5 MINUTES WITH Father Joseph Lam Nguyen, C.S.Sp.
February 28, 2012
HOUSTON – Father Joseph Lam Nguyen said he first heard God’s call to the priesthood when caring for his ailing father in 1997. After his father died, he left behind his studies in law school to follow that call.
Currently serving as Director and Chaplain of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Houston’s central campus, the 45-year-old Spiritan urges all of those discerning priesthood or religious life to “answer God’s call,” citing John 15:16: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain …”
Fittingly, the theme of the 2012 Archdiocesan Diocesan Services Fund campaign is “Go forth and bear fruit that will last.” The Catholic Newman Center at the University of Houston is supported through DSF. Through DSF, parishioners bring needed financial resources to more than 60 pastoral and educational ministries in the Archdiocese.
“God always calls because He loves,” said Father Nguyen, who was ordained a priest by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo in 2006. “Vocation comes from God. Listen and discern the calling of the Lord for you as a priest or a religious. I did and I am very glad I did. It has been a wonderful and exciting journey for me, and I am looking forward each day to what the Lord has in store for me.”
Father Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam. He and his family came to the U.S. in 1975 and have lived in Houston since 1980.
In years prior to his role at the University of Houston, Father Nguyen had served as a social justice advocate and support staff member of Catholic Charities - Refugee and Immigrant Services in the Diocese of San Diego; as an itinerary preacher and retreat director throughout the United States; and as an associate pastor at St. Joseph Church in Conway, Arkansas. Father Nguyen has experience conducting and directing workshops and seminars relating to vocations, leadership and spiritual formation. He speaks three languages – English, Vietnamese and Spanish – and considers tennis, table tennis, bowling and golf as some of his favorite recreational interests.
A week before Ash Wednesday, Father Nguyen visited with the Herald about Lenten activities planned for students at the University of Houston.
Texas Catholic Herald: Are there any outreach or service projects you conduct during Lent through the Catholic Student Center?
Father Joseph Lam Nguyen: Last year as part of our Lenten practices, we got together as a UH Catholic Community to donate 1,000 pounds of rice and 1,000 pounds of beans to the needy. After Mass, the students volunteered to put rice and beans into smaller bags to distribute to local food pantries. This year we will continue to observe this almsgiving practice.
We also have Alternative Spring Break as a service project. ASB provides a missionary opportunity to students who desire to use their spring break to serve those less fortunate. Last year, we volunteered at CHRISTUS Our Daily Bread food pantry in Galveston. We provided clean clothes for the homeless and donated food items for the center.
This coming spring break, during Lent, we have chosen to do a pilgrimage to the Shrine of San Juan del Valle in the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and will collaborate in a service project organized by the students of the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Texas - Pan American in Edinburg, Texas.
TCH: In what ways do you and your staff explore the pillars of Lent (fasting, almsgiving, prayer) with Catholic students?
Father Nguyen: Annually, we participate in the Operation Rice Bowl program of Catholic Relief Services as our fasting, almsgiving and prayer. As part of the Lenten journey, we join in solidarity with our poorest of the poor brothers and sisters in other countries. Seventy-five percent of the contributions support development projects overseas, and 25 percent assists local hunger and poverty programs in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
TCH: How do you encourage your students (or any Herald reader) to reflect on their baptismal commitment during Lent?
Father Nguyen: Lent is the season of grace for us as we are given the opportunity to renew our baptismal commitment. Students are encouraged to participate in fasting, prayer, community, penance, service and acts of mercy as ways to concretely live out our faith and to move toward more conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ. †