Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Vocation of Fr. Liem

Our third profile this semester was on one of our formation directors:

Father Liem: From a Herdsman to a Formator
by Quyen Truong

Father Liem Nguyen, O.S.B., has served as a formator at Mount Angel Seminary for sixteen years.  His vocation had many ups and downs before he settled at Mount Angel Abbey, but these experiences have deepened his calling as both a Benedictine monk and a formator. 

Talking about his mission during a recent interview, Father Liem said, “What I like the most about being a formator is to see the outcome, the success of my directees, and to see how they become priests.”  Father Liem continued, “I have experience as both a seminarian and a formator, so I can understand my directees’s feelings better and be patient to help them grow in their formation, as well as to deal with situations they may see and face in the future.”  Joseph Nguyen, a seminarian from the Diocese of Orange, said this about Father Liem: “Father Liem has helped me so much in my vocation discernment and helped me understand myself and others better.”

According to Father Liem, his vocation came about in a very unusual way. 

He was born Cuu Nguyen and grew up in a rural area of Vietnam.  As a child, he helped his parents to raise cattle.  When Nguyen was 12, he was accepted into a Franciscan boarding school for boys.  He said, “I did not think about the vocation at all; I went to study because I wanted to be with my friends and I did not want to herd the cows.”  When he finished boarding school, he was selected to study in a Franciscan seminary in Thu Duc, Saigon.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Nguyen had to go home because the seminary was closed.  Not much later, he was called by the Franciscans to the monastery in Nha Trang in the center of Vietnam.  He finished high school in 1978 and continued to live in the monastery until the Franciscans of that community were scattered into different groups in various parishes.  He and three friends returned to his home parish in the highland province of Daklak with the intention to establish a Franciscan community there.  They tried to keep their vocations alive by monthly meetings.  He secretly kept in touch with the Franciscan superior in order to get materials to discuss and study.
Unfortunately, in 1980 Nguyen was accused of organizing anti-government activities and was put in jail.  After Nguyen was released, he tried to rejoin the Franciscan community.  However, his superiors did not see any chance for him to be ordained and to serve in Vietnam with such a background.  They advised Nguyen to leave the country if he still wanted to pursue his vocation. Going home sadly but still nourishing the priestly vocation, he stayed with his parents and helped his mom take care of the coffee plantation.

In May of 1983, Nguyen left Vietnam.  After five days and six nights on the sea in a small fishing boat, he came to the Philippines and spent sixteen months in a refugee camp.  During this period, Nguyen worked for a charity organization.  His job in different refugee camps was to take care of and teach children and youth who had left Vietnam without their parents. There he also met Father Kenneth Jacque, a former Benedictine monk from Mount Angel Abbey.

When Nguyen was accepted by the American government for entering the country, Oregon was the only place that he knew of through the monk.  Arriving in Portland, Nguyen lived with a host family for five months.  At that time he considered putting aside his priestly vocation and pursuing scientific studies.  However, God had a better plan for him when the then monk, Father Kenneth, asked him to stay with and take care of his parents living in the town of Mount Angel.  While living with the monk’s parents, Nguyen audited a few classes at Mount Angel Seminary, which rekindled his vocation.

 As time went by, he became a monk of Mount Angel Abbey and took his religious name Vincent Liem – the name of a Vietnamese martyr.  After his formation, Br. Liem was ordained to the priesthood in 1994 and has been serving as a formator of Mount Angel Seminary ever since. 


  1. What a great article about Fr. Liem. I learned so much about my formator from this. It was interesting that he went to the Franciscan friary in Vietnam to study.

  2. Thanks for your feedback about Quyen's article. Who are some other members of the hilltop community that you would like to see featured in a profile by the journalism students?

  3. I remember Father Liem from my year at Mt Angel. I hope someday I can get back there and talk to him again, if only to catch up.