‘I live to do God’s work’

Australian Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ delivered this homily at St Ignatius’ Church on 7 July to mark the 20th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

 SHOWING THE WAY TO GOD 

It has been thirty years since I entered the Jesuit novitiate in Pymble, Sydney. This week marks twenty years since my ordination as a priest. While twenty years may seem short to some, it feels like a long time to many of us who are advancing in age.

Looking back on my Jesuit vocation, God has been an integral part of my journey, and I attribute my presence here today to God’s grace. I am grateful to God for the gift of life and for calling me to follow as a disciple of Jesus.

L-R: Fr Nguyen Viet Huy SJ, Fr Quyen Vu SJ, Fr Trung Nguyen SJ and Fr Pham Van Ai SJ. All photos by Janark Gray.

When I was ten years old, God saved me twice. The first time was during a perilous journey across the Pacific Ocean on a tiny fishing boat with my younger brother, Anthony. My parents and two younger siblings were left behind. Our survival seemed impossible amid the vast sea and fierce waves. We faced a severe shortage of food and water on our way to Malaysia. Everyone on the boat feared for their lives, but by God’s grace, we were saved. Tragically, one boy my age did not survive. Without God’s intervention, we could not have made it.

In the presbytery before the Mass began. Despite the winter evening, the light through the stained glass brought a ethereal glow to this wide group shot.

While in the refugee camp, we were allowed to swim at the beach once a month. During one of these swims, I was on a float that drifted out to sea. As I tried to paddle back to shore, a big wave knocked me off the float, and I started to drown, swallowing a lot of seawater. In my desperation to swim back to shore, I found it was too far. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone grabbed me by the head and brought me to the beach. I never found out who that person was.

These two miraculous rescues made me believe that God saved me for a reason: perhaps to do His work. I am grateful to God for calling me to become an instrument of His service.

When I joined the Jesuits, my aspiration was to become a missionary, bringing the Gospel to needy areas. Serving and helping those less fortunate has always been at the heart of my calling since my earliest years in religious life. Faith in God is crucial for a religious because priests and religious face many challenges in their vocations. Despite these challenges, I was fortunate to serve as a missionary for twelve years: six years in Timor-Leste and another six in Cambodia.

Reflecting on the last twenty years as a Jesuit, I never expected to be where I am today. Many surprises, many of them unexpected, have come my way. Becoming a school director and leading the Australian Province was beyond my imagination.

Leadership today carries a lot of responsibilities. It is about service and fulfilling the duties entrusted to me by my Jesuit brothers through Fr. General. What keeps me going is a phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “God will turn everything to goodness for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). Therefore, love God and trust in Him each day of our lives, and He will turn everything for good.

Just before Mass ended, Fr Trung Hoang Nguyen SJ (above) parish priest at St Ignatius’ Church, Richmond, gave this insight into Fr Quyen:

In 2003 I was living with Quyen Vu at the Jesuit theologate in Parkville. At the time, was a firstyear scholastic and Quyen was studying to prepare for ordination. He was very studious and always thought a 3,000word essay was not really sufficient to cover a subject, because he had so many ideas and thoughts. On the other hand, I would struggle to reach the limit and often completed my essays in just 2,700 words! That’s why he’s the Provincial!

“Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Quyen’s priestly ordination. The graces of priesthood, I believe, are not solely for the ordinand, but are collectively to be shared with everyone. In his priestly life, Quyen has shared this grace with the people he served in TimorLeste, Cambodia, and all those he has ministered to, bringing love, hope, peace and joy.

After Mass ended, members of the congregation did not disperse – they all queued up to congratulate Fr Quyen and to have their photographs taken with him. But the first group shots featured his extended family, including nephews and nieces. In this image, his mother, Vu Thi Nga, stands by his left shoulder; his brother Anthony is in the back row, extreme right; his brother Patrick is third from left; and his sister Anne in in the middle row, wearing red. Two of his other siblings, Joseph and Mary, were in Hanoi and could not be present at the Mass. There are three generations of his family in this shot taken in front of the altar at St Ignatius’ Church in Richmond. The three Jesuits in the back row are (from left) Fr Nguyen Viet Huy SJ, Fr Pham Van Ai SJ and Fr Trung Hoang Nguyen SJ.

Fr Quyen's 20th Anniversary

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The St Ignatius Richmond choir. All photos by Janark Gray.

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