From prison to priesthood, new Kamloops bishop ready for role

The new Roman Catholic Bishop of Kamloops was joined by several thousand people on Sept. 1 to celebrate his ordination

Bishop Joseph Nguyen took over the reins of the Kamloops diocese of the Roman Catholic Church at a ceremony on Sept 1.

Cam Fortems – Kamloops This Week

The new Bishop of Kamloops was joined by several thousand people on Thursday, Sept. 1, at the Sandman Centre to celebrate his ordination as the head of the Roman Catholic diocese.

Thirty years ago, Joseph Nguyen shared a different kind of room: with 150 other men in a Vietnam prison, surviving on two bowls of rice a day. One bathroom and four litres of water —  drink it, flush it or wash with it.

After six months, Nguyen could no longer walk. A Catholic bent on entering the priesthood since he was a child, he was an enemy of the state who tried and failed to flee the country as one of thousands of boat people in the 1980s.

It was not his first brush with a Vietnamese communist government.

In 1975, government officials entered the Catholic seminary where he was living and told the group they had 24 hours to leave. For eight years he lived with other students in the bishop’s house, a compound that served as an unofficial sanctuary. Eventually the government forced all the Catholic students and officials out.

Nguyen lived back home for a year, still not ordained as a priest, until he tried to flee Vietnam the first time, landing him in the brutal prison.

Undaunted, after his release, Nguyen tried to leave Vietnam a second time aboard a boat in the Pacific Ocean. This time, after three days, he was intercepted by a German ship, which transported him and the others to safety in the Philippines. Nguyen was eventually sponsored in Canada by his brother.

He arrived in Canada with nothing.

A farmer and painter with no grasp of the English language, Nguyen said his prospects to enter the seminary and become a priest in the Catholic church were bleak. He began to work with little thought of going into the priesthood.

“I gave up,” he said.

Nguyen’s father, however, reminded him of the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale.

“The German ship was the whale,” Nguyen recalled his father’s words. “God took you to Canada and you have to do something for the Lord. He brought you there.”

On Thursday, Nguyen became the sixth Bishop of Kamloops.

He replaces David Monroe, who served 14 years here before retiring at 75 — mandatory under Catholic laws — to church-appointed housing in the Lower Mainland.

Most recently, Nguyen served in Vancouver as vicar general for the archdiocese of Vancouver.

The Kamloops diocese is one of six in B.C. and the Yukon.

Nguyen is now one of about 5,000 Roman Catholic bishops in the world.

Nguyen heads a diocese with about 57,000 parishioners and 20 priests serving 67 communities in an area that stretches south from Quesnel to Merritt and from Whistler and Lillooet in the west to Sicamous in the east.

In the coming weeks and months, he will pore over staffing, budgets and building details while ministering to the spiritual needs of the communities.

Nguyen said his diocese reflects Canadian demographics of an aging society. Among his goals are to bring in more families and young people to the church, including into the priesthood.

“We need to have young families,” he said.


“That’s the challenge in Kamloops right now.”



Just Posted

Lambing in full swing at Aveley Sheep Ranch

Spring is here and this may be most obvious at Aveley Heritage… Continue reading

RCMP looking for grain haulers dumping grain on roadside pull-outs

Illegal practice happening on Highway 5 between Valemount and Avola

Personal Development Weekend Retreat coming up

By K.A. Pendergast Have you ever been stressed? I am sure most… Continue reading

MayDay Parade Theme is “Clearwater Life”

Parade takes place May 18 and starts at Capostinsky Park

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Dashcam captures close call between minivan, taxi at busy Vancouver intersection

To make the footage more nerve-wracking, a pedestrian can be seen standing at the corner

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. mom wages battle to get back four kids taken from her in Egypt

Sara Lessing of Mission has help from Abbotsford law firm

VIDEO: Fire guts Peachland home

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze in the Okanagan neighbourhood

$6K raised in one day’s time for family of woman gunned down in Penticton

GoFundMe launched for family of Darlene Knippelberg, to pay for funeral costs and other expenses

B.C. mountain biker sent home from hospital twice, despite broken vertebrae

Released in Maple Ridge to go home with three fractured vertebrae

Seven tips to travel safely this Easter long weekend

An average of three people are killed, and hundreds more injured, each Easter long weekend in B.C.

Seattle’s 4-20 ‘protestival’ enjoys tolerance, some support – and B.C. could do the same

Seattle’s Hempfest a large-scale occasions with vendors, prominent musical acts and thousands of attendees

Most Read