate their heritage with Masses in Vietnamese at both Forest St. Michael and Jackson St. Therese Parishes.
“I first met Binh Nguyen when he was on a summer assignment at my home parish in Meridian,” said seminarian Nick Adam. “I was immediately impressed with his hard work ethic and happy disposition. Binh was always ready to help out in any way he could, and he had such a great attitude,” Adam continued.
Father Sánchez left his native Mexico to serve the missions in Mississippi which have a growing and very active Hispanic community. Adam described him as welcoming, kind and thoughtful. “He even showed me how to properly tie a knot in a cincture,” he joked.
Father Vincent is a local vocation who has taught in the Catholic schools in the diocese. He calls Pearl St. Jude his home parish. The other seminarians describe his quiet sense of humor and good attitude as some of his best assets.
Family members from Mexico, Vietnam and across the U.S. took their seats in the front rows of the cathedral to witness the rite. “I am overwhelmed with emotion, a big emotion, I can’t describe it,” said Jesús Sánchez, father of Father Sánchez, with a soft and warm voice. “God has given him the blessing of this day today, to be ordained a priest and we are all very happy for him,” he added
Father Nguyen’s parents are deceased, but an aunt and a sister and brother attended the ordination. “The day of ordination was a very beautiful and grace-filled day in my Christian life,” said Father Nguyen after the Mass. “God is good, all the time,” he added.
Father Vincent’s parents, Rhea and Denise Vincent, attended as did his siblings, their spouses, children and lots of extended family.
“The day of our ordination was an incredible occasion. The excitement and nerves of the whole day flowed through me,” said Father Vincent in the week after the event. “The most memorable part was when the oil was poured into my hands, for it was a sign of me being conformed to Christ. It was a day that I was filled with joy, and it was a blessing to finally realize my vocation and I’m looking forward to serving the diocese,” he went on to say.
While ordination falls at the end of a long process of discernment, prayer and study, it is also the start of a new journey. “As the director of vocations and a fellow priest, I am very happy for Binh and José de Jesús and Rusty. Bishop Kopacz emphasized to the personnel board in making their parish assignments that he was more concerned about their having a good assignment than he was about putting them where they might be most needed. That support of the bishop for the newly ordained is very important,” said Father Matthew Simmons.
Father Simmons said in the past priests might fall prey to the idea that the grace of ordination would somehow make the transition into life as a priest automatic. That’s not so, said Father Simmons. “Instead, a newly ordained priest and, indeed, every priest needs to be proactive in his relationship with God as a priest,” he said. “Thinking one can coast along is dangerous. When the priests were profiled for the Year of Priests by Mississippi Catholic, I said that the best part of the job as a priest is that people pray for you,” said Father Simmons. “I don’t think priesthood is ever what one expects it to be; so one has to be vigilant in prayer at the time of transition. There is a change in one’s experience of prayer as a priest,” he said. He went on to ask that all the faithful of the diocese continue to pray for the new priests even as they pray for new vocations.
Father Simmons challenged priests to make their joy an inspiration to others. “The National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors emphasizes to every priest that it is his responsibility to recruit at least two men to the priesthood during his lifetime. I am confident that Binh and José de Jesús and Rusty will share their joy in priesthood in such a way that their being priests will bear that kind of fruit for God and His Church.”
By Maureen Smith