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

Jean and Lloyd Strickland are Citizens of the Year

Over 60 individuals, organizations and businesses nominated in eight different categories

It’s time to turn in the drug dealers

We know or someone close to us knows where the drugs were bought

Bridging the gaps between us

There is a renewed appreciation of the village of Avola

PHOTOS: Seniors learn about interesting topics

Wells Gray Seniors Society learns about how to deal with difficult people

Mystic Dreams fashion show a hit!

Sold-out audience enjoys show at Clearwater Legion Hall

Vancouver Aquarium’s resident octopus released into ocean

Staff let the Giant Pacific octopus go into the waters near Bowen Island so she can reproduce

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Canucks sing the Blues as they fall to St. Louis 4-1

Berglund nets two, including the game-winner, to lift St. Louis over Vancouver

Calving season brings hope for Cariboo ranchers

Still a lot of work ahead to recover from the wildfires

Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond wins figure skating world title

The 22-year-old fwon the women’s singles crown with her Black Swan routine

B.C. pooches celebrate National Puppy Day

Check out some of the submissions from around B.C. for National Puppy Day 2018

Alberta tells B.C. to stop opposing pipelines if it doesn’t like gas prices

John Horgan said he would like to see the federal government step in to deal with high gas prices.

B.C. mother hit in truck rampage dies

Family confirms mother of four Kelly Sandoval dies almost two months after being hit.

Walking from Argentina to Alaska

Holly ‘Cargo’ Harrison is now in northern B.C. on his journey from Argentina to Alaska.

Most Read