Father Duc Nguyen is the new priest at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Tarkio. He is also serving the congregations of St. Benedict’s in Burlington Junction, Missouri, and Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Easton, Missouri.

After a few years of temporary postings of priests, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church is excited to have a permanent fixture in Tarkio. The church welcomed Father Duc Nguyen in July. Not only is Father Nguyen spreading the word of Christ to St. Paul’s parishioners, but he is also the priest at St. Benedict’s in Burlington Junction, Missouri, and at Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Easton, Missouri.

Fr. Duc Nguyen was born in Saigon City, South Vietnam, in 1967. His parents, Vu and Sang Nguyen, were born in North Vietnam. Fr. Nguyen said, “For nearly a century, North Vietnam had been under the control of the French government, but was forsaken to the Japanese during World War II. In 1954, the communists took control of North Vietnam. Catholics have been targets for persecution, so to escape persecution, my parents fled to the south.

“I was about eight when Saigon fell in 1975. By 1975, American forces had withdrawn from Vietnam and southern resistance was running scared. The North Vietnamese forces took control of Saigon. The majority of people in the country did not have money to survive and not enough food when the country was first controlled by the communist regime.

“My family consisted of my parents and seven brothers and sisters, who relocated to Kien Giang Province to farm rice paddies. I was raised in the Vietnamese Catholic tradition during the war.

“When I was about 13 years old, I escaped the communists with my uncle’s family and about 40 other Vietnamese refugees, stuffed in a small boat. We drifted for days before encountering an American naval ship heading for safety. We were all nauseous and weary from the rough waters and more so from the uncertainty of our escape.

“After our rescue by the naval ship, we were safely on shore, and our group was transferred to Malaysia’s refugee camp in Pulau Bidong, near Kuala Lumpur. I lived there for nearly two years. The refugees applied for asylum in several different countries and waited for responses. Meanwhile, the people that live in the refugee camp had little food, tight living quarters and were forbidden to leave the camp. The conditions were terrible, the frustration and misery got so bad that some people became desperate. There were about 10 suicides during my time there. Several years later, I was sponsored by my aunt’s family to come to the United States in Pennsylvania.

“The experience of escaping by boat allowed me to grow in faith. I had to leave Vietnam without saying goodbye to my family, drifting in the Pacific Ocean without knowing where or when the journey would end, and having only water and sky as my companions. All of that opened for me in the eye of faith. There must be a God.

“The gift I value: God planted the seed and is now watering my garden. I remembered that the war which developed between the North and South always made us worry. We never felt safe. I recalled waking up at 4:00 a.m. at age 9 to serve Mass, a practice which helped my vocation. My education in the Holy Apostles Seminary offers me the chance to reflect on my own experiences of where God is. I was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2009 and my first assignment was as Parochial Vicar in Saint Therese Parish.

“I feel that it is now really trying to draw people to a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

After serving in churches in the Kansas City area, Father Nguyen was sent to upstate New York, where he served as associate pastor and was closer to some of his family. His presence was then requested to serve in our small communities and he took up the call.

In Tarkio, Father Nguyen oversees a congregation of around 50 families. He serves a daily Mass at 8:00 a.m. Monday through Saturday and holds Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. He also hosts Holy Hour at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and every first Friday of the month at 7:00 p.m., he holds Mass and offers confession.

Besides serving the church, Father Nguyen is now helping the communities in Atchison County. He has begun volunteering his time with the Tarkio/Westboro/Fairfax Food Pantry. He also created a volunteer chaplain program at Community Hospital-Fairfax in Fairfax, Missouri, where clergy will alternate being on  call 24-7 to give spiritual guidance and support to patients and their families.

Father Nguyen says that God has always been present in his life and he wants to bring His ministry to all. His past is a perfect indication of how his faith saw him through some very tough times. And although he did make it back to Vietnam once, years later, to see his family, the church and its parishioners now act as his family. God’s love and light continue to guide him through his travels and postings and in spreading the word of Jesus Christ to all who wish to hear it.