Each year we ask our students in formation to introduce themselves in their own words. Reflecting the diversity of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians), as well as the Church itself, they represent a wide variety of cultural, educational and professional backgrounds. Yet they all have the same call to follow in the footsteps of our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon.
“I am thrilled to see where this life as an SCJ will lead me. I know it will continue to allow me to help and serve those who are most in need,” wrote Frater Henry Nguyen, SCJ, who is currently doing his pastoral year of ministry in Mississippi. Originally, he was to have a cross-cultural year in South America as a part of his formation experience, but as with many things in 2020, the pandemic got in the way. He is now getting to know our home missions.
Frater Hung Pham, SCJ, writes that he “wants to discover more about the SCJ Rule of Life and SCJ charism. I want to be a prophet of love, servant of reconciliation, and give attention to humankind’s appeals through Dehonian spirituality. I also want to live in the spirit of love and reparation so I can dedicate myself more intimately to God and service to the congregation.”
Removing their masks, our students introduce themselves in their own words:
Frater (Paul) Phong Hoang, SCJ
My name is (Paul) Phong Hoang. I am 28 years old and was born in Hà Tiên, Kiên Giang, Việt Nam. My family came to the United States in 2007 and settled in Houston, Texas. I graduated from the University of Houston in 2015 with a B.S. in Biology. I professed my first vows in August, 2018, and am currently in my fifth year of formation. I am living at Sacred Heart Monastery and attending Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
My uncle in Houston recommended that I reach out to the Priests of the Sacred Heart during my initial discernment. At the Come and See weekends, I was attracted to the SCJs’ simplicity, diversity, and community life.
I’ve been in various ministries since I joined the community, including the ESL program with the Vietnamese Association in Uptown Chicago, the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement (TNTT), St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care, Dismas Ministry, and Catholic Charities. In my spare time, I enjoy playing soccer, billiards, and video games.
Frater Hubert Senam Kodjovi Liassidji, SCJ
My name is Hubert Senam Kodjovi Liassidji. I am originally from Togo in West Africa and I became an American citizen on August 17, 2017. Born on November 3, 1980, from a faithful Protestant woman and a Catholic man, I am the fourth child of a family of five. I have two sisters and two brothers. I was raised by my mother, who taught me a lot about the Christian faith, though I did not have the opportunity to get baptized when I was a child. I converted to Catholicism and was baptized at the age of 19.
After high school, I studied physics and chemistry at the University of Lome, where I got my degree in chemistry.
I moved to the United States on November 17, 2010, and worked at many places. As I wanted to continue my studies, I moved to Iowa and worked at Iowa Automotive Component (IAC) as a forklift operator while studying at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City. I was majoring in Chemical Engineering.
My journey with the SCJs is comparable with the story of Nathaniel in the beginning of the Gospel of John. I never knew about SCJs. The first time I heard about them was from the vocation director of the diocese of Davenport in Iowa when I started discerning my vocation with them. He wanted to send me to study at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology because the school is known for its strong ESL (English as Second Language) program (now ECS: English Cultural Studies). Nathaniel was invited to approach Jesus for the first time. In the same way, I was invited to approach the SCJs by Fr. Tom Hennen, the vocation director of the diocese of Davenport, who encouraged me to get to know the community through SHSST.
Religious life is a call but also a choice. It is one thing to have a call but another to choose to respond to it. I chose to answer God’s call and through formation with the SCJs, I discovered and continue to discover my true identity. I recognize Christ by serving and giving myself to the poor and further, I become a disciple of Jesus Christ through the teachings of Fr. Dehon. As I have spent time with the SCJs, I have come to understand that the social action taught by our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, is a new way of evangelization.
I professed my first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart on August 15, 2019. Led by the Spirit, I enter joyfully, full of hope, and I will continue to find lasting fulfillment in my commitment and see where God is leading me on this journey to become a religious and a priest. SCJ formation has transformed me. I am in my second year as temporally professed. Recently, I renewed my vows in Mississippi on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The renewal of my vows with the presence of SCJs in Mississippi, and with people from Sacred Heart Southern Missions, has given me strength, courage, and determination, not only to continue my journey to priesthood and religious life, but also to be more available to serve the poor, the homeless and the needy. I am in my senior year at Marquette University majoring in Philosophy and Theology.
Frater Henry Nguyen, SCJ
Hi, I am Henry, entering my sixth year of formation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. I was born and raised in Orange County, CA. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University, Monterey Bay, in 2011. I recently completed my third year of Theology (2019-2020), studying for the Master of Divinity at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
In June, I renewed my vows with the SCJs at Christ the King Parish in Southaven, MS on the feast of the Sacred Heart. I am currently on my pastoral year working at Sacred Heart Southern Missions (SHSM) in northern Mississippi at the Catholic Social Services offices. I work with clients and their families in providing emergency assistance (food, clothing, and utilities) and by being a community resource to them. The daily interactions that I have with those who are struggling are sometimes challenging as I need to ask uncomfortable questions to truly assess their situations. Fr. Dehon wrote in his diary, “I would like to see no one come to us who does not leave a better person” and I strive to do just that.
The pastoral year experience is a period for discernment within community and ministry in preparation for perpetual profession with the SCJs. Aside from my work with SHSM, I am a part of our general communication team working on our Facebook “DehoniansWorldwide” and the congregational website, www.dehoniani.org.
I am thrilled to see where this life as an SCJ will lead me. I know it will continue to allow me to help and serve those who are most in need. During my free time, I enjoy listening to music, watching movies, and exploring the outdoors. I am still preparing for my half marathon that I haven’t completed due to its COVID-related cancellation, but I’ll “get it done” some day.
Jonathan Nguyen (candidate)
Hi everyone! My name is Jonathan T. Nguyen-Vuong. I am 19 years old, which makes me the youngest member of the community. I was born in Riverside, CA. My family moved to Louisiana in 2004; I lived in Broussard, LA, for 16 years. I am a second-year candidate of the Priests of the Sacred Heart currently living at Sacred Heart Monastery. I attend classes at Cardinal Stritch University, working on my bachelor’s in Humanities: Contemporary Society, having a mixture of history, philosophy, and religious studies courses.
I learned about the SCJs through Fr. Quang Nguyen, SCJ, vocation director, who came all the way from Milwaukee, WI, to celebrate Mass with the Vietnamese community in my hometown parish called St. Jules Catholic Church in Lafayette, LA. Fr. Quang is good friends with the pastor of the Vietnamese community there. After that Mass, he and I chatted a bit. He asked a question that inspired me to pursue my vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart: “Would you like to minister in a group or by yourself?” I replied: “In a group.”
I had never heard of religious congregations until Fr. Quang told me about the SCJs. I only knew the diocesan way of life, but now that I have begun living and studying with the SCJs I have a sense of calm. I understand the difference between diocesan priests and religious communities. During my Come and See Weekend (on my birthday!) I was attracted to the vows that the SCJs must follow, and the charism of the founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon.
I have felt called to the priesthood since I was in fourth grade. I went to a private, Catholic elementary school, and learned about God in school every day. When I transferred to a public high school, I continued to feel called, I continued to be active in my Catholic faith. I have a passion to learn more about God every day of my life and I know that learning about God will never be enough; I need to be a part of community life.
In my free time I love to play basketball and tennis, write poems and quotes, journal, listen to Vietnamese or Christian music, read books, exercise, and especially, learn new things. I also meditate.
Frater Long Nguyen, SCJ
Hello all, I am Fra. Long Nguyen, SCJ, and have been in religious life for a very long time. “Forever” characterizes my “being in formation.”
I am currently stationed in Mississippi. Getting to know parishioners who are originally from southern Louisiana, where I grew up, has been a gift. They are from Lake Charles, Opelousas, New Iberia, Raceland, Morgan City, New Orleans, Amelia and Houma. A few parishioners have connections to Nicholls State University where I went to school for five years. They pronounce my name with a familiar accent: “Fraaayter Laaaaaawwwwng”
Prior to joining the Priests of the Sacred Heart, my life was in Thibodaux, Louisiana. I professed my final vows 2010 and ministered for many years as a religious brother. I am now in preparation and discernment for ordination.
Some of my favorite ministry experiences have been here in Mississippi. A few days ago, I helped the Knights of Columbus haul pumpkins for their pumpkin patch. Hauling pumpkins required sweat, muscle and blood. Yes, blood! The stem of a pumpkin nicked a guy on the chin. During the course of the evening we talked about our work, families and life in general.
Meditation has become a hobby. I always take time for deep breathing, reflecting on the internal dialogue, my feelings, imagination and intentions. This has an effect on the body and spirit. I have incorporated meditation in my work at the parishes and received a certificate in teaching meditation (and mindfulness) over the summer. Currently, I am taking a class on using art with meditation. My goal is to help people strengthen their minds by tuning their internal dialogue, feelings, imagination and intentions toward God. This is where religious practices and devotion come in.
Frater Thien Nguyen, SCJ
My name is Thien Nguyen; my baptismal name is Paul. I was born and grew up in the countryside in Vung-Tau province in Vietnam. I have many siblings: three older brothers, two older sisters, and two younger brothers. When I was a child, I wanted to be a businessman when I grew up because my family was very poor and lived mainly on rice cultivation.
Fortunately, my family overcame those difficulties. My parents are very religious and they pray every day; they taught me the importance of this when I was a little boy. But when I was young, I really did not understand what prayer was.
For high school, I had to stay far from my home because there was no high school close by. I learned to live independently, to do everything myself. It was then that I realized the importance of prayer. Prayer continues to bring me peace when I am lonely or homesick.
I went to Sai Gon [Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City] to pursue my dream of becoming a businessman but after many jobs – waiter, textile worker, welder and construction worker – that dream faded. Impressed with construction, I decided to study Civil Engineering.
In 2011 I came in contact with the SCJs. I was still at the university, and the community life I found with the SCJs brought me a lot of fun and happiness. When I graduated, I was discerning a vocation to religious life, but decided to experience life, my degree and a new job. I earned good money and had a full life in the material sense but deep in my soul, I felt empty and unhappy. I struggled, but through prayer, I heard the call of God. I returned to the SCJs in 2015 to pursue my vocation.
In 2016 I began to study philosophy at St. Joseph Major Seminary of Sai Gon; after I completed my studies in 2018, I came to the United States to study ESL and enter postulancy, then novitiate, and I am now in the first year of the formation program.
Since I have been in the United States I have been very interested the situation of immigrants and admire the silent sacrifices of those who help them. In the future I hope to also be an extended arm of Jesus, bringing God’s love to those in need.
Frater Thuan Nguyen, SCJ
Hi, my name is Thuan. I was born into a small family in Dong Nai province, Vietnam; there is my mom, my sister and me.
I studied Chemistry in Sai Gon University from 2011 to 2015. I lived in the dorm of Huyen Si Parish, which is available to students to live and study in Ho Chi Minh city. I liked community life there and I felt called to become a religious. I knew about the Priests of the Sacred Heart in Vietnam through my neighbor, who was student with the community.
I contacted Fr. Thai, the vocation director, and I met him to learn about the SCJs. I was invited to Mass for the feast day of the congregation. After that, I decided to apply to become an SCJ candidate.
My first day as a candidate with the community was August 6, 2015; I had my first holy hour in the community. In that initial year, I studied English and Vietnamese in preparation for the entrance exam for philosophy studies. I passed the exam and I entered the Dominican Academy.
After finishing Philosophy, I joined two of my confreres to go to the US Province to enter postulancy and the novitiate because we did not have these programs in Vietnam at that time.
Now, I am a professed SCJ and a pre-theology student.
Frater Hung Pham, SCJ
Hello. My name is Hung Pham. I was born and raised in Vietnam; I moved to Houston in 2008. I graduated in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Houston in 2015. Before entering SCJ candidacy, I worked at the ALS Oil and Gas Company in Houston as a Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPH) analyst; I began there in 2015.
I am a member of the Dong Hanh group in Houston, also known as a Christian Life Community group (CLC). I taught Vietnamese and Catechism at Martyr church in Houston since 2013. I am currently volunteering to serve meals at the Siena Retreat Center. I am also volunteering at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
I want to discover more about the SCJ Rule of Life and SCJ charism. I want to be a prophet of love, servant of reconciliation, and give attention to humankind’s appeals through Dehonian spirituality. I also want to live in the spirit of love and reparation so I can dedicate myself more intimately to God and service to the congregation. I professed my first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart on August 15, 2020.
I lived in Chicago as a candidate in 2017. There, I studied Philosophy and Theology at Catholic Theological Union. Now, I am a seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
During my spare time I like playing soccer, biking, gardening, fishing and walking.
Celsus Robert (postulant)
I am Celsus Neil Robert from the Island of St. Lucia. I first entered the SCJ formation program in January, 2017. I am presently a postulant. Prior to formation as an SCJ, my career was in the social services field. I also enjoyed youth ministry, therefore, was highly involved with the ministry of my parish in Los Angeles
I am currently a first year MDiv student at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. I have undergraduate degrees in Social Work and Criminal Justice from Cheyney University (Pennsylvania) and an MBA in Healthcare Administration from California Southern University.
I am an extrovert who enjoys outdoor activities such as bike riding, hiking, gardening, etc. I also enjoy spending time with others in community. I am usually energetic and active and enjoy exploring my creativity.
Jacob Smith (candidate)
My name is Jacob Smith and I am in my third year of candidacy with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. I’m 21 years old and I hail from Houston. I am in my junior year of Philosophy at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
I was not raised in a Catholic household; I come from a semi-religious Protestant home where the Catholic Church was looked at with skepticism. However, my love of the history of mankind led me to ponder the truth in my faith. After being confirmed a Lutheran, I left the faith for what I like to call “Christian Agnosticism.” However, the Lord called out to me from the darkness and showed me the light of the Catholic Church and how brightly it burned through the pages of history.
I became fascinated with priestly ministry and approached my local parish, wanting to know what Catholicism was about. Lo and behold, I decided to become Catholic myself. Two years after that first visit to the parish, on April 23, 2017, I received my First Communion and Confirmation.
My fire continued to burn for God, but my passion for history also led me to develop a deep love for other cultures, which drove me to seek out a future as a religious missionary. Taking a bold move, I reached out to the SCJs and learned about their spirituality and founder’s charism, especially their ministry to those who feel rejected by society, before I ultimately decided, after much deliberation, that they were the order God was calling me to. I applied.
My hobbies include hanging out with my brothers in community, badminton, cooking various foods of different cultures, singing both on my own and in a choir, and listening to classical music. I also enjoy reading about international and Church history and discussing it with others interested. I relish walks outside to calm my mind and thank God for creation. My ministry is at Marquette University, where I am a member of the Liturgical Preparation Committee. I also serve Masses and act as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (Before Covid-19 struck!), as a Cantor, and as a Hospitality Minister.
Frater Truc Tran, SCJ
My name is Truc Tran. I am 35 years old. I was born in NgheAn Province, Vietnam. I graduated with a degree in Construction Engineering in 2011. I am in my sixth year of formation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SCJ). I am living at Sacred Heart Monastery and attending Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (SHSST). I am continuing in the ECS program.
I have two sisters and two brothers and I am the second child in my family. My youngest sister is also following a religious vocation. My parents are farmers.
In 2015, I went to Saigon City to discern my religious vocation. I joined the Priests of the Sacred Heart on August 6, 2015. In my first year, I had to focus on studying in preparation for the philosophy entrance exam. In 2016, I took the academy exam and passed it to start my philosophy program at Alphonsus School of Redemptorist Congregation in Saigon.
I completed my philosophy program in May, 2018. Three months later, I went to the United States to study in the ESL program at SHSST. After six months, I was accepted by the SCJs to enter the Postulancy. I have had many classes about the founder’s charism and spiritual life, as well as in the SCJs’ formation process. I began my Novitiate on August 14, 2019. The Novitiate was the time for me to learn more about the charism and spirituality of Fr. Leo John Dehon, the founder of the Congregation. We also studied the vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience) and the SCJ Rule of Life. These were all essential classes for me. They helped me to understand more deeply about our founder and our Congregation. I professed my First Vows on August 15, 2020, at the Sacred Heart Chapel.
I like to play soccer, billiards, and exercise.
Michael Wodarczyk (candidate)
I am Michael Wodarczyk from Brookfield, WI, and am 32 years old. Prior to entering the seminary as a candidate for the Priests of the Sacred Heart last year, I worked for a company called Asemzya doing inventory control. My previous education includes a degree in Accounting from St. Norbert College.
I came to know about the Priests of the Sacred Heart when I did preliminary research on religious orders in Milwaukee. I was drawn to the community because of its devotion to Eucharistic Adoration; it is one of my favorite ways of praying. I was also drawn to their parish work.
Some of my hobbies are watching movies, walking and praying. I enjoy relaxing, especially after a busy day. I also enjoy being with my family.
During the summer I was assigned to minister at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Houston. There I helped Fr. Rafael with pastoral ministries such as funerals and baptisms, as well as daily and weekend Masses. Another student and I also helped with parish office renovations, and volunteered at Martha’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen near the parish.
Candidates and seminarians for the Priests of the Sacred Heart live at Sacred Heart Monastery in Hales Corners (Franklin), WI. They do their theological studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology and undergraduate work at Marquette University or Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Our novitiate is located on a rural property approximately 15 miles south of Sacred Heart.
Are you discerning a vocation to the priesthood and/or religious life? Do you feel called to a life of community, prayer and ministry based in the love of the Sacred Heart? Contact our vocation director at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-609-5559.