“I’m looking forward to being a simple priest,” Pham said. “That is what I really want for my future.”
Growing up in communist Vietnam, entering the seminary was no easy task. Pham applied to enter after graduating from high school, but the government rejected his application. He knew the only way he would be able to fulfill his calling would be to leave his homeland. He failed in multiple attempts to flee Vietnam until he prayed to the Virgin Mary for assistance, he said.
“I prayed if I made it through this time, that it would be a sign to continue in my vocation,” Pham said.
In 1985 he arrived in Malaysia and after several years of waiting and petitioning, Pham emigrated to the United States in 1994.
He joined the Society of Divine Word in 1996 and began his studies at the congregation’s seminary in Iowa, but was forced to leave after he was seriously injured in a car accident. Fully recovered from his injuries he returned to the Society two years later.
While in Iowa Pham became aware that his sister-in-law was suffering from brain cancer. After reflection he decided to leave the seminary to help care for his family. He joined the family business and helped take care of his sister-in-law and her young son.
Though he continued to serve God through work with youth at Holy Spirit Parish in Fountain Valley, Calif., he felt something missing in his life.
“I felt empty,” Pham said. “I didn’t really have friends and only had real camaraderie with seminarians. I had made a promise to continue my vocation and I wanted to keep it.”
In 2004, Pham successfully applied to be a seminarian for the Diocese of San Bernardino. For the past several years Pham has been studying theology at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.
During his internship year at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Montclair, Pham gained valuable experience in how a parish works. He shadowed Father Anthony Dao, who at the time was serving as pastor at the parish, and was involved with several formation programs, including Youth Confirmation and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process.
“It was a good experience,” Pham said. “It’s one thing to study the theory, here you deal with real people. You deal with their pain. You join them in their journey of faith.”
Through his internship he learned how to handle spiritual and everyday needs of the parish. He quickly became aware of how busy life could be for a priest at the parish and, at times, was overwhelmed with how quickly plans change.
“Sometimes I got mad and frustrated, but this experience helped me see that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Pham said. “It helped restore my energy and gave me absolute joy.”
Pham was ordained a transitional deacon by Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego in December. As his priestly ordination nears, Pham is anxiously awaiting the beginning of his new ministry. One way Pham is preparing for his ordination is by sewing his own vestments.
“Vestments are expensive,” he said chuckling. “I ordered the material and have come up with my own design.”
He is looking forward to seeing his family and the friends he made while living in the refugee camp years ago. They will be traveling from Germany, Norway, Canada and other countries to witness his ordination.
“I haven’t seen them in 20 years,” Pham said. “I’m really excited and looking forward to seeing them.”