St. Mary’s Catholic Church has new priest!
Father Martino Nguyen is now priest for St. Mary’s Catholic Church
Fr. Martino’s story inspiration for others
Lisa Law The Americus Times-Recorder
AMERICUS — Father Martino Nguyen has served for the past seven years as an assistant priest, now he is excited to serve as priest at two churches he can call his own, St. Mary’s Catholic Church on South Lee Street, Americus and St. Michael’s on North Dooly Street in Montezuma.
Nguyen said he has experienced an extraordinary life, being born in 1976, during a time when South Vietnam was being taken over by the Communist North.
“At the end of the Vietnam War, I was born in the streets of Saigon,” he as he explained his mother and father worked for the U.S. government.
“My father, for example, was equal to an FBI director here in the States,” he said, continuing to describe the chain of events.
Nguyen said his parents were sent to a re-education camp.
“In other words, a communist prison. No one who worked for the U.S. government or who was well-educated was allowed to go to the hospitals,” he said, “because I, the unborn child, was a product of the enemy. In other words, I shouldn’t have ever existed,” he said, explaining the reason his mother was released only to live in the streets.
“It was 1975, my mother was seven months pregnant with me and she was eight months when my uncle carried my nearly lifeless mother’s body out of the prison in his arms. Because the Communists had taken over our house and imprisoned millions of people, I was born on the streets of Saigon,” he said, adding what he remembers of his parents’ experience.
“The government didn’t pay for anything. While my parents were in prison, your family would have to supply your food or you died of starvation. Also, when the family brought food to the prison, the prison guards would take 40-50 percent of it,” he said.
“We were also well-educated people and were not allowed in the hospitals. When the Communists would find the enemy on the street, they would push us to the countryside, on the border of Saigon and Cambodia; we were on one side of the river and they were on the other,” he said, explaining the likelihood of them being killed when they were forced north.
“This was during the time of genocides. The purpose was for us to get killed by the civil war in Cambodia,” he said.
Nguyen said he was nearly 11 years old when his father was released from prison.
“I didn’t see my father for 10 and a half years,” said.
Being the only child, he and his mother would go to church. However, according to Nguyen, it was not that easy to attend.
“In order to go to church, we walked through forest and swam through many rivers to get to the church on Sunday. We would go the capital of the providence, Long An. So my faith was primarily praying at home and what my mother taught me,” he said.
Eventually, when his father was released from prison through a program by the federal government which allowed the release of anyone who had spent at least three years in prison.
“We arrived in Chicago on Feb. 5 of 1993. They said its cold in Saigon when it’s 75 degrees. It was 30 degrees below when we arrived. We felt like ice. We went ice skating,” he said with a laugh.
“My dad is very supportive of me being a priest. My father always said, if he is not allowed into heaven, he will say, ‘You gave your only child to the world. I give you my only child,” he said with affectionate humor.
Nguyen said he also arrived in Chicago speaking no English.
“The only thing I could say in English was, ‘Me no speak English’ then; I found that no one in my neighborhood spoke English. They spoke Spanish,” he said with a grin.
Nguyen graduated high school and worked full-time and eventually graduated majoring in business, psychology and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin in 1999, while working as an investor with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Shortly after graduation, Nguyen went the seminary and was ordained on June 5, 2004, at the Priest of Diocese in Savannah.
“I love every minute of it,” he said with smile.
He also has served in Calcutta, at Missionaries of Charity which was founded by Mother Teresa, for the last 15 years during each annual vacation. He says he loves working with the homeless.
“I was engaged. My fiancée was the one who called the marriage off and told me God was calling me to the ministry. She said she would wait on me if I got out. I never did.
“I was very happy with my job as an investor. I was not at peace. God said. ‘Peace be with you.’ He did not say ‘happiness be with you.’ For example, someone may be happy doing illegal drugs or cheating on your spouse. But, deep down inside, you know you’re not at peace, because it’s wrong. So happiness doesn’t equate as peace.
“People always asked if I am happy being a priest. I say 30 percent happy when I marry a couple, baptize kids and do something good. The other 70 percent, when someone has lost a loved one, or a family is broken, or a church member has lost his job — this doesn’t make me happy, but I am at peace. I don’t look for happiness. I am a very peaceful priest. If we look for peace, happiness will come. If we look for happiness, we may never find peace,” he said with a smile saying many call him by his nickname.
“They call me Baptist Priest. I am very loud, get to the point and a great sense of humor,” He said with a wide grin.
St. Mary’s holds a Mass in Spanish at 8:30 a.m. and in English at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and daily mass at noon.
St. Michael’s Mass is held at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Father Martino Nguyen takes on his new position at St. Mary’s on South Lee Street and St. Michael’s on North Dooly Street in Montezuma.