Br. Long Nguyen, SCJ, prepares for final vows
His name is Vietnamese but Br. Long Nguyen, SCJ, is definitely a man of Louisiana’s bayou country. He appreciates a good gumbo as much as the Vietnamese dishes from his family’s homeland. And while he speaks fluent Vietnamese, his English is definitely tinted with a bit of a southern drawl.
Br. Long’s parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1975. Four years later, Br. Long was born in Texas. But soon after, the family moved to Louisiana. Br. Long was raised on Bayou Lafourche in Thibodaux, La. His childhood was a mix of Cajun crawfish and Vietnamese spring rolls.
As a child he never gave much thought to religious life. His mother was very involved in the family parish but the idea of pursuing a vocation in the Church wasn’t even a distant blip on Br. Long’s radar until he was doing undergraduate studies at Nicholls State University.
“I was studying sociology and mass communications,” said Br. Long. One of the requirements for students in mass communications was to write for the campus newspaper and shoot videos of life on campus. Often, his subjects were either the Catholic campus ministry program or the Baptist collegiate program.
“I got to know people who hoped to be a part of ministry with the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux as well as others who were applying to the New Orleans Baptist Seminary,” he said. “Getting to know them, I started to think that perhaps giving part of my life to God wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
How did Br. Long come to know about the Priests of the Sacred Heart?
“I sent requests for information to two religious communities and the SCJs got back to me first,” he said. Fr. Yvon Sheehy, SCJ, was his vocation director. In 2003, Br. Long took part in a Come and See weekend and then the Christian Summer Experience in South Dakota.
When asked about his first impressions of the community Br. Long said that he doesn’t remember the specifics of his first visit to the formation house, but he does remember the “smiling faces and welcoming spirit of those who greeted me,” he said. “When I first visited I didn’t know anything about the SCJs beyond their smiles but I decided to find out more. These years with the SCJs have given me not only a better sense of the Priests of the Sacred Heart but also a fuller sense of what a religious community is.”
Br. Long came to religious life with only a vague idea of what it meant to be a religious. “But I have come to learn that it is more than eating, working and praying together; it is more than ‘being holy,’ “ he laughed. “Sometimes ‘holiness’ even takes a vacation now and then…
“What has captured me about religious life, and in particular, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, is the humanness each person carries while striving to live in harmony with others. I think of religious as saints in process; trying to grow their lower case “s” to upper case. My own “S” can shrink to a weak hiss on certain days. But that’s our humanness. That is what attracts me to religious life, the journey to live in God’s image while still experiencing that which makes us human.”
Br. Long’s vocation was strongly influenced by several religious brothers whom he knew in high school and then in college. “Br. Tim [Br. Tim Lafleur, a campus minister at Nicholls State University] encouraged me in my vocation, but never encouraged me to specifically look at being either a brother or a priest. He simply asked that I carefully consider the paths available to me.”
As a candidate, Br. Long took courses in philosophy and religious studies at St. Xavier University in Chicago before entering Catholic Theological Union (also in Chicago) where he graduated with a master’s degree in pastoral studies in 2006. A year later, he professed his first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. His novitiate class included two other SCJs preparing for religious life as a brother: Br. Clay Diaz, SCJ and Br. Brian Tompkins, SCJ (Br. Brian is a member of the Canadian Region).
While in school, Br. Long was active with a variety of youth, young adult and outreach ministries. Following his first profession he moved to Raymondville, Texas, to minister with the SCJ pastoral team in the Rio Grande Valley. Now, he is a member of the community at Sacred Heart Monastery and splits his time between St. Martin of Tours parish in Franklin, Wis. and Sacred Heart School of Theology.
At St. Martin of Tours (where his former vocation director is now the parish pastor) much of his time is filled with teaching. He teaches the Sunday component in the RCIA program, teaches in the LifeTeen program, gives presentations to CCD students, and prepares altar servers.
His primary ministry at SHST is with the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. In fall he is scheduled to return to school to earn an ESL teaching certificate.
“I come to know people through teaching,” he said. He especially likes working with people in the RCIA program “because it allows me to be creative in sharing my faith.”
Br. Long also visits the homebound. He said that he enjoys the visits because it is a way “for me to be a brother to them; I feel like I am bringing a piece of the outside world to them; I share a bit of myself and the parish with them and they share themselves with me.”
“Being a brother to others” is what Br. Long says is most fulfilling to him about his vocation. However, it also is one of his greatest challenges in ministry. “It can be difficult to ‘be a brother’ to others sometimes when they do not have a concept of what a religious brother is,” he said. “But it is also another teaching moment for me, another way to share my faith with others.”
In between his ministries with the ESL program and at St. Martin of Tours, Br. Long is now preparing for final vows. He hopes to make his final profession later this year.
“I’ve come to know a lot about the community beyond those smiling faces that I first met seven years ago,” said Br. Long. “In particular, I’ve come to know that this is where my vocation belongs.”