Fr. Joseph Chau Nguyen, SVD, is just plain fun. Warm, outgoing and armed with a quick smile
, you never know what he has up his sleeve—literally. Traveling thousands of miles every year, connecting with young people across the country, he has fun breaking the ice with people he’s never met through the clever use of one of his hobbies—slight-of-hand magic.
Fr. Joseph is one of five SVD vocation directors who journey across the U.S. and Canada and down into the Caribbean inviting young men to discern a religious vocation with Divine Word Missionaries. His territory is primarily the central part of the U.S., from Minnesota to Texas and from Denver to Philadelphia. His work means he travels a great deal and lives out of a suitcase, and he has two. One contains his clothes and the other holds the tools of the trade for his magic show.
Fr. Joseph has found that parish organizations, especially youth groups, are great for meeting potential candidates. After first getting permission from the parish priest, he gets in contact with the groups to arrange a convenient time to meet with them.
“Young people, most of them, they are not sure about the vocation, so sometimes I try to do some magic to make a good impression,” he said. “I always do a magic show. When I do some tricks, people
like it and they feel comfortable right away. I have fun, too.”
Vocation directors play a critical role in the search for future Divine Word Missionary priests and brothers. They are on the front lines, connecting with young men who show an interest in religious life. They are responsible for determining if a young man would be a good fit for the SVD and—just as importantly—if the SVD would be a good fit for the young man. After three years in this ministry, Fr. Joseph follows a simple philosophy to determine if a young man would be a good candidate.
“We don’t look for the priest, we look for the potential,” he said.
It’s an approach that resonates with him because he can remember what it was like when he first came in DWC in 1995. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be a priest. He needed time to figure that out for himself—to discern his path. DWC gave him that time. Fr. Joseph takes that memory with him whenever he talks to a young man.
“I just tell him, ‘I think you have some potential. Can you give yourself a chance to discover yourself?’”
And, maybe, have a little fun along the way.