About the Vietnamese Dominican Fathers outside their home country:
A Brief History about the Regional Vicariate of St. Vincent Liêm

A Brief History

I.  A Dream of Being Together

Every human institution has its history of establishment.  Unlike any other Dominican Vicariates, St. Vincent Liem Vicariate had a different beginning and development.  The Vicariate did not come into existence because of the growth of the Province but was established to gather the Vietnamese Dominicans who for different reasons had been abroad and scattered over many countries outside Vietnam in order to safeguard their Dominican vocation and to support the brothers at home in their difficult time.

The historical event of 1975 forced some Vietnamese Dominicans to escape from their country of birth and to migrate and settle in different countries, such as Argentine, Canada, United States, Australia, and the Philippines.  These Dominicans, together with those Friars who had already studied abroad before 1975 in Europe, America, and the Philippines, formed a group named “Vietnamese Dominicans Oversea”.  In that situation, Fr. Joseph Nguyen Cong Ly, who was at the time a General Master’s Assistant in Rome asked the Master of the Order to allow the Vietnamese Dominicans Oversea to gather and establish a new Vicariate.  After corresponding with and receiving a permit from the Province in Vietnam, Fr. Joseph Nguyen called the Vietnamese Dominicans studying in Europe to a meeting.  It was held in Bologna, Italy from Dec 27-30, 1978 in order to discuss and to find out how to form a new vicariate.  During this meeting, the brothers decided to have a meeting with all the brothers living and working in North America where the majority of Vietnamese Dominicans had settled.  As a result, from August 8th to the 10th in 1979, the Vietnamese Dominicans in Europe came to Houston to attend the historic meeting which drew 12 Friars.  Before going to the meeting, Fr. Dominic Pham van Bao, O.P. who was ministering to the Vietnamese Immigrants in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, talked with Bishop of Calgary about the brothers’ intention to establish a Vicariate for the Vietnamese Dominicans Oversea.  Thus, Bishop Paul O’Byrne wrote a letter dated August 2, 1979 inviting the brothers to come and establish a vicariate in Calgary.  Having read and discussed the letter, all the brothers came to these two following decisions: 1) to establish a Vietnamese Dominican Vicariate in Calgary and 2) to appoint Fr. Nguyen Cong Ly to be their representative to make it happen.

The reason Calgary was chosen to establish a Vicariate was because the Provincials in the States wanted the brothers to join the local Provinces, and that Calgary had few advantages.  There was a very warm welcome and support from the local Ordinary, Alberta had no Dominican presence, and lastly the majority of the brothers had lived in the United States and Canada.  These two countries have the same language and culture, difficulty crossing over the border was minimal as well as a large population of Vietnamese immigrants were living in Alberta.

The brothers delegated Fr. Ly upon returning to Rome to submit their request which the Master of the Order gladly accepted.  Fr. Ly began to speed up the process of establishing a Vicariate in Calgary.  First Fr. Ly wrote a letter to the Canadian Provincial, Fr. Jean Marc Gay, petitioning for the Vicariate’s establishment.  On February 22, 1980, the Canadian Provincial together with his council agreed to let the brothers establish the Vicariate in Alberta for a 10 year period.  Although a letter of approval from the Canadian Province and the Bishop of Calgary had been received, the Master of the Order asked for feedback in the form of a letter from the Provinces that had connection with the Vietnamese brothers: Toulouse, Chile, Argentine, New York, Canada, Oakland, Chicago, Fribourg, the Philippines, Holy Rosary and New Orleans.  All the Provinces except one agreed for the Vietnamese Vicariate to be established in Calgary.  As a result, on the 9th of November, 1980, the Master of the Order signed a letter appointing Fr. Nguyen Cong Ly, O.P. as the Vicar Provincial of St. Vincent Liem Vicariate in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

In order to assure the Vicariate’s future, Fr. Ly visited Fr. Jean Marc Gay, the Canadian Provincial in Montreal and asked him to come to Calgary and meet with Bishop Paul O’Byrne of Calgary.  During this meeting Fr. Ly asked the Bishop to let the Vietnamese Dominicans take care of a Canadian Parish in order for the brothers to support themselves and to establish a temporary office of the Vicariate.  On January 31, 1980, Bishop O’Byrne appointed Fr. Dominic Bao, O.P. Pastor of St. Anne Parish and entrusted its pastoral work to the Dominicans.  Two days later Fr. Ly arrived in Calgary from Rome.  While Fr. Ly was in residence at St. Anne’s Church he was appointed as Administrator of the Vietnamese Catholic Community in Calgary.  That was how the first community of the Vicariate came into being.  Soon after the establishment additional brothers gradually came to join the Vicariate in Calgary.

II.  Initial Difficulties

Difficulties started on July 24th 1980, when the Canadian Province unilaterally sent the brothers a letter of agreement limiting the Vicariate’s sovereignty.  According to the agreement, the Vicariate would be temporary for a period of 10 years and not allowed to become a Province in the future.  As a result, the Vicariate was not allowed to accept vocation and therefore those who would like to join the Dominican life would need to enter the Canadian Province.  Any brother of the Vicariate would require permission from the Canadian Provincial to work outside its territory.  The Vicariate was not allowed to erect new facilities without the permission of the Province’s and the local Ordinary’s.  Lastly, every three years, the Vicariate was compelled to report its situation to the Canadian Province.

Facing the dilemma, Fr. Nguyen Cong Ly was forced to sign the agreement so that the Vicariate would be established.  Soon after the Vicariate felt some pressure from the United States’ Provinces who had come to an agreement as indicated below, giving the Vicariate no choice but to accept the conditions.

  • For the Vietnamese Dominicans who migrated to the States and were assigned to the local Provinces, the Vicar Provincial was only responsible for their professions, ordination, formation and reassignment to another Province.
  • Their direct major superior should be the local Provincial
  • The Vietnamese Dominicans must live under the local Province’s Statute.
  • Canonical Visitation belonged to the American Provincial
  • Any Vietnamese entering the Dominican Order in the United States should enter the Order in one of the American Provinces

For 2 years the Vicariate did not sign the agreement, until just before the end of the term of the Master of the Order Vincent Couesnongle, the Vicar Provincial signed the agreement on the 3rd of November, 1982 in New Orleans.

Three years later, 4 American Provinces together with the Canadian and Mexican Provinces submitted a petition to the Master of the Order requesting the Vicariate in Calgary, Canada be suppress and terminate as it was not necessary.  Fr. Damian Byrne, the Master of the Order, sent to the Vicariate a letter dated July 12th, 1985 stating:

  • “It was never envisaged that there would be an independent Vietnamese Entity within the territory of the U.S. and Canada… Thus, the Vietnamese Vicariate in Calgary had no reason to exist.
  • After completing their formation and studies, those Vietnamese Dominicans who would like to live together should do so as the Vietnamese Dominican group in Houston, that is that they must belong to a local Province.
  • They could return to Vietnam when the situation allowed and they could support the Province in Vietnam financially only with the local Provincial’s permission.

Having read the letter, all friars of the Vicariate filed a complaint to the Master of the Order.  In response, the Master of the Order, Fr. Damian Byrne sent the brothers another letter dated November 13, 1986 stating:

  • It will no longer be a personal Vicariate
  • The Vicariate is not allowed to expand outside of Calgary.
  • The members of the Vicariate are those who officially ask for it by writing and must live in its boundaries and not to include all the Vietnamese Dominicans outside its boundaries (thus, only 13 out of 29 Vietnamese Dominicans officially belong to the Vicariate).
  • Those who do not ask to be with the Vicariate must belong to the Province where they live.
  • They are not allowed to preach or work outside Calgary.
  • Those who made their vows before June 1986 can return to Vietnam whenever they choose.
  • Not to accept vocations
  • Within three months, they must elect their Vicar Provincial and his Council.
  • These will be effective immediately for four years.

In the summer of 1987, the friars gathered in Calgary and held an election at which time Fr. Dominic Ngo Hung Nghia was elected the Vicar Provincial.

When the General Chapter was held in Oakland from July to August 1989, the friars appealed to the highest authority of the Order in a letter of petition.  The petition was discussed and voted at a General Meeting on August 7th, and was turned down: 38 against, 16 approved and 8 abstained.  The Vicariate was facing a terrible future and the termination of its existence was not far off, in time.

In the summer of 1990, the friars were gathered again in Calgary to find a possible solution.  If it was decided that the Vicariate was to be terminated, most of the friars decided that a temporary solution would be to leave the Order and form a Religious group guided by the Vietnamese Dominican Spirituality while waiting for a possible opportunity to rejoin the Province in Vietnam.  The decision was supported by Bishop Paul O’Byrne of Calgary and the Provincial in Vietnam, Fr. Joseph Doan Thieu.

While the Friars were in despair, Fr. Damian Byrne, the Master of the Order announced his canonical visitation to the Vicariate from 2nd to 4th of April, 1991.  The Friars thought that the end of the Vicariate had indeed come because the Master of the Order would visit to carry out the decision of the General Chapter to terminate the Vicariate.  Nevertheless, after listening to each friar, experiencing our community and religious life, seeing the success of our pastoral works, viewing great reports from Bishop Paul O’Byrne of Calgary, the Master of the Order changed his mind and promised to protect the brothers and defend the existence of the Vicariate.

Returning to Rome, the Master of the Order sent to all Provinces in North America and the Vicariate a letter dated May 29th1991 asking for some feedback regarding his new position toward the Vicariate.  Having heard no opposition, he issued a letter containing the following decisions:

  • Granting the Vicariate’s continued existence with its constitutional sovereignty within at least 10 years.
  • Vicariate should meet all the needs of the Diocese and those of the Vietnam Province and may be a mother Province’s base to assist her program in training future professors.
  • Vicariate is allowed to promote and recruit vocations in the Vietnamese Immigrant Communities.
  • The formation of the Vicariate’s students must be done in one of the Dominican Centers in North America; otherwise, permission from the Master of the Order is needed.
  • Vicariate is not allowed to have more houses since it already has two in Calgary

From then on, a new chapter of the Vicariate has been turned.

III.  Period of Strengthening and Developing

1.  The Formation of the Vicariate
In the summer of 1991, Fr. Vincent Ha Vien Lu was elected Vicar Provincial to lead the Vicariate into the new era.  With his wisdom and diplomacy, Fr. Vincent Ha had gradually won the hearts of all North American Provincials.  On 24th of April 1992, Fr. Vincent Lu was invited to attend the North American Provincials’ Annual Meeting held in Quebec.  This invitation was an affirmation of the Vicariate’s independent and sovereign status.  From that year on, the Vicar Provincial has attended the North American Provincials’ Annual Meeting which during the last 15 years has been hosted twice here in Calgary by the Vicariate.  In addition, the Vicar Provincial has also been invited to attend the General Chapter which has the highest authority in the whole Order.

At the General Chapter held in Mexico 1992, the Vicar Provincial, Fr. Vincent Lu requested that the newly elected Master of the Order, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe permit the Vicariate to be under his Socius for English speaking provinces in the United States, instead of French speaking Socius under the Canadian Province.  The request was granted.

In order to strengthen the Vicariate, Fr. Vincent Lu petitioned the Dominican Curia and the Canadian Provincial, Fr. Thomas Potvin to allow the Vicariate to work in all parts of Western Canada and establish a house in Vancouver, B.C. in supporting the friars’ pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  At the end of 1994, with the Canadian Province’s approval, Dominican Curia allowed the Vicariate to expand its ministry to all parts of Western Canada.  As a result, St. Martin de Porres’ House was erected in Vancouver in 1996.

During the first week of January 1997, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Order together with his Socius made his canonical visitation with the Vicariate.  After the visitation, the Master of the Order lifted the two limitations (existence for 10 years and vocations among the Vietnamese communities only) that his predecessor had imposed on the Vicariate.  This allows the Vicariate to be present for an unlimited time and to accept any vocations it may have.  Thus, the Vicariate’s legal status had been confirmed and finalized.

2.   Recruiting Vocations
In addition to strengthening its legal status, the Vicariate has quickly recruited more vocations to meet its future pastoral needs.  Vocational Director has been respectively appointed to Fr. Peter Pham Van Huong, Joseph Tran Quang Thien, and presently Fr. John Baptist Doan Binh Minh.  In the summer of 1991 alone, 12 young men came and stayed at the Vocation House for one year to explore the Dominican spirituality and to discern their vocations.  Besides the fresh vocations in North America, some Vietnamese Dominicans who had left the country and came here as refugees, also added to the numbers of friars of the Vicariate.  Here are the list of our new ordained friars:  Joseph Tran Trung Liem and Joseph Nguyen Thuan (1993), Peter Tran Cong Hung and John Baptist Nguyen Nghieu (1996), Anthony Dinh Minh Tien (1998), Joseph Dang Quoc An (1999), John Baptist Nguyen Duc Vuong (2000), Vincent Dinh Ngoc Thao (2001), John Baptist Doan Minh Minh (2003), Joseph Ngo Van Thich (2005).  Presently, the Vicariate has 06 brothers studying theology in the United States, 02 postulants finishing their philosophy one of whom will join the Novitiate this summer (2006).

3.   Apostolic Works
At first, the Vicariate was only in charge of one Canadian parish in Calgary and two Vietnamese Communities, one in Calgary and the other in Edmonton.  With the increase of members, the Vicariate has expanded its ministries on other fields.  For campus ministry, the Vicariate’s pioneers were Fr. Nguyen Van Diep and Larry Chu Van Quang, and then followed by Fr. Ha Vien Lu, Vu Tien Dat, Dinh Van Nghi, Tran Trung Dung, Pham Van Huong, Nguyen Tat Thang, and Tran Trung Liem.  Since joining the Vicariate in 1987, Fr. Joseph Pham Van Tuynh has been its pioneer in chaplaincy at hospitals and nursing homes across the city of Calgary.  Following him were Fr. Dominic Ngo Hung Nghia (d. 2004) and then Chu Van Quang.

In addition to the above ministries, since 1993 the Western Province in the USA has officially entrusted to the Vicariate the Vietnamese Dominican Laity of their territory.  That same year, the Vicariate started its ministry in the mass media with the publication of its “Chan Ly Magazine” the pioneer being Fr. Peter Pham Van Huong.  A few years later Fr. Joseph Dinh Van Nghi founded “Hieu Liem Radio” a station in Vancouver.

In 1985, Bishop of Calgary allowed the Vietnamese Catholic Community to become a Parish and entrusted it under the care of the Vietnamese Dominicans indefinitely.  Bishop of Calgary appointed first Fr. Dominic Pham Van Bao, and then in 1996 Fr. Joseph Tran Duc Hau to be Pastors of two other Canadian parishes in his Diocese.  In 1988, the Vicariate accepted to take care of the Vietnamese Catholic Community in Vancouver and assigned Fr. Joseph Nguyen Ngoc Phi to be its Administrator.  In 1998, this community has been merged with St. Joseph parish which the Archdiocese of Vancouver entrusted to the Vietnamese Dominicans.  Since 1995, the Vietnamese Catholic Community of the Archdiocese of Edmonton has become a parish named after the Vietnamese Martyrs.

In 1994, the Vicariate accepted the invitation from the Western Province in the States and sent Fr. Paul Tran Trung Dung to Phoenix to be the Administrator of the Vietnamese Catholic Community while residing at the rectory with the Dominicans who were in charge of the American and Mexican communities.  In 2003, the Western Province withdrew its priests from the parish but the Bishop of Phoenix asked the Vicariate to continue its ministry. With the Western Province’s approval, the Vicariate accepted the invitation and requested the Vietnamese Catholic Community be separated from the English and Mexican parish.  The request was granted.  Right now the Vietnamese Catholic Community has been raising funds to build its own church.  When the church building is fully constructed, the community will become a parish.

In 2000, through the Eastern Province’s mediation, the Vicariate accepted an invitation of the Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, USA to be in charge of the Vietnamese Martyrs’ Parish which had about 6 thousand parishioners.

In 1999, Fr. Paul Tran Trung Dung was elected Vicar Provincial to replace Fr. Vincent Ha Vien Lu who had finished his second term.  The new Vicar Provincial has pushed to expand more apostolic works for the Friars as well as to renew the contracts with the Dioceses where the Vicariate had its priests serving at.  At the present, the Vicariate has signed long term contracts to serve with the Dioceses of Calgary (for Holy Trinity Parish), Phoenix (for Queen of the Vietnamese Martyrs) and Arlington (for the Vietnamese Martyrs). Each contract is for 10 years and it is renewable.  Regarding the Vietnamese Parishes in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, although the Vicariate has no official contracts with the respective Dioceses, in reality those Dioceses have entrusted the parish to the Vicariate indefinitely.

4.   Infrastructural Development
In terms of facilities, the Vicariate started with nothing.  The Friars came to Calgary empty handed and less than a handful of friars.  Since there were so few brothers, they took shelter at St. Anne’s Rectory where Fr. Dominic Bao was the Pastor.  We also used the rectory as the Vicariate’s office.  A few years later, when we had five members, we purchased a house located at 467 Canterberry Dr. S.W., Calgary and turned it into our base office and residence.  In 1985, when Bishop of Calgary allowed the Vietnamese Catholic Community to be an independent parish, the community decided to purchase a church.  Since the community was then pretty small, it had no money to purchase both a church and a rectory at the same time.  Fr. Joseph Nguyen Cong Ly, who was both the Vicar Provincial and the Pastor of the Vietnamese Catholic Community suggested the Vicariate purchase the rectory so that the Vietnamese Catholic Community could use the money as a down payment for the church.  It was a very great idea.  The brothers then sold the first house on Canterberry Dr. to buy the rectory adjoined to St. Vincent Liem’s Church.  From 1984, one by one, the Friars came to the Vicariate and worked in Calgary they were Vincent Lu, Joseph Canh, Joseph Dat, Joseph Tuynh, Joseph Nghi, Paul Dzung and few simple professed brothers arriving from a refugees’ camp in Thailand.  The rectory became inadequate due to the increased number of friars.  In 1989, the brothers purchased a house in North West of Calgary and moved the community to the new house enabling the rectory to become the Vocation Centre.  In 1998, the Vicariate sold the rectory back to St. Vincent Liem Parish.

The brothers had a facility located at 1549 W. 34th Ave. in Vancouver, BC.  Originally, the house was donated to the Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Missionaries of Charity) by a wealthy Canadian family.  Mother Teresa wanted to turn it into a hospice for AIDS victims in Vancouver but the neighbors strongly protested against her plan.  Having known that her plan had failed and the house might be sold, Fr. Nguyen Ngoc Phi (who was taking care of the Vietnamese community in Vancouver at the time) informed the Vicariate who contacted her asking for the house by a letter.  In November 1993, Mother Teresa accepted the Vicariate’s request without any condition.  The house became St. Martin de Porres’ house for Dominican Friars from 1993 to 2005. Since then the Vicariate purchased a new house at 1432 East 18th Ave and St. Martin de Porres’ Community has moved.  This new house’s location is very convenient for the Friars since it is just few blocks away from St. Joseph’s church where they are ministering.

Since the Vicariate has gradually increased in numbers, the facilities in Calgary have become inadequate for the present needs of the Friars; in addition the retiring Friars would have no place to stay. Thus, after being elected Vicar Provincial, Fr. Paul Tran Trung Dzung is in the process of building a better and more comfort facility to meet the present and the future needs of the Vicariate.  This facility will function as a Priory, the Vicar Provincial’s office, and St. Martin de Porres’ Shrine where people can come to pray and worship.  Even though there are few difficulties, we hope that the project will be started in a very near future.

IV.  Conclusion

This year the Vicariate celebrates 25 years of its presence here in North America.  Looking back to those years, certainly each member of the Vicariate has felt God’s providence and much of His blessings upon the whole Vicariate as well as each individual.  We give thanks to Him.  Also responding to God’s grace and blessings upon us over the years, it is best for each member of the Vicariate to live more fully his Dominican vocation and whole heartedly carry out the apostolic work to which he has been assigned in serving others, the Order and the Church.

In gratitude to God, we won’t forget to be thankful to our two former Masters of the Order, Fr. Damian Byrne and Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, the mother Province in Vietnam, all the former Vicar Provincials, our related Bishops, especially Bishop Paul O’Byrne of Calgary, the elder members, benefactors and all Friars who have been sacrificing themselves for the common good of the Vicariate.

Entering into the new millennium, our Vicariate has mourned the deaths of Fr. Joseph Nguyen Cong Ly, O.P. (2001), Fr. Dominic Ngo Hung Nghia, O.P. (2004), Fr. Joseph Truong Quang Canh, O.P. (2004).  May God have mercy on them.  Their passing away is a great loss to the Vicariate.  The torch has been handed down; this generation of the Dominican Vicariate needs to continue the work of the previous one.  With God’s grace, the brothers are determined to lead the Vicariate to flourish in all aspects.

Fr. Paul Tran Trung Dzung, O.P.

Regional Vicariate of St. Vincent Liêm, O.P.; Address: 234 - 24th Ave. N.W., Calgary, Alberta, T2M 1X2  Canada;

Tel. (403) 276-1323; Fax. (403) 276-7392; Email: tusidaminh@vinhsonliem.net; Website: http://www.vinhsonliem.net