A Portland man has been ordained as a Divine Word Missionary and will leave for Central Africa in the fall.
Father Huy Khanh Tran, 34, was ordained May 20 in Northbrook, Illinois. He is the eldest son of Tran Su and Nguyen thi Tuan-Khoi and the first grandson of Tran Thua, all of Our Lady of Lavang Parish in Northeast Portland. Father Tran offered Masses this summer at his home church.
He sensed his calling as a boy in Vietnam, imitating a priest who came to say Mass in homes.
He immigrated to the United States as a teen in a brave Catholic family. His father and grandfather had been imprisoned by Vietnam’s communist regime, and upon being released sought freedom abroad. Young Huy wanted to stay in Vietnam with his friends, but acquiesced.
Father Tran, who admits he was a hot-tempered troublemaker as a boy, credits his family and Our Lady of Lavang for nurturing his vocation. In addition to being a server at the parish, he was part of the choir and youth group.
As a student at Portland Community College, he attended an Our Lady of Lavang Lenten retreat. His grandfather told the visiting priest, Divine Word Missionary Father Michael Quang Nguyen, about his grandson. After meeting with the missionaries, the young man decided to enter the order’s seminary college in Iowa and professed vows in 2010. He became friends with a group of Sudanese students and developed a fascination for Africa.
As part of his formation, he spent two years in Chad, a landlocked former French colony surrounded by political instability and radical insurgents but full of good people, he says. He speaks Vietnamese, English, French and Mgambaye, a local language. As a seminarian in Chad, he taught catechism and assisted at a medical clinic.
“When I stepped foot onto Chad, I experienced my initial contact with poverty,” he told an interviewer for his order’s magazine. “It was right there in the capital, kids living on the streets, kids who had only one meal a day and looked after animals to earn food.”
Other children harvested fields and were overworked. “We try to get them to school,” Father Tran said. “Education is the only possible solution to eradicate poverty. It was the best lesson learned. I decided to devote my life to education, teaching or managing a school.”
He was amazed at the lack of computer education in Chad. So he started a class from the ground up and taught it at the local parish. He taught with high expectations, despite advice to simplify. Students rose to the challenge.
“With commitment, we have learned more than just the computer. We have learned how not to let ourselves down,” he says.
When he returns to Chad in the fall, Father Tran will carry on priestly duties at three parishes, one in a city and two in remote rural areas. He’ll also continue work in schools, which are enrolling an increasing number of refugees.