Fr John Nguyen returned to Sacred Heart Catholic Primary Villawood’s parish to celebrate mass on February 26, two days after his ordination to the priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral.
Fr John has continued to be a familiar presence at the school since 1992 when he finished Year 4 and went on to continue his education at Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield and its then-primary school for Years 5 and 6. He was a special guest speaker at Sacred Heart’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2016, and played basketball with the students in sandals and habit.
When he completed an architecture degree, he designed a new church for the Sacred Heart Villawood Parish for his final university assignment. The project model was displayed in the school library.
His Vietnamese background and early interest in acting meant he was also chosen for a bit part in Cabramatta-based Australian film Little Fish, starring Cate Blanchett. But after years of alter service, youth ministry and World Youth Day events, the priesthood called.
Fr John also celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield, and said his early spirituality was nurtured by Sacred Heart’s school motto ‘Live Jesus’ way’.
“It’s very special to go back to the places that are meaningful,” he said.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey. I lost my brother and grandpa in the first months after joining the Capuchins, and studies were difficult.
“I had difficulty with English speaking and writing at school. I didn’t know how to write my own name until I was in Year 2. The beautiful thing is God equips those that He calls and He chose me. Those foundations – and the encouragement and prayers of family, friends and people along the way – all led to where I am now.”
In another special touch, Fr John’s mother sewed his chasuble – the outer layer of a priest’s clothing worn to celebrate Mass – as was once the tradition for those entering the priesthood. It was embroidered with the Sacred Heart in a nod to the Villawood school’s influence on his early spirituality.
“Home is where the heart is and for me Sacred Heart Villawood is home,” he said. “I was really excited to celebrate Mass there.”
Tony Davison was principal at Sacred Heart when Fr John’s younger twin siblings attended, and would speak to him after school as he waited to take them home.
“It was great to chat to him about his life’s journey,” he said.
“Even at that stage that there was something special about him, a spiritual dimension to him that you couldn’t help but notice. In the care he showed his younger siblings he was more like an adult than an older brother in high school. He was very nurturing.
Mr Davison said Fr John was a role model for students. “When he joined the Capuchins we at school prayed that his vocation would nurture him and be a place where he was happy and would find peace – and he has. It was wonderful to see him ordained.”