A story of a latecomer

By Huy Joseph Nguyen SVD

I believe that I am a latecomer. Not because I am late to my religious vocation but because I did not know the Divine Word Missionaries even though I studied at Divine Word College (DWC) Seminary for more than four years. Why?

I was originally a seminarian of the Diocese of Phan Thiet, Vietnam. I joined the seminary after completing high school in 2011. My vocation started due to a simple suggestion from one of my neighbors.

He said, “The pastor just announced this morning at Mass that whoever wants to join the seminary can come and see him for the application to take the entry test.” Out of curiosity about the test, I applied, took the test, passed with the highest score and was admitted to the seminary. That was how I started my vocation. Very simple.

Yet, because of that, I did not know the difference between a diocesan vocation and a religious one. My vocation discernment ideal is also simple: If I am following this diocesan vocation, and everything still seems to be fine and possible, it is not yet time for me to consider changing direction. I thought that if God wants me to change, He will show me a sign.

In 2014, I moved to the United States with my family. I hoped to continue studying for the diocese. I enrolled at DWC in January 2015 after the school had received the letter of scholarship request from my bishop.
I was accepted to study as a diocesan seminarian. Upon picking me up at the bus station, Divine Word Brother Linh Tran asked me why I wanted to go back to Vietnam when my family already migrated here.

“Joining the Society of the Divine Word is a better option,” Brother Linh Tran said. Subsequently, many similar comments from different people continued to challenge me. Yet, I still held firmly to my title as a diocesan seminarian and not as a Divine Word candidate.

God gradually gave me different signs, and yet, I continued to find the way to justify my decision of continuing with the diocese. I tried to cover my eyes and ears and ignore whatever was stirring in me for I was so committed to my decision that I was not open to any other possibilities that God showed me.

God is so patient with me. Everything became clear when I gave myself a chance to look at other possibilities that I had missed. I was inspired by the simplicity and humility of the Divine Word Missionaries around me; I admired the missionary spirit of the Divine Word Missionaries who shared their stories with the students at DWC.

I appreciated the intercultural-community aspect of Divine Word formation, which helped me accept people from other cultures as brothers and sisters. I was touched by the meaning of the three vows, which I had never known; and I realized that my heart was burning whenever I witnessed people professing their vows.

God was patiently waiting for me to open my heart to see my vocation from a different angle. So, it happened. Like Samuel, whom the Lord had to call three times before he realized that God was calling him (1 Samuel 3:1-10), God also called me many times to make a turn and see something new.

Eventually, I made it after four years of wandering around with my eyes closed. The lesson that I learned is that to discern well one needs to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and see things from different angles. Openness is the key.

I am a latecomer. Yet, I believe that the Divine Word Missionaries love me the same as other candidates, just like the landowner who pays the same wage to the 11th-hour workers as to the first-hour workers (Matthew 20:1-16). It is encouraging and comforting for me to know that St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, and St. Joseph Freinademetz, the congregation’s first missionary sent to China, were originally diocesan priests. I also hope to love God, the Divine Word Missionaries, and God’s people more and more as I travel along this vocation journey.

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