Pope Francis has named Father Thanh Thai Nguyen as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange. Father Nguyen, 64, currently serves as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville – the largest parish in the Diocese of St. Augustine with approximately 4,000 families.
The appointment was announced in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, by Msgr. Walter Erbi, Chargé d’Affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in the United States.
“Now that reality is beginning to set in, I need to start the process of letting go and letting God,” said Father Nguyen. “Yes, letting go of familiar places, familiar faces, Bishop Estévez, the presbyterate of the diocese, parishioners, and staff of St. Joseph and Christ the King parishes who have played an important role in my priestly ministry for more than 20 years,” he said.
Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine said he learned of Father Thanh’s appointment on Sept. 27, the day Pope Francis launched the two-year campaign, “Share the Journey.” The global initiative is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled their homeland due to poverty, violence, persecution, and war.
In 1979, Father Thanh and his family escaped Vietnam during the war. They fled by boat, and after 18 days at sea, they landed on the shores of the Philippines. He lived in a refugee camp for ten months before moving to the United States in 1980.
“Father Thanh knows the plight of refugees, and he understands their journey seeking a safe home and the ability to support their families,” said Bishop Estévez. “He has a genuine gift when it comes to ministering to people of diverse cultures.”
Father Thanh Nguyen was born April 7, 1953, in Nha Trang, Vietnam. He entered the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette in 1984 and served as a priest of that congregation for eight years. He was ordained a priest on May 11, 1991.
After ordination, Father Nguyen held two pastoral assignments in the Archdiocese of Atlanta at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Smyrna (1991-1994), and St. Ann Parish, Marietta (1994-1996). He came to the Diocese of St. Augustine on June 15, 1996, and was incardinated a priest of the diocese in 1999.
In 1996, Bishop John J. Snyder assigned Father Nguyen as parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish, Jacksonville, and in 2001 he was named administrator. A few months later, in September, Bishop Victor Galeone appointed him pastor. Through his leadership and initiative, he brought harmony to the Vietnamese community by celebrating a Sunday Mass in Vietnamese and building a Vietnamese Center where cultural traditions among the youth and elderly are preserved.
Bishop Estévez appointed Father Nguyen pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Jacksonville in 2014. He has been instrumental in strengthening the faith community by celebrating its cultural diversity through parish events throughout the year. He has also built a social/youth hall and added a youth Mass. The parish is about to launch a $4-million capital campaign for parish improvements.
“Father Thanh has not only promoted unity in the parish, but he has fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than any other parish in the diocese,” said Bishop Estévez.
The history of the Diocese of Orange dates back to 1776 with the founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano. Today, the southern California diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Kevin Vann, is the 10th largest and one of the fastest growing in the nation with 1.3 million Catholics. The culturally diverse diocese has 62 parishes.
Bishop-elect Nguyen will lead the large Vietnamese Catholic community in Orange.