Diocesan News

The First Vietnamese American Priest In the Diocese Hopes to Inspire Others

Deacon Randy Nguyen (right) and Msgr. Cuong Pham, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Astoria, ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mother to help parishioners. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

ASTORIA — When he is ordained into the priesthood on June 1, Deacon Randy Nguyen will be a groundbreaker. He will be the first Vietnamese American priest serving the Diocese of Brooklyn, a place known as the Diocese of Immigrants. 

The diocese has had priests who were born in Vietnam serve here. But Deacon Nguyen will be the first priest who is American-born from Vietnamese immigrants. 

His family left their native Vietnam in 1989 to establish a new home in the U.S., first in Minnesota and then in Queens. Deacon Nguyen found a home at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Astoria, where his Catholic family attended church and where he received first Communion and confirmation. 

Even as a little boy, he formed a strong attachment to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church — serving as an altar boy and later as a sacristan and a receptionist in the rectory. “Anything that can be hands-on,” he said. “That really brought the love of Christ into my life, and ultimately, that sense of peace in my life.” 

God’s calling to the priesthood came early. “From the age of 7, I always wanted to be a priest,” recalled Deacon Nguyen, who is now 31. “At 7 years old, I was going around the house saying, ‘One day, I’m going to be a priest.’” 

But he had to overcome obstacles to get there, including the objections of his parents.

While they are fully on board now, his parents didn’t initially support the idea of him entering the priesthood. “I think my mother wanted me to have a family and grandchildren,” he said.

He admires his parents. “Being a son of my father and mother who were born in Vietnam, I really found that they inspired me because they’re really hardworking. But besides being hardworking, they were very strong in their faith and God was always a big part of my family growing up,” he explained.

Deacon Nguyen, whose favorite subjects at school were math and science, decided to become a doctor. After graduating from Hunter College, where he studied biology, he enrolled at the Medical University of the Americas, a medical school in the Caribbean, in 2015. 

“My second choice in life was to be a doctor,” he explained. “From when I was born until now, I always had that feeling of wanting to help others. And that sense of helping others was always in me.” 

However, he never became Doctor Nguyen, instead becoming Deacon Nguyen. And that’s because God’s calling was stronger.

He studied at the Cathedral House of Formation in Douglaston in 2017 and then St. Vincent’s Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He knew immediately that he had made the right decision. “I remember the first day of my seminary, I was very happy,” he said. 

He was ordained as a transitional deacon last year. His parents have come to accept his decision. “I’m only a few weeks away from being a priest and my parents are very supportive of me right now. They’re very happy for me,” he said. 

Throughout his discernment and all through his years, he received emotional support from parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 

“I really felt a sense of that love of my spiritual family here in my home parish. These are the people who not only support me, but pray for me,” he said. 

Deacon Nguyen is only the second parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be ordained in 53 years. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond Chappetto was ordained in 1971. 

Deacon Randy Nguyen at his confirmation. By this time, he already expressed an interest in becoming a priest. (Photo: Courtesy of Deacon Nguyen)

Deacon Nguyen was also helped along the way by Msgr. Cuong Pham, the Vietnamese-born pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. Msgr. Pham serves as a mentor and guide to many seminarians, not only in the Diocese of Brooklyn but around the country. 

“In the Vietnamese tradition, every seminarian has an adoptive father who is considered a spiritual father-mentor,” Deacon Nguyen explained. 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has a sizable Vietnamese American population and there is a Vietnamese-language Mass every Sunday at 3 p.m. 

Deacon Nguyen hopes that as Msgr. Pham and his fellow seminarians have inspired him, he can in turn do the same for others. “Just how my spiritual father Msgr. Pham and all my spiritual brothers, who led the way for me and inspired me, I hope to inspire others, especially other young men who would love to follow the priesthood,” he explained. 

As he looks forward to his ordination at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights on June 1, Deacon Nguyen is willing to accept the role God has in store for him. “Wherever the Lord leads me and puts me, I’m willing to serve the people of God,” he said. 

Deacon Nguyen speaks three languages — English, Vietnamese, and Spanish — an important skill in a diocese with an international flavor. 

His favorite sports are basketball and badminton and his love of sports will be part of his priesthood. “I think that really shows my personality. And I think I’ll use that in my priesthood to bring others closer to Christ,” he said.