Br John Nguyen

The ‘Do not call register’ is one of the most useful tools to stop those unwanted calls especially from telemarketers. Unfortunately stopping God from calling or placing Him on that list does not work. He is by far the most persistent caller I have come across.

I grew up in Villawood, South-West of Sydney, Australia. I lived not too far from the Villawood Detention Centre. I was not a refugee but my parents were. They escaped Vietnam and finally arrived to Sydney in June 1982. My mother was pregnant with me at the time. I was born on the 28 November 1982. I am the second of seven children.

Rewinding back to my childhood, my first recollection of the calling to the priesthood began after my First Holy Communion at age seven. I remember a couple of times when surrounded by my brothers and cousins, I would use my First Mass Book and pretend to be a priest with juice or soft drinks, and circle shaped bread slices.

At the end of grade three I really wanted to be an altar boy. My older brother, Phi was already serving and I said to myself “if he could, why can’t I.” I do not know if it was sibling rivalry or some attraction, but whatever it was I wanted to be up there too. My only obstacle was that I was one grade too young. That didn’t deter me though. I just couldn’t wait with the rest of my classmates until early the following year. After some begging, I successfully managed to convince Fr Kevin Spillane, my parish priest of Sacred Heart Villawood to be an altar boy. He allowed me to serve weekly over the summer holidays. He must of had seen something in me. Basically every weekend since then I would altar serve for the Vigil Mass.

Throughout high school at Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield the calling to the priesthood was still present. It was something I kept to myself because I knew no one would understand what I was going through. I didn’t even know exactly what I was going through myself. In order to be like the other kids, I put the idea of priesthood aside and concentrated on the things I enjoyed all the while still altar serving.

The idea of designing my own home launched me in to architecture. I took up Tech-drawing classes and dreamt of living in my own mansion. I imagined winning awards for my buildings, earn a fortune and be reputable in the field of architecture. My other interest was in acting. Being inspired by Billy Elliot I got myself a casting agent and started attended drama classes. Since acting was so foreign to my parents it took a lot of perseverance to finally get some support.

At the end of high school my mum advised me in Vietnamese “to do something constructive first and then whatever you want later on.” I took that as doing architecture first and to pursue acting at a later stage. In 2001, I was accepted for architecture at the University of Newcastle and moved away from home.

I thought I’d grow out of being an altar boy when I moved away from home to Newcastle to study but it didn’t happen. Even there I was altar serving for Fr Dom Carrigan CSsR, the Campus Chaplain. It feels like serving is innate in me and cannot be suppressed.

Contrary to my plans of retiring as an altar boy, God had other plans in store. En route to the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany I altar served daily for Cardinal George Pell. After Mass while in Greece His Eminence asked me, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?” Up to that point I would deny this to anyone who had asked me that same question. This time it wasn’t just anybody asking but the Cardinal. Timidly I responded “Yes” for the first time. What he said next stayed with me permanently. He said, “You’ve got all the qualities of becoming a priest.” This was definitely coming from someone who would understand what I’d been going through. Throughout the remaining pilgrimage to Cologne, those words echoed unceasingly. At the WYD Final Mass I had the opportunity to also altar serve for Pope Benedict XVI. I couldn’t believe I was serving His Holiness. In 2006 while revisiting Europe for a Marian pilgrimage I was honoured to altar serve inside St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. God certainly took me to places I would never had imagined if I didn’t say ‘yes’ to serving Him each week.

Around this time, God’s call to the priesthood intensified and I was fighting hard not to answer Him. He just wouldn’t leave me alone even when I was preoccupied with architecture. On the side I was also acting. I had my five seconds of fame when I scored a role in Little Fish opposite Cate Blanchett, and as a regular extra for channel Seven’s "Headland". I had fulfilled my dream.

Temporarily leaving my worldly aspirations I dedicated a whole year serving God doing youth ministry with Catholic Youth Services and seriously discerning my vocation in 2008. This also coincided with the year that World Youth Day was held in Sydney, so I allowed the theme "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts1:8) guide me.

While on team I was surrounded by other young, energetic people also discerning. I believe that God had put us together so that we’re not alone on this journey of discernment. My spiritual director during those twelve months was Fr Robert Stewart. He helped me discerned my vocation. One advice he gave me while doubting my calling was to counter the list of excuses ‘why I shouldn’t?’ with the reasons ‘why I should?’

A week before WYD before the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, my desires became clearer. My motives for continuing architecture and acting were all selfish: pride, wealth, and fame. It was all about me. I finally came to my senses. The focus shouldn’t be on me but on God and others. It was then and there that I eliminated the idea of architecture and acting.

WYD week moved me so much that I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to ask Fr Robert if a friend and I could spend some time discerning and digesting the past week. The following week we stayed at the former Capuchin seminary. There we prayed, discerned, reflected and cleaned up the mess left behind by the international Friars. Usually I would complain but this time I was really at peace and happy cleaning for these brothers out of love. Brothers I don’t really know. It was the same inner peace I had discovered while in Assisi. While cleaning, Fr Lam asked my friend and I to have a pair of shoes that was left behind. One was a pair of black shoes while the other was a worn down pair of brown sandals. Symbolically, if I were to choose the black shoes I knew I was choosing the seminary. The sandals represented the Capuchins. I ended choosing the sandals.

A couple of months later I applied to join postulancy and was greeted with the words “Welcome to the family.” The Lord has led me here and has blessed me with so many brothers. These brothers have made similar sacrifices that I have made. These brothers are also going through daily conversion, trusting in God, striving for holiness, serving others, witnessing to the world and are at peace and are happy. These brothers answered God’s calling. God is not a telemarketer who promotes junk but offers what the world cannot give. I’m glad I’m answering His call with my ‘fiat.’

I made my first vows on the Feast of St Charbel Makhluf on the 24 July 2010. My Feast day is on the memorial of the Martyrdom (or Beheading) of St John the Baptist on the 29 August. I am currently (mid-2013) a theology student.