As Fr An Le commences his priestly ministry for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, he is determined to keep Christ at the centre—as he has throughout his life. Fr An was one of three priests ordained at St Patrick’s Cathedral on 19 November 2022 for the Archdiocese and has been appointed to Good Shepherd parish in Gladstone Park, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Fr An, 38, credits his own faith, and that of his family’s to his grandmother, Nguyễn Thị Chiểu, his father's mother. Born in Cam Ranh, about 350 kilometres to the north-east of Ho Chi Min City (formerly known as Saigon) in Vietnam, he and his five siblings—four brothers and one sister—grew up with his grandmother due to family circumstances. Every day, his grandmother prayed the Rosary and attended Mass. She taught the children how to pray and sometimes ‘forced’ them to go to church, but that was ‘good for us,’ Fr An says. ‘Our grandmother loved us and sacrificed her life for all of us—me and my siblings—when my parents were away from us,’ he says. ‘But I saw God’s providence in all of these things. If we hadn’t grown up with our grandmother, we wouldn’t have had the Catholic faith. She was very special.’
Fr An says that his call to the priesthood was ‘a journey’, one that ‘wasn’t really clear.’ There was an initial curiosity, but eventually, he discovered something deeper in his heart, which was the calling to be a religious. He initially joined the Scalabrinians in Vietnam and undertook philosophy studies at a Jesuit seminary in Ho Chi Min City. He then left and was invited by some Scalabrinian priests to visit Sydney and Melbourne in 2015 to see whether he might continue to become a priest. Recognising the 'goodness of God and the goodness of the people for him and his vocation and his family', Fr An decided to continue the journey towards priesthood.
Fr An undertook studies in English at the Australian Catholic University in 2016 and in 2017, and officially entered Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary for Victorian and Tasmania, in Carlton. Though it’s usually a seven-year program, Fr An was only required to study for six due to his previous seminarian studies in Vietnam. It was during a 30-day silent retreat at Corpus Christi, where he spent much time in prayer, that he felt a deeper call from God to become a priest.
‘I felt during that time, God revealing his love for me, and his desire for me to become a priest,’ says Fr An.
All along the journey, I have found the goodness of God and the goodness of people for me and my vocation, and for my family.’
Following his ordination last November, Fr An’s first official duty was as Chaplain at St Vincent’s hospital in East Melbourne. He spent two weeks in this role, leading daily Mass in the chapel, administering the sacraments and visiting the sick. If there was no one to visit, he would pray in the chapel. Though his official hours at the hospital were between 9am and 5pm, he was on call for the sick and dying, and for their families, as needed.
Fr An explained his hospital chaplaincy ministry as both challenging and blessed. ‘It’s firstly very challenging because you are experiencing some very difficult moments in the lives of people. But at the same time, it’s very blessed because I am a part of the life of people. I feel God is using me for his work to be with the people in their time of difficulty.
‘It’s a blessed mission to do the work of God among the people, because they trust God, and they trust you and they let you be a part of their life.’
As Fr An embarks upon his priestly ministry at Good Shepherd parish, he is looking forward to being among the people. He wants to carry the love of God that he has received to those he encounters. He is available for the sacraments, and for the needs of the people as they arise. But he has a particular fondness for the elderly, influenced by the great love and care shown by his grandmother, so he’s looking forward to visiting the elderly in their homes.
‘I love to be with all of the people of God, but particularly, I have a concern for elderly people,’ he says, ‘And those who are alone and lonely.’
In his ministry, Fr An’s aim is to practise what he preaches and to lead by example. ‘If we serve in humility and love, then the people will see we are doing the work of God, and we can then draw people to God,’ he says. He also intends to maintain his prayer life, which gives him strength. ‘I have experienced that when I pray with the Scriptures and put the Scriptures into practice, I do find God, and his love, and that strengthens and guides me.’
There is one piece of Scripture that holds a particularly special place in Fr An’s heart—‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life‘ from the Gospel of John (6:68), and he also finds inspiration in Saints Monica and Augustine. Fr An likens St Monica, the mother of St Augustine, to his loving and ever-prayerful grandmother. And of St Augustine, Fr An says, ‘I too am a sinner, a great sinner, and God has loved me. And whatever I have done in life, I have experienced God’s love for me.’
It is this love that is at the heart of Fr An’s vocation and his priestly ministry. ‘The meaning of vocation is to experience the love of God, the love of Christ, and to allow that love to lead you,’ he says. ‘In all things, pray, put Christ at the centre of your thoughts, your actions and ministry.’ Fr An expresses deep gratitude for the love of Christ, which he has received throughout his life, and particularly through the example and love of his grandmother, Nguyễn Thị Chiểu.
Melbourne Catholic21 November 2022