20 Apr 2021
Passing on the faith
The Southern Cross | April 2021
Sister Cecilia Nguyen’s own faith was nurtured under the dark cloud of Communism and has survived war, displacement and resettlement in a foreign land. But when the gentle 72-year-old Dominican Sister speaks of her 50 years as a vowed Religious, it is her role in passing on the faith to Vietnamese children and young people that is uppermost in her mind.
“If children and youths do not know God, they therefore cannot love God,” she told The Southern Cross.
“If they do not love God then they cannot listen to their conscience and cannot spread God’s Word. Their journey through life will surely be empty and meaningless.”
Sr Cecilia was only six years old when her family of nine was forced to leave North Vietnam after the Communists gained control.
Like many other Catholic families fleeing religious persecution, they arrived in South Vietnam with “no money, no belongings, no shelter” and relied on support from the South Vietnam Government.
“After a little while, our family was amongst a group of Catholic immigrants who settled in Ho Nai, Bien Hoa province which is around 30km from Saigon,” she said.
“Soon after that a parish was established called Thanh Tam (Sacred Heart) Ho Nai; there I received my First Communion and Confirmation sacraments.
“Our family was then relocated in Go Vap district of Saigon where we were living closer to the church and school, which were more convenient as I could go to church and school by myself.
“During my primary level of schooling, I had seen Sisters in black habits and veils (Sisters of Mercy) and on one occasion when I took my sister to the hospital, I saw a nun in white habit and a black veil (Dominican). I was thinking how beautiful these Sisters were.”
After finishing primary school she expressed interest in becoming a Dominican Sister to her parents and when she was nearly 16 she entered the novitiate.
“From my early childhood, after reading the story about the life of St Therese of the Child Jesus, I was passionate about bringing Jesus and his teachings to many people through the ministry of catechesis,” Sr Cecilia said.
“I dreamt about it and put every effort into making my dream come true.
“I still remember the day when I made my final vows as a Dominican Sister…I was surrounded by God, my extended family members, my friends and all the Sisters in the priory. But the best part was I was allowed to visit my family after three years of staying in the priory without seeing them.”
In 1975 South Vietnam lost the war and the entire country became Communist. Many convents, priories, monasteries and schools were closed indefinitely.
“I could not continue my teaching and was not interested in retraining or learning a new skill. Instead I went to our large convent in the countryside and helped out with manual labour such as cooking, sewing, cleaning, gardening, visiting people in their homes,” Sr Cecilia said.
In 1982 she escaped from Vietnam in a small fishing boat.