Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two Salesians Make First Vows

Two Salesians Make First Vows
The Salesians of the Eastern Province of the United States welcomed two new members on August 16 when they made their first profession of the religious vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty.

Brothers Minh Duc Dang, SDB, and Paul Phuoc Trong Chu, SDB, professed their vows during the 10:15 a.m. parish Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester, N.Y. Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB, the provincial, presided and preached. A large number of Salesian priests and brothers, other clergy, family, friends, and parishioners filled the church so that there was standing room only.
Bro. Paul Chu, Fr. Tom Dunne, Bro. Minh Dang
The two newly professed Salesians completed a year of novitiate at St. Joseph Novitiate under the guidance of Fr. Bill Keane, SDB, master of novices. The novitiate is based at Holy Rosary.

Music was provided by a mixed choir of parish youths and Vietnamese youths.

The parish provided a reception in the church hall after Mass.

Both of the new brothers were born in 1982 in Ho Nai, Bien Hoa province, Vietnam. But they did not know each other until they joined the Salesians.

Minh Duc Dang comes from a large family. His parents were at the profession Mass, along with other family members. He has five brothers and three sisters. Minh and most of his family were able to immigrate to the U.S. in 1992, after a year in a Philippines refugee camp—they had escaped from Vietnam by boat—with the assistance of an Amer-Asian half-brother of Minh who was already in the U.S. At this time the entire family is in America.

A family in Urbana, Ill., sponsored them, and they lived in that Midwestern city for a year before settling permanently in Burke, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Minh attended public schools, graduating from Lake Braddock High School in 2001. For college he returned to Urbana to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; he completed his B.A. in philosophy at Seton Hall University in 2007 after entering the Salesian formation program.

In 2006 Minh had the opportunity to return to Vietnam for the ordination of an uncle. There he met another uncle who is a Salesian priest. Since he had been thinking about his own possible vocation, this uncle took him to visit the Salesian house of formation at Da Lat.

On his return home, Minh contacted the Salesian vocation office in South Orange, N.J., paid a visit there and to the Salesian summer camp in New Rochelle. And he applied for the formation program immediately and was accepted.

During his two years in the formation community at Orange, N.J., and his novitiate year, Bro. Minh has been most impressed by learning that consecrated Salesian life involves more than the vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. It also involves living in community and carrying out an apostolic mission. He says that he has found wonderful examples in the men who have guided his formation, and he cites those who staff the novitiate: besides Fr. Keane they are Frs. Rich Alejunas, Phil Pascucci, and Peter Granzotto and Bro. Sal Sammarco.

Bro. Minh Dang with his parents

Now Bro. Minh will return to the formation community in Orange. Since he has already earned a B.A. in philosophy, he will work toward an M.A. in education and psychology. He thinks that he may eventually work as a guidance counselor in one of the five schools that the Salesians run in the New Rochelle Province. But he also has an interest in the foreign missions and after his eventual ordination to the priesthood may offer himself to the Rector Major for overseas service.

Whether in the house of formation, a school, or the missions, Bro. Minh expects to deepen his Christian faith and Salesian spirit.

Paul Phuoc Trong Chu writes that in Vietnam he was a mischievous boy but, still, already very attracted to the altar. He remembers: “During Mass, I was always fascinated with what happens on the altar, even though I had not a clue what it was about. I wanted to be an altar server. Often, I went to Mass early to hang out at the sacristy, hoping someone would invite me to serve Mass. Unfortunately, there was never a shortage of servers at our church, so I was never called on to serve. However, my yearning to be closer to the altar has stayed ever since.”

Sponsored by Catholic Charities, Paul and his family came to the U.S. in February 1992. Although they were already Catholic, this sponsorship by the Catholic Church made a great, positive impression on them. In addition, when they settled in Springfield, Mass., they lived for some time with a nun before getting their own home.

Paul was delighted that he was finally able to become an altar server a few weeks after arriving in the U.S. Some time later a young Vietnamese priest, Fr. Quynh, suggested to him that he might have a priestly vocation; he and his family began to think about that.

Paul attended public schools and graduated from Springfield’s High School of Science and Technology in 2001. From there he went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he double-majored in computer science and math and graduated in 2005. He took a job with a good salary near Boston. During drives back and forth to visit his family, he would pray the Rosary and other prayers. He always listened attentively to the Scripture readings and homily at Mass.

At some point Paul attended a retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. “During this retreat,” he writes, “I seriously began to contemplate the meaning of my own life. Then the thought occurred to me: I want to offer myself totally to God.” [his emphasis]

The scene in Holy Rosary Church during the homily
In 2005 Paul met a Salesian for the first time, although he did not know it at the time. Paul was very active in a youth group, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society, which—coincidentally—has St. Dominic Savio as its patron. He was attending a camp with their leadership when Fr. Dominic Tran, SDB, came to speak to them, making a delightful impression on all.

The next year Paul visited Vietnam with his family for three weeks. Already discerning a possible priestly vocation, he went to the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang and prayed for guidance. Then he visited his mother’s native parish in Pleiku, where he met a visiting priest who had a most impressive way of interacting with young people. Paul recalls: “There was much love and compassion in the words and sound of his voice as he talked to them. I thought to myself, I want to be this kind of priest.” The priest was a Salesian, as it turned out. The pastor in Pleiku suggested to Paul that he get in touch with the Salesians.

Paul had remained involved with his youth group while in college, serving first as treasurer and then as president. Now, on his return to the U.S. from Vietnam, he felt inspired to do research on Don Bosco. He stumbled upon the Salesian Web site, which led him to the vocation office in South Orange. He visited the formation program in September 2006 and loved it. He entered the formation program at Orange the following August.

Already possessing a college degree, Paul could concentrate just on Salesian formation, getting ready to enter the novitiate in August 2008. Studying, living, working, and praying in the Salesian way has strengthened his conviction that God is calling him to be a priest and to work with the young and the poor.

At Holy Rosary Parish, Bro. Paul has been most impressed by the variety of ministries that the Salesians conduct within the parish context. He has thoroughly enjoyed his own ministry and other interactions with the parishioners. Community life is sometimes a challenge. The Salesian who has made the biggest impression on him this year is Bro. Sal Sammarco, who is deeply spiritual and always joyful, according to Bro. Paul. Bro. Paul also appreciates the guidance he has gotten from his confessor, Fr. Peter Granzotto.

Bro. Paul’s father died in 2005; his mother was present for his religious profession. He has two younger sisters.

Bro. Paul Chu with his mother
Bro. Paul will return to the house of formation in Orange and take philosophy courses at Seton Hall University. And he will continue his journey in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, bringing the Gospel to young people wherever the Salesians will ask him to do that. “The Salesian way of life encourages me to pray and live in union with Jesus Christ, ever to strive for holiness,” he says.

In his homily at the profession Mass, Fr. Tom Dunne traced the similarities in the vocation stories of the two novices about to make their vows. He saw in those stories how God had pursued them, and this religious profession is the culmination of that pursuit.

Religious profession, said Fr. Tom, fulfills the call that Brothers Paul and Minh first answered in Baptism and deepened in Penance and Confirmation; that call reaches its highest point in the Holy Eucharist, of which Jesus spoke in the day’s gospel (John 6:51-58). He said that the Lord’s promise of his presence will have to be the center of their lives. The Eucharist is a symbol of the exchange that they are making with God this day: mutual self-giving. In the last analysis, he said, that relationship of self-offering by and to Christ is the beginning and the end of our religious consecration.

Fr. Tom observed how many family members, priests, and Salesians had made their vocation journey with the two new brothers—many of them present at the Mass, including their parents.

Fr. Provincial hands one of the newly professed brothers
a copy of the Salesian Rule, which will guide his daily life from now on.

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