Overcoming reservations: 
Experience in formation transforms shy student

Growing up in Vietnam, Hung Cong Nguyen wasn’t very outgoing and preferred to keep to himself.

The only time he really opened up was when he was working with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement (VEYM). He joined the group when he was just eight years old. Through his participation, he became an altar server, cantor and eventually a leader.

When he was 18, Hung’s family moved to Riverside, California. He and his siblings all worked at the family’s nail salon with their parents. The business was successful and the money was good, but Hung felt unfulfilled. His parents urged him to leave the house and spend time with people his age, but he just wasn’t interested.

A few years after moving to California, Hung found a nearby church that had a VEYM group. Craving that familiar Catholic connection, he got involved teaching children ages seven to 14.

“When I joined, I realized that the purpose of my life is to serve people,” he said. “It made me happy.”

As Hung participated more with the VEYM group, he stopped taking shifts at the nail salon on busy Saturday afternoons so he could be at the church.

“I could have a nice car, but have no friends – it was a waste,” he said. “I decided to go to church and serve the kids.”

As much as Hung felt fulfilled by his work with children, there was one aspect that really challenged him – the endless questions. “Where does God live?” “How can Mary be a virgin?” 

Hung struggled to answer the questions that the kids posed. “I went home and kept thinking about the questions they asked. It made me think that I needed to take another step because I didn’t have enough knowledge,” he recalls.

One day when Hung was at a VEYM camp, he met a former SVD priest who told him about Divine Word Missionaries. Soon after, he received a phone call from Vocation Director Fr. Anthony Cong Nguyen, SVD who told him more about the congregation.

Hung flew to Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa for a Come and See visit and his life quickly started to change.

“Before I thought I was an introvert” he said. “Then I came here and I couldn’t just sit in my room. The people around me made me work and when I served them, it gave me energy.”

When Hung went home for a break, his parents recognized the transformation in their son. They told him he talked more, smiled more and had a more positive outlook. 

Since starting classes at DWC, Hung has served as treasurer of the Student Senate and president of the Vietnamese Student Association. During sporting competitions and cultural events, he can usually be found on a microphone commentating or encouraging the student body. His enthusiastic voice spills from the speakers and fills the space with his newfound self-assuredness. 

Today, Hung is a pre-novitiate seminarian, preparing to graduate with his BA in Philosophy in May. In the future, he hopes to serve the poor as a priest. Specifically, Hung is interested in working with young people in poor communities who do not have an opportunity to attend school. When he was growing up in Vietnam, Hung said his family didn’t have a lot. He knows what it’s like to be in a poor family and that’s part of what inspires him to want to help others in similar circumstances. He also had the opportunity to accompany a priest in Vietnam who visited a poor community where children didn’t have access to education and often marry as early as 10 years old. He realizes how essential it is for young people to be educated in order for them to break that cycle of poverty and strive for a better life. 

Whether it’s in Africa, South America or even right here in the United States, Hung says he’s ready to serve and is excited to see where religious life may take him. 

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