Hai Long Le (Joseph Le) was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and is the youngest of five siblings. Joseph’s father was an officer in the Army of South Vietnam, and after the fall of Saigon in 1975, was sent to a labor camp for seven years. During this time, the rest of the family was forced to move to a town with no electricity or water.
Although Le and his family were forced to suffer through poor economic conditions, they were greatly blessed with a rich religious life, for it was “truly a Catholic town.” Almost 100 percent of the residents were faithful Catholics, and Le’s family lived within walking distance of their parish. Here, his days were filled with schoolwork, farming, working as a delivery boy and attending daily Mass.
When his father was released in 1983, Le and his family returned to Saigon, where he continued to serve in his parish. One of his duties, during his high school years, was to drive his pastor to Thanh Binh Lepers’ Camp and serve as an altar boy for their Sunday Mass. During this time, he also worked in a carpentry shop producing wooden chairs for export and he developed a love for the carpentry craft.
Le and his family moved to the United States in 1992, and he became a U.S. citizen in 2002. He became a Carmelite monk for 17 years and spent most of his time in various monasteries in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. Because of his love of St. Joseph, a humble and quiet carpenter, Hai Long Le legally changed his name to Joseph Le.
Home parish: I would consider my home parish, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Greenville
Favorite Saints and why?
My favorite saints: St. Joseph the Worker and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I chose St. Joseph because he is a quiet and humble man, a carpenter like myself. I try to imitate him. St. Thérèse has such a love for everything. Her praying method is quite simple, love.
Do you have a favorite devotion, religious image or prayer and why?
My favorite devotion is praying the rosary. Usually I pray only two decades before going to bed, not a whole rosary. It is such a beautiful form of praying if we focus and pay attention to its words.
Who vested you at ordination and why?
Father Anthony Quyet vested me at my priestly ordination. He was the reason I joined this Diocese of Jackson. I knew him when I decided to leave the Carmelite Order.
Do you have any hobbies?
My hobbies are: photography, carpentry, riding a bicycle and driving to visit different places such as national parks.
In what parishes have you served?
I have been in different religious monasteries instead of parishes. Our monasteries are located in San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Little Rock-Arkansas, New Orleans. So I served in those monasteries.
Can you tell me a little about your vocation story – when you felt called and how you responded?
Around 1995 while I was in college at the University of Oklahoma, I realized that I was called to be in religious life.
This happened after a parish retreat during Lent. After college, I joined the Discalced Carmelite Order in San Antonio, Texas, and I remained in religious life until I came to the Jackson diocese three years ago.
Can you share something about yourself people may not know?
I have a big appetite for photography. Also, I love driving to visit different places, our country in particular, to take pictures during my vacations.
I’ve driven from Key West to Alaska, from San Diego to Main. The only two states I haven’t driven to: Hawaii and North Dakota. Since our diocese is widespread, the love for driving probably is a good help for my ministry in the future.
What advice do you have for those discerning a vocation?
My advice is simple, be honest with yourself and with your spiritual director. Chose a good and holy spiritual director and trust in him/ her. Personally, I found that being happy in your vocation is the first sign of being called to priesthood!
Is there one part of priesthood in particular you are looking forward to?
I would like to serve in the area with the sick such as in the hospitals and nursing home.
What are you looking forward to about your first parish assignment?
I feel a lot of excitement and nervous at the same time. Fortunately I have many people to learn from – the pastor as well as the pastoral council, staff and people. I look forward to gaining more experiences from working with different organizations in the parish.
Can you share details on your first Mass and is it open to the public?
– My first Mass was in Greenville at 10:30 a.m. Sunday May 15. I am very excited. Everything suddenly becomes a reality. I mean the consubstantiation, the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ.
I can’t get more excited than being a main part of the Holy Mass. Usually in the sacristy, there is sign saying, “Priest, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it was your First Mass, your last Mass and your only Mass.”
I have read and heard it so many times before and didn’t think much of it because the sign wasn’t for me. Now, it really applies to me!