VIE - Inauguration of new District of Vietnam

Group Vietnam inauguration


"May the SCJs leave a trace of love and reparation in this land”

From the concluding prayer at the inauguration Mass of the District of Vietnam

On August 12, the Priests of the Sacred Heart officially established the District of Vietnam, the congregation’s newest entity.

During a morning liturgy the formal announcement of the establishment of the district, with the names of its first administration, was read. Over 140 SCJs and guests were crammed into the community chapel to take part in the ceremony. Many had been there in April for the blessing of the SCJs’ first community house in the country.

Some guests sought space on the rooftop balcony but heavy rains (this is currently Vietnam’s rainy season) forced everyone inside.

The community took a quick route toward the establishment of a district in Vietnam. It was only a dozen years ago, in 2001, that the SCJs sent its first Vietnamese candidates to the Philippines for formation and further study.

Fr. Jerry Sheehy of the British-Irish Province was one of the first SCJs to serve in the country.  When he arrived, dioceses were overflowing with candidates for the priesthood. Numbers exceeded the limitations imposed by the Vietnamese government.

In 2003, SCJ delegates at the General Chapter decided to officially begin a congregational presence in Vietnam. Now, only ten years later, a district has been established.

Front of houseThe mission was blessed from the beginning with a number of candidates. In 2005, the first SCJ community was established in Ho Chi Minh City. The SCJs lived in a hotel in the city because the Vietnamese government did not permit foreign nationals of non-approved religious communities to live with the Vietnamese.  However, under a quirk of law, non-Vietnamese could live under the same roof with Vietnamese citizens if the roof was on top of a hotel. And so, the first SCJ presence in Vietnam was based out of a hotel.

Now, the Priests of the Sacred Heart is a community fully recognized and approved by the Vietnamese government so international SCJs can live with their Vietnamese brothers and candidates at the community house.

Fr. Jerry Sheehy and Fr. Halim Suriady (Indonesian Province) were the first members of the SCJs to live in Ho Chi Minh. In 2008, Fr. Yan Waleng, also from the Indonesian Province, joined them.

Prior to Fr. Jerry’s arrival in 2001, the congregation had a connection to Vietnam through the Franco-European Province.

A number of SCJ candidates went to France for their formation and studies. Many of these candidates were members of the  Fraternite Apostolique, an association founded in 1988 by Fr. Vincent Nguyen Cao Dung. Its aim is to give young Catholic students Christian formation. The association is an autonomous association; Fr. Vincent provides the formation. Such an association is the only type of involvement by religious communities in the field of education that is permitted in Vietnam.

From this effort a number of vocations became candidates for the Franco European Province. During the chapter of 2009, an agreement was reached to unify the congregational presence in Vietnam so that there would be only one Vietnam project. Because that agreement only took effect in 2010 there are currently still two Vietnamese novices in the Franco European novitiate in Brussels and three candidates studying French and theology in Metz and Paris.

With the inauguration of the District, Fr. Vincent will now be a member of the Vietnam District.

 VDH VietnamFr. John van den Hengel, vicar general, was the main celebrant at the inauguration liturgy. Among those joining him was Fr. Paulus Sugino, general councilor for Asia. During the liturgy, Fr. Rino Venturin was installed as the district’s first superior.

Remembered at Mass as the founder of the district was Fr. Jerry Sheehy, who died in 2012 of cancer.  His picture is at the entrance of the new house as an appreciation of his work but also as a customary memorial of the dead at the entrance of Vietnamese homes.

The community also remembered Fr. Michael Walsh, who, after his term as provincial superior of the British – Irish Province, joined Fr. Jerry for a year. Fr. Michael contracted the dengue virus and died in Vietnam in 2011.

Following the inauguration, guests were treated to a celebration feast.

The new district has 17 members: 10 priests and seven students. The students live and study for the most part in the Philippines. All of them were members of the Philippine Region. Now with establishment of the Vietnamese District, the Philippine Region just became a little smaller.  As Fr. John said in his homily, “This is a day of beginnings, but also a day also of endings. We end today the first phase of our presence in Vietnam. We begin a new phase.”

Concluding the inauguration those gathered prayed that the SCJs “may leave a trace of love and reparation in this land.”