PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Three friends stood alone in the dining room at the rectory of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, fidgeting in the final moments before their ordination to the priesthood.
The mood was electric Saturday morning, June 4, for the soon-to-be priests: Alex Olszewski, 51; Andrew Tsui, 41; and Father Dung (Vincent) Vu, 39.
Now, they were moments away from adding the title of “Father” to their names and hearing the announcement of which parishes they were about to serve in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Father Olszewski admitted to being nervous.
But then Father Alonzo Cox, director of liturgy for the diocese, entered the dining room and broke the tension.
“Gentlemen,” he announced. “It’s time.”
It adhered to the Rite of Ordination, including the laying on of hands, the Prayer of Ordination, and the Litany of Supplication in which the candidates for priesthood prostrate themselves on the altar in a sign of humility.
Some of the diocese’s senior clergy watched from their seats around the altar, including Bishop Emeritus Nicholas DiMarzio and Auxiliary Bishops Octavio Cisneros (retired), Witold Mroziewski, and Paul Sanchez.
The new priests received their new vestments on the sanctuary — the stole and chasuble — and also the Sign of Peace from fellow priests. The congregation gave the new priests an extended round of applause.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, the trio bonded and became friends while studying at the Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, which trains seminarians over the age of 30.
Father Tsui is a New York City-born son of Chinese immigrants who worked in accounting before joining a contemplative monastery in France. Father Vu was a history scholar back home in Vietnam, and Father Olszewski lived in Arkansas, where he had a long career in banking.
Father Tsui became the first American-born Chinese priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He embraces the distinction with pride, but also humility.
He noted that many people of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. consider the Church to be a Western institution. Conversely, Father Tsui said he wants to be a priest with whom Chinese people can identify.
Bishop Brennan announced the new priest would serve at St. Bartholomew’s Parish in Elmhurst, which has a Sunday Mass in Chinese.
“I am very excited,” Father Tsui said. His new leader is Father Rick Beuther, pastor of St. Bartholomew’s Parish.
Bishop Brennan thanked the new priests’ families for gifting the three men “to the Church.”
Father Tsui’s parents, David and Agnes Tsui, have passed away; so have the parents of Father Olszewski, Richard and Vivian Olszewski, who were natives of Brooklyn. However, Father Tsui’s siblings, Augustine, and older identical twin brother, Arthur, were at the ceremony with their families.
Father Olszewski’s siblings could not attend, but he was shown plenty of love by parishioners from Our Lady of Snows Parish in Floral Park, Queens, where he spent his pastoral year.
At the end of Mass, the new priests offered “first blessings” to family, friends, and well-wishers.
Among those approaching Father Olszewski was Arthur Tsui, and his wife, who received his blessing.
Father Olszewski’s assignment will be at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Flatlands, Brooklyn, under the leadership of its pastor, Father Dwayne Davis.
Father Olszewski said the heart of his ministry will be an outreach to people who struggle returning to the faith after being away for many years, especially hearing their confessions. He also wants to help shore up catechesis to keep young people grounded, and thereby protect them from straying from the Church in the first place.
Bishop Brennan also acknowledged a special deacon in the audience, Anh Vu, the younger brother of Father Vu, who will be ordained a priest next week in the Diocese of Bridgeport by Bishop Frank Caggiano, a former auxiliary in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“We’re very, very proud of him, too,” Bishop Brennan said. Deacon Vu stood to be recognized and also received applause. Members of the Vu family waved to him from the front-row pews on the other side of the cathedral.
The Vu brothers’ parents, Joseph Ngon Van Vu and Theresa Xuyen Thi Nguyen, traveled to the U.S. to be at both ordinations.
Father Vu is assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Queens Village under the leadership of Father Patrick Longalong, the pastor. Father Vu pledged to be a priest who reaches people of diverse cultures and languages, sharing the Gospel of Christ.
Father Vu also said he had 100 tickets but he had more than his immediate family could use, so he shared them with other people.
It was an example of the three new priests having made friends with each other’s families.
Father Olszewski said he was blessed by the love shown to him by the families of the other priests and parishioners from Our Lady of the Snows.
“That’s how it is in seminary,” Father Olszewski said. “And, if you’re in a parish, a good parish, the people do kind of become like your tribe or your extended family.”