Preparing for religious life
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 each have the same call to follow in the footsteps of our founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon.
All of our students live at Sacred Heart Monastery; three of them — Fraters Jonathan Nguyen Vuong, Jacob Smith and Michael Wodarczyk — recently completed their Novitiate and are in their first year of religious vows.
“I find community life to be life-giving, filled with joy,” wrote Jonathan. “We bond and learn more about each other in community. I do find academic studies to be challenging in formation. But even though it is challenging for me and other SCJ students I know that the knowledge we learn from our classes will help us in ministry.”
Our students introduce themselves below.
PHOTO ALBUM – Click here to view an online photo album with individual and group photos of our formation community, as well as pictures of our seminarians at SHSST.
Frater (Paul) Phong Hoang, SCJ
My name is (Paul) Phong Hoang. I am 30 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 bachelor’s degree in Biology. 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 professed my first vows in August, 2018, and am currently in my seventh year of formation. This year, I have returned to Milwaukee after being away for one year in Lower Brule, SD, for my pastoral experience. I am currently in my 4th year of Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology and working on my final vow program.
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, Juvenile Jail visitation, and Catholic Charities.
I will be returning to TNTT this year and volunteer at St. Martin of Tours, a Dehonian parish in the Milwaukee area. In my spare time, I enjoy playing soccer, billiards, and making YouTube videos.
Frater Jonathan Tu Nguyen-Vuong, SCJ
Hi everyone! My name is Jonathan Tu Nguyen-Vuong. I am 21 years old, which makes me the youngest member of the community but legal to have a celebratory glass of wine or beer now. I was born in Riverside, CA. My family moved to Louisiana in 2004 and I lived in Broussard, LA, for 15 years.
I am a newly professed Frater with the Priests of the Sacred Heart (SCJs), currently living at Sacred Heart Monastery and studying at Cardinal Stritch University. I am 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 of 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 work in a group or by yourself?” he said. 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 and Religious Orders. During my Come and See Weekend (on my birthday!) I was attracted to the vows that the SCJs must follow, the charism and spirituality of the founder, Fr. Leo John Dehon, and the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
One of my goals for next year is to complete and pass my courses with the best of my ability, so I can move up to my junior year at Cardinal Stritch University. Another goal for next year is to plan, prepare, and experience World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon Portugal with brother SCJs and Dehonian Youths.
I find community life to be life-giving, filled with joy. We bond and learn more about each other in community. I do find academic studies to be challenging in formation. But even though it is challenging for me and other SCJ students I know that the knowledge we learned from our classes will help us in ministry.
In my free time I love to play basketball and tennis, write poems and quotes, write in my journal, listen to Vietnamese or Christian music, read books, exercise, and especially, learn new things. I also meditate. I haven’t connected with a ministry yet, but I hope to pursue one that deals with social justice, located somewhere in Milwaukee, such as at a food pantry, or help in parish ministry.
I am currently involved in TNTT (Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, VEYM) as a Youth Group Leader to the Vietnamese kids every Sunday at St. Martin of Tours Church in Franklin, WI.
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 a 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.
I am now a professed member and a first-year theology student at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.
I like listening to music and being alone with God in a peaceful place.
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 and started there in 2015.
I made my first religious vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on August 15, 2020. I always 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 a spirit of love and reparation so, I can dedicate myself more intimately to God’s and our Dehonian service. I am happy to be a Dehonian, and I want to do my best to live as a Dehonian.
I am a member of the Dong Hanh group in Houston, also known as a Christian Life Community group (CLC). I was actively involved with the group when I lived in Houston. This group helped me to grow in my spiritual life. Therefore, I continue to contact them through the Internet.
I used to be a Minister of Care at the University of Chicago Hospital. In addition, I have just completed the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in the summer of 2022. These experiences have helped me to learn not only to distribute the Communion but also to provide spiritual care for the sick. One of my skills in encountering patients is to empathetically listen with a compassionate presence. Therefore, I want to continue to provide spiritual care and support to the St. Martin de Tours parishioners in Franklin, WI, this year.
I lived in Chicago as a candidate in 2017. I studied philosophy and theology at Catholic Theological Union. I am currently a seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology; this is my third year of theology.
I look forward to requesting the Ministry of Acolyte with the Priests of the Sacred Heart in the Spring of 2023. And I am applying for a Pastoral year in the summer of 2023 to experience parish life. I believe that a pastoral year will help me grow in my sense of ministry.
In my free time I love playing soccer, cycling, gardening, fishing, and walking.
Alfonso Pizano (candidate)
I’m Alfonso! I’m 43 years old and was raised in the California sunshine in Los Angeles. I have a bachelor’s in English from Mount St. Mary’s University and a master’s in Education from Loyola Marymount University. I also studied for a second master’s in Philosophy at Fordham University in New York. I am currently working on an MDiv at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology while I discern and prepare for Catholic priesthood with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.
I am a second-year candidate in the SCJ community. I bring a wealth of life experiences that will hopefully be useful in building up God’s Kingdom as we strive to serve the world with open minds and hearts by being agents of reconciliation and peace.
Before joining the Priests of the Sacred Heart, I was a Catholic elementary school teacher and have taught everything from 1st to 8th grade. In addition to teaching at various Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I’ve taught in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Guadalajara, Mexico. My work experience includes a long stint at Disneyland, where I peddled souvenirs, danced as a snowman in the “Christmas Fantasy Parade,” piloted the Monorail, and sailed submarines on a quest to find Nemo.
Along with my passions for teaching and Disney Parks, I love going to the movies. Disney and Pixar films hold a very special place in my heart. I enjoy theater and took great advantage of Broadway while I was a student in New York. I saw about 40 plays and musicals while I was there.
Overall, I’m just an ordinary guy with a disciple’s heart. I’m grateful and eager to see what God has in store for me as I am available to do his will.
Frater Jacob Smith, SCJ
Originally from Houston, I am 22, and a convert to Catholicism. I professed my first vows with the Priests of the Sacred Heart on August 15, 2022, following my year-long Novitiate.
I was not raised in a Catholic household; I come from a semi-religious Protestant home. After being confirmed a Lutheran, I left the faith for what I like to call “Christian Agnosticism.” But increasingly, I felt called to the Catholic Church.
I became fascinated with priestly ministry and approached my local parish, wanting to know what Catholicism was about. Two years after that first visit to the parish, on April 23, 2017, I received my First Communion and Confirmation. Eventually I realized that my call to Catholicism was also a call to ordained ministry.
I was attracted to the SCJ community initially because of the many opportunities to work overseas, as well as the vibrant ECS community I met during my Come and See vocation weekend. [“ECS” is the English and Cultural Studies program at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology.] This attraction has deepened because of the many Dehonians I’ve met who have had significant positive impacts on my life and who have shown me what the Sacred Heart looks like and can look like in how I live my life. I want to make that joy my own.
I credit SCJs such as Fr. Bob Tucker, Fr. John Czyzynski and Fr. Ed Killianski as being significant influences not only on my vocation, but on my life.
The meetings with the Intercommunity Novitiate Program were among my favorite parts of the Novitiate year. It was so refreshing to meet other novices my age and to discuss with them the important commitments we were all working toward. One of the most challenging parts of the year was being so far from my family. Halfway through my Novitiate my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that has since metastasized. I often wished I could be there with her, but I know she’s proud of what I’m doing.
Now I am back with the formation program at Sacred Heart Monastery and working on my undergraduate studies at Marquette University. I am also volunteering at St. Martin of Tours parish and sing with the Jubilate Chorale of Milwaukee.
Frater Truc Tran, SCJ
Hello everyone! I am Truc Tran and I am 37 years old. I was born in NgheAn Province, Vietnam. I have two sisters and two brothers. I am the second child in my family. My youngest sister is also following a religious vocation in my diocese. My parents are farmers. I graduated with a degree in Construction Engineering in 2011.
In 2015, I went to Saigon City to discern my vocation. I became a candidate with the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SCJ) in August 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. I completed Philosophy in 2018 at the Alphonsus School of Redemptorist Congregation in Saigon.
In August 2018, I arrived in the United States to study ECS (ESL) at SHSST. I began my Novitiate on August 14, 2019. The Novitiate was a good time for me to learn more about the Dehonian charism, the vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience), and the SCJ Rule of Life. These were all significant classes for me. They helped me to understand more deeply our founder and our Congregation. I professed my First Vows on August 15, 2020, in the Sacred Heart Chapel at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology (SHSST).
I am now in my seventh year of formation with the Dehonians. I always want to discover more about the SCJ Rule of Life and the Dehonian charism. I am living at Sacred Heart Monastery and I am in the M.Div program at SHSST. It is my first year of theology.
I am currently volunteering to work at the Saint Vincent de Paul thrift store. In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer, exercising, listening to music, and reading books. I also enjoy learning new things, especially in regard to IT and video.
Frater Michael Wodarczyk, SCJ
I am Michael Wodarczyk from Brookfield, WI, and am 34 years old. Prior to entering the seminary as a candidate for the Priests of the Sacred Heart I went to St. Norbert College where I earned a bachelor’s of Business Administration with a major in Accounting. I worked for Asenzya in Oak Creek, WI, as an inventory control clerk. I was active in my home parish, serving as a lector and as a Eucharistic minister. I also worked with RCIA.
I came to know about the Priests of the Sacred Heart when I did preliminary research on religious orders in Milwaukee. I found the SCJs on a website for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I was drawn to the community because of its parish ministry and daily Eucharistic Adoration.
I took first vows in August of 2022.
I wanted to profess vows with the SCJs because of community life, daily Eucharistic Adoration and prayer. I have grown in my faith, and it is the structure of religious life that has made that growth possible.
Currently I am in Theology 1, studying at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. Last year I was in the Novitiate.
I like movies. I like spending time with family and friends.
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.
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