The Legacy of a Good and Brave Shepherd
I was baptized in the Diocese of Vinh in Northern Vietnam, before my family moved to South Vietnam, where I attended Catholic school. After emigrating to the U.S. I became a local leader of the Friendship Organization of the Diocese of Vinh. Since its inception in 1980, my role permitted me frequent correspondence with Bishop Paul Mary Cao Dinh Thuyen, and I met him several times over the years.
Bishop Paul Mary was a faith model for me; though we lived thousands of miles apart, I often felt a spiritual closeness to him. When he visited Northern California in February 2002, the greater Vietnamese community had the opportunity to meet and talk with him face to face.
He entered the seminary at the age of 11 and was ordained a priest at 33. As coadjutor bishop of that diocese, he oversaw several parishes that lacked pastoral leadership. During his ten years as a bishop, he courageously steered his diocese through poverty, persecution, and other storms.
When the land of Thai Ha Church in Ha Noi was confiscated by the authorities, he was personally present and showed his solidarity with this community by declaring, “The problem of Thai Ha is also the trouble of Vinh and Thanh Hoa dioceses, and of the entire Church in Vietnam.” That was not the only time Bishop Paul Mary stood up to power in Vietnam.
During his retirement, the bishop continued bringing the sacraments to rural places and lovingly caring for the poor. Bishop Paul Mary rebuilt the Xa Doai Cathedral and built the new Van Hanh Cathedral of the new Diocese of Ha Tinh.
He founded seminaries, communal houses, and 30 new parishes. The Friendship Association of the Diocese of Vinh has provided scholarships for poor students there for over 25 years.
In addition to Bishop Paul Mary’s example, the Diocese of San José’s Institute for Leadership in Ministry, which I joined in the 1990s, also inspired me to study my faith more deeply and become more actively involved. I help with the marriage preparation and the family enrichment ministry at Our Lady of La Vang Parish. At Saint Victor Parish, I serve in the catechetical ministry and participate in the Cursillo Movement.
A few months before his death, Bishop Paul Mary reflected on Godʼs mercy. It was then I realized his ‘secret,’ which was not so secretive: he treated everyone with mercy. Those who met him could not help but feel his holiness, and the warm and caring heart of a father. He was a holy, wise, and courageous pastor. I consider having known and worked with him to be a blessing. Bishop Paul Mary Cao Dinh Thuyen died on August 29, 2022, at 95 years old.
From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely thank God for the gift of this good and brave shepherd from God to his people, whose example inspired and continues to inspire myself as well as others personally and spiritually.
Hieu Tran came to the United States as a refugee in 1979. He achieved a master’s degree in social work from Sacramento State University and worked for 33 years before retiring from the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services. Hieu graduated in 2001 from the Institute for Leadership in Ministry. A husband and father to three sons, he and his family are members of Our Lady of La Vang Vietnamese Parish and St. Victor Parish.