Article and photos courtesy of NZ Catholic, May 5-18, 2019
“Pray for us and pray for more priests,” requested the two first-year seminarians at Holy Cross Seminary in Ponsonby, Auckland.
Matthew White and Kinh Nguyen are both studying for priesthood for Wellington archdiocese.
Mr White had been a teacher at St Patrick’s College in Silverstream for the last nine to 10 years, when he decided to join the seminary.
“I’ve just had that call for a while and sort of ignored it. I finally did something about it,” he said. “I feel that God’s calling me here and I’m taking it year by year. I’m learning a lot of things about my faith this year. And happy to be here.”
Mr White said there had been some very personal difficulties that he’d been through in the past few years which served as some sort of “catalyst” for his decision to finally try to become a priest.
One difficulty was the death of his mum.
He said his girlfriend was also wanting to get married, but “I couldn’t do that until I have come here and sorted this out . . . until I’ve answered this call of God”.
He said he has heard the call in his heart for a while. “Not when I was little, but I’ve been ongoing for some years and I’ve sort of ignored [it]. I felt I was called to be a lay pastoral leader. I had to do quite a lot of training for that for more than five years,” he said.
After that training, he worked in a parish, which he thought showed that he had a vocation.
Mr White is not the first to answer the call later in life. His advice to those who have been ignoring God’s call and wondering whether it’s too late to discern is to “just do it”.
“Just listen and be courageous to accept that call. Act on it. You’ve got nothing to lose,” he said.
He also thanked his colleagues and students at St Patrick’s for being supportive of his decision.
Mr Nguyen is originally from Vietnam, where young men wanting to become priests are “super abundant”. He said a large number of young men would want to apply for a place at the seminary, but only a few pass the entrance examination.
Mr Nguyen said that after graduating from high school, during the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, he met a cousin who was a priest.
“I met my cousin who was a religious priest. I was really attracted by the image. I looked at him as holy,” he said. His cousin encouraged him to become a priest, but Mr Nguyen had his doubts.
“He asked me, ‘why don’t you try a religious order?’ But I told him, I’m not worth it. He told me no one is worth it because [being a priest] is priceless”, Mr Nguyen recalled.
His cousin gave him a list of congregations that he [Mr Nguyen] could join.
Mr Nguyen chose the Society of the Divine Word (Societas Verbi Divini) or SVD.
“In order to become an SVD member in Vietnam, we had to undergo university or college first. So, after passing the entrance examination to SVD in Vietnam, I had to take another exam to university,” he said. He joined the SVD community as an aspirant, while studying at the university.
After graduating from university, he spent another eight months preparing for another exam to get into the seminary. He passed the exam, but he was struggling with the idea of becoming a religious priest.
“I sought permission to leave the congregation,” he said. “When I left SVD, I was allowed to stay in a parish in Saigon and there my task was to help the priest prepare for the Mass, being an altar server. After a few months, I realised that I was truly interested in a life as a parish priest.”
A friend who was already a seminarian at Holy Cross suggested that he [Mr Nguyen] come to New Zealand. He said it was hard for his family, at first, to accept his decision to move to another country. But he said they are now happy for him and are supportive.
“Pray for your priest. No one can walk alone in this life. The priest needs your help and the help of other people as well,” he said.