When one first meets Father Peter, you notice his smile. Sincere, humble and amiable. Very inviting for conversation.
PAPA was honored to celebrate with him his 30th Ordination Anniversary January 9, 2023. He chose the thirty year mark in honor of the age Jesus Christ began His ministry.
Father Peter Nguyen or Phêrô Nguyên Van Phan was born on April 11, 1952 in Phan Thiet, South Vietnam. There were 5 brothers and 2 sisters. He was the middle child. Growing up in a devout Catholic family he served as an altar boy. He attributes his strong faith to his parents, pastors and teachers.
He entered the minor seminary in 1965, at the age of 11 receiving his calling to the priesthood. In 1972 he completed his high school degree. He attended the major seminary or college in Saigon diocese that same year. In 1980 he completed his Philosophy and Theology in Vietnam.
In 1975, the Communists took over all of South Vietnam. The Communists began their persecution of the Catholic Church by closing the seminaries; some all at once and others slowly step by step. Father Peter's name had been announced in the parish that he was soon to be ordained. Though Father Peter finished all his studies for the priesthood in 1980, he was not able to be ordained. His seminary closed in 1981.
The Communists would not give up. They announced that all who were to be ordained had to join the Army for two years. And so he joined the army. Unfortunately the seminaries all closed and he was not allowed to return after the two year hiatus.
Stepping up a notch their demands, the Communists insisted that if he wanted to be ordained he had to become a spy for them in the Catholic Church as an informant. If not they would execute him. Fearing for his life and refusing to do harm to others, Father Peter left his home and went into hiding from the Communists. Eventually he escaped via a small boat to Malaysia.
He relocated to Australia and became an Australian citizen. In October 1987 he joined the Redemptorists at the St Gerard Majella Monastery in Baldwin Park, California. Completing his theology studies, he took his first professional vows in July 29, 1989 and his final vows in August 1, 1992. He was ordained on January 9, 1993.
Father Peter is still very much active. He boasts of his many relatives: over 25 nieces and 25 nephews but he is the only one in the family who became a priest.
He loves serving the people and if he had to live his life again he would do nothing differently. His sage advice to those discerning the vocation of the priesthood is to read the Bible, live a Christ filled life, serve the sick and the poor, frequently go to confession, love the Blessed Sacrament, pray the Liturgy of the Hours faithfully, pray the rosary daily, attend daily Mass, and live in the Presence of the Lord.
He listened to the will of God, and pursued it as the Communists were pursuing him. He served the people when in hiding and now in his pastoral care. He wants to go to heaven and be a saint.
He is remembered for his beautiful smile, his easy going personality and his friendliness. He wishes all would remember him as a good catholic priest, a good Christian and a spiritually wealthy priest who wanted to share his faith with all.
Father Peter presently lives at the St Gerard Majella monastery in Baldwin Park, California. He is very active as chaplain of the Vocations Support Association ministering to the community.
According to St John Vianney, "A priest goes to Heaven or a priest goes to Hell with a thousand people behind." I am sure there will be 1001 waiting for Father Peter in heaven.