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My full name is Anthony Nghiep Gia Hoang. I was born and raised in a coastal city, Vũng Tàu, which is a famous tourist attraction located in South Vietnam. There are four people in my family: my parents, my younger brother and me. My father has been a farmer for a long time, and my mother has been an elementary teacher in my hometown for more than 20 years.
My younger brother is a senior in high school now. I also have an uncle who is a priest in Vietnam in the Diocese of Bà Rịa in my hometown, and a cousin who is a sister in the Lovers of the Holy Cross (LHC) religious order in Los Angeles. Both of them are really holy and models for me to follow.
My parents are devout Catholics who always took me to the church every day since I was a kid. This spiritual habit significantly developed my sense of belonging with Jesus at a very young age. They also sent me to priests to learn piano with the aim of joining the choir at daily Mass.
So, I had the privilege of serving as a pianist in my home parish for nearly 10 years. St. Augustine said, “To sing is to pray twice.” Singing has such a unique way of bringing our heart, soul, mind and strength together to focus entirely and completely on God. Through these experiences, I have been very blessed to have such a great family and beautiful community in my home parish, which has really constituted my love toward God since then.
However, when it comes to a vocation to priesthood, it never stuck in my mind more than a minute. I always thought I would graduate college, pursue a master's degree and become a good English teacher and one day get married and have kids. At that time, discerning to become a priest seemed alien to me, and I always put it away whenever someone talked about that.
May 2022 was a turning point in my life. I had the opportunity to move to the U.S.A. to study. By the grace of God, I met Father Louis Tuyen Do, who is a great mentor and was pastor during my first year at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. At first, I faced a lot of challenges living in an entirely new country. He is the one who encouraged me a lot not only in my daily life but also in my spiritual one.
Then, I was fortunate to meet Father Jack Vu who invited me to go to the “Come and See” discernment retreat in Little Rock. At this event I was able to talk with Father Jeff Hebert, vocations director, and other seminarians about their daily life, their ministries and their vocation. After the event, I felt something like “fire” in my heart urging me to do things like them — to become a priest to serve the people of God.
I was really confused at that time, and I had many sleepless nights thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. Then, I talked to Father Tuyen, and he encouraged me to keep praying and pay attention to the calling God gave me. During this time of discernment, I went to adoration and did meditation in the chapel, and I felt peace and connected to God’s call.
When I became closer to God, I realized I could deny it anymore, and said to myself, “Yes, I am here to become your servant and your instrument." This is truly, in my opinion, a wonderful and mysterious way that God calls. I never thought that one day I would join seminary to be part of those who spread the Lord to the world and serve one another in the United States.
In my daily life, I pray the Lord, through the intercession of Blessed Mother Virgin Mary, will be with me to guide me, and give me the perseverance to continue my journey.
If you wish to contact Nghiep Hoang, please e-mail Georgina Pena in the Vocations Office or call her at (501) 664-0340. This article was published April 21, 2023. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.