Deacon Hai B. Hoang
His Mother inspired him to serve
Q. How did you discover your vocation?
A. God called me to diaconal ministry via four persons placed in my path: My mother, Maria Nguyễn Thị Được, who raised my siblings and me as Catholics on her own after my father’s passing when she was only twenty; Mr. Nguyễn Thanh Định, a confrere in the Sacred Heart Men of Jesus Society; Fr. Joseph Nguyễn Trọng Tước, a Jesuit priest and author; and Deacon Joseph Hòa Mai, a permanent deacon in my parish, who encouraged me to apply to the diaconate.
In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with kidney disease. As her kidney function deteriorated, she required dialysis and began treatment three times a week. Her health weakened significantly over time. Perhaps Mom sensed her days were numbered, for she asked if I could take her to the 6:30 pm Mass held daily at the only Vietnamese-speaking Church in the area: Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Austin, Texas. At the time, I was working twelve to fourteen hours a day and couldn’t take off work early enough to make the trek. Mom was disappointed but accepted my rejection of her request. Mom departed on January 9, 2012.
A month or two after Mom’s funeral, I met Mr. Nguyễn Thanh Định at church. He introduced a book to me that explained how the holy sacrifice of the Mass helps those who have died who are in need of any purification. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was alone at the time. My wife and children had traveled to Vietnam for a charity mission, so I found myself spending my alone time in prayer. After my wife and a son returned, we sought out retreats to attend. That started my journey to feel closer to God.
During one of the retreats, led by Fr. Joseph Nguyễn Trọng Tước, I came to confession to share my struggle. Father comforted me, explaining I could do nothing about the past. What I could control was my future and how I moved forward. He advised me to go to daily Mass on behalf of my mom and to receive holy Communion. The Holy Spirit guided me to accept that advice. The magnificence of the holy Mass gradually changed me and my wife, DV. I started to volunteer to bring Communion to the sick and homebound and joined a group of deacons who served the incarcerated. Then, one day, Deacon Joseph Hòa Mai asked if I considered discerning diaconal formation. I said yes and applied to the class of 2022.
Q. What are the signs of God’s presence in your vocation?
A. During formation at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, we were taught about St. Augustine and his book Confessions. In a conversation between St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, she said: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” When I read this, I sensed it was a message from my own mom—an affirmation that the Lord had called me to the diaconal vocation and blessed me with an incredible grace: to pray for my mom daily, not only at the pews but also at the altar. The Lord is so generous, merciful, and kind.
God has always been on my side, especially during my formation and through my wife, DV. When I asked her why she chose to marry me over other much better men thirty-nine years ago, she replied: “Because I want to save your soul.” During formation, DV attended my classes, regardless of whether it was required, unless she was busy with her charity mission. DV was my classmate, my reviewer for the take-home exam, my person to reflect with during formation, and now she is the sole reviewer for my homilies. DV wanted to be sure she fulfilled her vow to save my soul, the exact wish Jesus Christ had when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
Q. How have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
A. The Lord is always by my side and will guide me to serve his people. This was especially evident during the pandemic. In 2020—in keeping with the city’s order to not gather more than ten people—the bishop of the Diocese of Austin issued a decree to temporarily suspend public Masses until further notice. Our pastor, who celebrated the holy Mass in private, wanted to livestream it at the chapel so parishioners could fill their hunger for the Eucharist. When the city opened to gatherings at 25 percent capacity, our pastor wished to move from the chapel and its capacity of 100 people to the main church (1,200 people) to allow more to attend in person. But the church could not find people to support the logistics for livestream on the weekdays, so he asked if I could help during the weekdays to bring the holy Mass to senior and high-risk people advised not to leave their homes.
I didn’t answer immediately because I feared I was in the high-risk group due to high blood pressure and cholesterol. Our sons also begged us to stop going to daily Mass because of COVID. My wife and I were torn. Though we were afraid, we also wanted to help our pastor and serve the Lord’s people. I turned to the Lord for the answer.
During daily adorations at the chapel, while seeking the Lord’s guidance, I heard a noise at the front door of the chapel. I turned to see an elderly woman standing at the entrance in a reverent posture. I recognized her as a parishioner who had been diagnosed with cancer. She said she was so hungry for holy Communion that she couldn’t resist coming to adore the Eucharist, even if she had to stay outside the chapel.
The Lord had answered me via this woman. The senior and high-risk group’s struggles had been unveiled to me, and I felt the Lord’s call to serve his people’s thirst and hunger for the Eucharist. DV and I accepted our pastor’s invitation to help in livestreaming the Mass. We were chosen and protected from COVID, just as St. Peter was protected from the hands of Herod (Acts 12:11) and St. Paul was rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:18). God is good!
Q. What return can you make to the Lord for all he has given you?
A. Like Job, I was naked and had nothing when I was born. When I came to this country, I had only what I wore: a pair of sandals, a shirt, and pants. I realized I was given a lot more than I had asked for. Best of all, the Lord called me to be his instrument, to be a bridge to bring his people back to him.
After retiring in 2014, I wished to devote my time to service, like teaching the RCIA and assisting in marriage preparation for couples. The most challenging ministry is helping families with funeral preparations. When Mom departed in 2012, our family struggled to prepare for her funeral. So I was often asked to help families with funeral arrangements and preparation, such as buying the plot at the cemetery, choosing the liturgy, finding the choir, and creating and printing the funeral booklets for the Mass. I learned that through my own family’s struggles.
A funeral is also an opportunity to pour the gospel onto the pains of some family members who may have strayed away from the Church. This is an opportunity to invite them to pray for their loved ones and to share with them my personal story about how the holy Mass positively changed me after my mother’s death. I prayed the merciful Lord would change them. I have seen God’s grace in action as fallen-away family members return to Sunday Mass or request Mass intentions to pray for their loved ones.