Sister Therese teaches kids to speak Vietnamese so they can talk to their parents

Rose Robertson | Photography by Don Quillan

Incongruence can be bewildering. Arriving in Michigan in 2002, Sister Therese Vu couldn’t comprehend why the wealthy chose to live in the country and the poor resided in the city. In her native country, Vietnam, the exact opposite is true. The economic anomaly took some time to understand.

Weather was another adjustment because Sister Therese’s first assignment was in the Upper Peninsula. “My hometown of Lam Dong in South Vietnam is typically in the mid-80s. I was so cold!”

Economic and climate differences aside, Sister Therese, a member of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, has vigorously embraced her ministerial work here. “We are a missionary community and we are sent wherever a need may arise. Our vow of obedience makes it easy to say ‘yes’ and be ready to go wherever our help is needed.”

She continues, “There are 4,000 Sisters of St. Paul in 40 countries and we are still faithful to our first mission, to make the presence of Jesus felt in the varied faces of the last, the least, and the lost, mainly through education and health care.”

In 2013, Father Joseph Sy Kim, pastor of St. Andrew Dung Lac Parish in Lansing, requested help for his ministry, and Sister Therese and two other sisters arrived in Lansing in May 2014. At that point, Sister Therese was fairly accustomed to American ways, but for Sister Maria Tuyet-Vinh Vo and Sister Anna Le-Duy Tran, arriving directly from Vietnam, the challenges were many.

The 500-member congregation of St. Andrew Dung Lac is made up entirely of Vietnamese parishioners. Many came to this country in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, so most of their children were born here. This has created one of the gaps the sisters work to close: the cultural differences between parents who fled Vietnam and their own children who were born in this country. “The children are Americanized and often have obtained much more education with many more opportunities. The adults, who primarily only speak Vietnamese, have trouble communicating with their children and with people from other cultures,” states Sister Therese. “If we can help them communicate better, it will help keep the families together.”

In addition to working with the parish children to teach them Vietnamese, Sister Therese’s ministry includes faith formation and assisting in weekly liturgies. She also is a mentor to her two newer, younger colleagues and must teach them American culture.

Sister Therese glows as she shares, “Before I came, I heard the parishioners really wanted the sisters here. When we arrived, we were welcomed with open arms. I feel there is a hunger to have us around them and be with them in their many activities.

“Our plans for the future are to improve our parish programs at St. Andrew. We will continue to pray for vocations so we have more hearts and hands to serve God.” And how will they accomplish this? Sister Therese’s easy going, adaptable manner emerges as she says, “We will put it in God’s hands. What we long for and pray for depends on God’s directions. I enjoy the gifts of wherever I am. I feel very much at peace.”

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