Young Vietnamese nuns thrive at local convent

By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent

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NORTH EASTON, Mass. — Twelve Poor Sisters of Jesus Crucified reside at their motherhouse with six young Vietnamese Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who fill the Convent of the Sorrowful Mother with prayers, laughter and song.

“They love to sing,” said Sister Mary Valliere, general superior of the Passionist community; and the young Dominicans giggled.

For the past five years, aspiring Stonehill College students from Vietnam have been tutored in the English language by the Passionist nuns at the convent.

Originally, there were two Vietnamese Sisters studying at Stonehill when Father Bau, a Jesuit priest, began looking for a place for them to stay.

“We were the closest convent that could house them,” said Sister Valliere of the Brockton community.

A second set of Sisters would follow, spending the next two years with their Passionist teachers, and ultimately attending Stonehill.

“This new group will also live with us for two years, learning English, then moving on to different Catholic colleges that will offer scholarships to them,” explained Sister Valliere. “Father Bau hopes that when this group is ready to move on to the college level, some of them will receive scholarships to Stonehill.”

Since most of the Passionist Sisters are retired teachers, they felt the ministry was a good fit and a wonderful opportunity to help the Universal Church.

“They are still under Communist rule and cannot practice their faith openly in Vietnam,” said Sister Valliere. “Hopefully, we will help to broaden their minds, and they can help their own Sisters. The previous group didn’t even know what Vatican II was.” 

But the younger Sisters also have been a blessing to them, according to the general superior. 

“They bring youth, and I think we see what we were like when we were young and why we entered the convent,” she said. “Their Spirit touches our hearts, and reflected in these Sisters is the zeal we came into the convent with.”

The nuns from Bui Chu Diocese were interviewed at the American Embassy in Vietnam.

“Only so many can come to America,” said Sister Valliere. “They must prove that somebody is supporting them.” 

In their native country, the nuns work hard planting rice and vegetables, sewing and selling clothing, and teaching kindergarten. The government does not allow them to teach higher grades. Catholic children learn about their faith from their families and attend parish catechism classes in the villages.

The Vietnamese nuns shared stories about how they were called to religious life. 

Sister Quyen Thi Ta, 30, traces her vocation back to the day when some nuns brought medicine to her family and asked her if she wanted to become a Sister.

“I was very young, about six or seven years old, and I just smiled,” she said. “But my mother told me to answer them. So I told them: ‘Yes, I want to become a nun.’”

“I like this country’s freedom about religion and the lives the Sisters live,” she added. “The Sisters are generous with us.”

Sister Thoa Thi Phan, 29, will take her final vows next year.

“My father encouraged me,” she said. “He wanted me to become a Sister.”

But she wasn’t sure about her vocation until a nun at her parish helped her understand their way of life.

“Then I wanted to follow my father’s wishes,” she added.

Sister Thuy Thi Thu Tran, 32, received her calling in high school.

“When I was looking back at my life, I felt I was a lucky person,” she said. “I wanted to become a nun. God helped me in my life, and I wanted to give back to God.”

One of her siblings also entered religious life and serves as a Dominican at another convent.

One of nine children, Lanh Thi Hoang, 33, said that she thought long and hard about life in the convent versus married life and made the right decision.

“I love God and wanted to give my life to Him,” she said.

A sickly child in a family of seven children, Ngoc Thi Doan, 30, grew up destitute and hungry. She met some Sisters at her parish and asked her mother if she could become a nun like them.

“My family was very poor,” she said (her eyes filling with tears). “Because I was sick, my mother didn’t want me to go to the convent.”

But then her mother changed her mind.

“If God was calling me to follow Him, then God would help me,” she said, smiling.

Sister Yen Thitlai Pham, 32, said that she received a lot of blessings from God through her family. 

“I wanted to become a holy nun, but I am still a human being. I will need a lot of prayers to become a holy nun,” she said, laughing.

At the Brockton convent, the Vietnamese nuns rise early to pray and meditate, say the Divine Hours and attend Mass. English classes begin after breakfast.

“They would like some free time in the afternoon to sleep, but they found out that in America we don’t nap,” said Sister Valliere. “They volunteer at the nursing home in the afternoon. In the evening we get together for prayer. They have a little leisure time after supper. They like to listen to music and go swimming. We have a pool on the grounds.” 

While her charges travelled around the world to get here, Sister Valliere is deeply rooted in New England soil. A Brockton native, she was raised a mile down the road from the convent and attended Catholic schools. 

“When I entered high school, I got to know the Sisters and saw them at work; and I wanted to serve God’s people. But my reason for staying in the convent changed through the years. It was because I wanted to give my life totally to God.”

The Poor Sisters of Jesus Crucified and the Sorrowful Mother welcome Catholic women between the ages of 20-55 of diverse cultures and life experiences. For more information, visit their website at www.cjcbrockton.org.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts