October 1, 2023 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Sr. Chanh Ngo stands inside Fr. Leonard Alvey Library at Brescia University in Owensboro on Aug. 14, 2023. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

‘It’s like a family’

Religious sister from Vietnam enjoys studying at Brescia


Sr. Chanh Ngo may be the only member of her religious congregation attending Brescia University in Owensboro, but she nonetheless feels “it’s like a family.”

As a Sister of Our Lady of Unity from Vietnam, Sr. Chanh is one of the many priests, religious and seminarians from the country who have been able to attend school in the United States thanks to Formation Support for Vietnam.

Through the financial assistance provided by this nonprofit organization, Vietnamese priests, religious and seminarians can attend U.S. seminaries and Catholic colleges and universities.

“Some stay to teach here,” said Sr. Chanh, adding that others return home to Vietnam to serve the local Church after their education and religious formation has concluded.

Sr. Chanh, who is majoring in theology with an emphasis on pastoral studies, and hopes to also minor in professional writing, said the current plan is that she will head home to Vietnam after receiving her degree.

“My community has schools for kindergarteners, medical clinics, and helps the poor,” she said. “We don’t have just one mission – we have many.”

The religious sister has been in the U.S. for five and a half years. Two and a half of those years have been spent at Brescia, which is able to provide her with free tuition because of Formation Support for Vietnam. She anticipates graduating in 2025.

Three other members of her congregation are also studying in the United States, with two studying in Maryland and another studying in Massachusetts.

The four Sisters of Our Lady of Unity who made perpetual vows on July 2, 2023, at Vietnamese Redemptorist Mission in Houston, Texas, stand with their other congregation members; Bishop William F. Medley of the Diocese of Owensboro; and the Redemptorist priests of the mission. COURTESY OF SR. CHANH NGO

She lives on campus with seven other religious sisters from Vietnam, who belong to various other congregations. Sr. Chanh said that despite being of different congregations, “it is like a small religious community.”

“We pray together, do vespers together,” she said.

The sisters also share a resilience from having grown up in Vietnam when Catholicism was not freely practiced. Sr. Chanh said that when she was a child, they often did not have a priest available to celebrate Mass, due to the communist government’s crackdown on Christianity at the time.

However, she remembers seeing religious sisters serve the local community: “They were really simple and humble, they taught catechism to the kids to help keep the faith and helped it grow in my hometown.”

Despite priests and other Catholics being imprisoned by the government – including Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan, who was kept in solitary confinement by the communists for 13 years – Catholicism survived in Vietnam.

Usually, said Sr. Chanh, the government ignored the women, so many of these sisters were able to help with the Catholics’ secret practice of their faith. This included smuggling wine and hosts to imprisoned priests so that they could secretly celebrate Mass.

“They would hide the host in a medicine container and say (to the jailers) that it was medicine,” she said. In a certain sense, this was true: it was medicine for the soul.

The powerful example of these Christians, especially the women religious, helped her discern her own vocation to consecrated life. This summer, on July 2, 2023, Sr. Chanh made her perpetual vows as a Sister of Our Lady of Unity, which was hosted at the Vietnamese Redemptorist Mission in Houston, Texas.

She looks forward to serving the faithful in Vietnam one day, but for now, she treasures her time in the U.S.

When she isn’t studying, she and her fellow Vietnamese sisters help at the local soup kitchen and assist with the art and environment for the campus chapel at Brescia. Over the summer, she goes to St. Louis to spend time with a community of School Sisters of Notre Dame.

“Kentucky is a beautiful place,” said Sr. Chanh. “I like Brescia; the people here are very friendly. Even if the sisters who live with me aren’t of the same congregation, we have unity within our community.”

Sr. Chanh Ngo makes her perpetual vows as a Sister of Our Lady of Unity on July 2, 2023. The ceremony was held at Vietnamese Redemptorist Mission in Houston, Texas. COURTESY OF SR. CHANH NGO

Originally printed in the October 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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