A lesson in forgiveness

July 19, 2011

HOUSTON — Sister Therese Cecilia Huong Do was beloved for her warmth and kindness.
She was known as a zealous "doer" in her religious community, the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, as well as at Vietnamese Martyrs, the parish she served as Director of Religious Education.

On May 22, the 36-year-old's life ended after her car was struck by an intoxicated driver while she was on her way to Vietnamese Martyrs to prepare for a youth Confirmation retreat. She was transported by Life Flight to Memorial Hermann Hospital and died May 23.

In the wake of her sudden death and in the midst of their grief, members of Sister Do's religious community have quietly put their focus on one aim: to embody the forgiveness of Jesus.

Reaching out

The Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province reached out to the 19-year-old driver, Marcos Garza, and his family, meeting with them less than a week following the tragedy to communicate their forgiveness. 

"I read many comments and many blogs, and just the things that people wrote … yes, there was a great deal of support for us, but on the other end, there was a lot of condemnation towards Marcos Garza and we felt that was not right," said Sister Bernadette Nguyen of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, which includes more than 100 members. "We have [received] so much love, but Marcos Garza is not receiving any love at this moment."
Sister Nguyen said that the Dominicans invited the Garza family to their community "so he can see the sense of love and support that we have for him." 

The family accepted the invitation.

A deeper lesson

On June 6, Marcos Garza met with the sisters. The Garzas have also asked to meet with Sister Do's family, according to Sister Nguyen.

"I highly believe that God wants something [to come from the tragedy], not just from our community, but from the wider community as well," she said. "God is teaching us all a very important lesson."
It may be a difficult lesson, but it is one that Vietnamese Martyrs parishioners Sam Nguyen and Michelle Pham are learning to accept. 

"Sister Do would always be kind to those [who have] done wrong and forgive them for what they have done," said Sam Nguyen, 20, a CCE teacher at the church. "Besides forgiving them, she would also teach people a lesson about Jesus or another historical person in the Bible."

Michelle Pham, 18, another parishioner at Vietnamese Martyrs, referred to Sister Do as "a beautiful soul."
"From when I first met her … she always possessed such great energy," said Pham, an active member of the parish youth group and youth band. "You could say she was truly ‘on fire' for God. It was mesmerizing to just be witness of such passion. To most, she was not only a teacher – she was a mentor, a true friend."

Pham said she realizes forgiveness in this situation is not easy. "To forgive is to love and loving, at times, is a lot harder than forgiving," she said. "But to forgive through pain, slowly but surely, love [can] heal the deepest of wounds."

‘We can only move on by forgiving'

The response of support from students and families at the May 28 funeral was a testament to Sister Do's impact on the parish, said Father Joseph Thanh Vu, Vietnamese Martyrs pastor.

"We can only move on by forgiving … and learn the lesson not to abuse such dangerous substances," Father Vu said.

In a statement to the media, the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province said Sister Do's death is a reminder to live a meaningful life and "be ready for God at all times" – as well as embrace the challenge of forgiveness.

"It is only in the act of forgiving that we are able to heal the pain and sorrow of our grief…. we are challenged by God's mission of love – to forgive as Jesus forgave, and carry on Sister Therese's legacy. We therefore hold no enmity against the Garza family," the statement read.

The ultimate example

Sister Nguyen has asked for prayers for Garza's and Sister Do's families, for continued healing and "that the seeds of forgiveness may soon blossom in the hearts of both the Do and Garza families."

She cited the Lord's Prayer, the first prayer many Catholics learn – one that Sister Do no doubt taught to many children.

"We ask God to forgive us and to [help us] forgive those who trespass against us," Sister Nguyen said. "Those words can be just empty words if we don't practice it, if we don't truly believe it. We want to forgive because nobody is perfect, but we have Jesus, we have God and we have God's love. God sets the ultimate example." †