KEARNS — Thirty-five years ago, a Vietnamese refugee came to Utah as a Catholic seminarian, and over the years built friendships that continue to this day, even as he was ordained and advanced from parochial vicar to a priest who was named the founding pastor of the parish from which he is now retiring.
Fr. Dominic Thuy Dang Ha was born in Thai Bihn, Vietnam. At the age of 11 he entered minor seminary, then went on to major seminary. After the country fell under communist rule he was in a refugee camp. Upon coming to the United States in 1981, he entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He was ordained May 11, 1984 in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church by the Most Rev. William K. Weigand, seventh Bishop of Salt Lake City.
His first priest’s assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, followed by assignments at the parishes of St. Patrick in Salt Lake City, Saint Ambrose, Immaculate Conception and St. Francis Xavier. During this time he also served as the diocesan chaplain for Vietnamese, Hmong and Laotian Catholics. Beginning in 2000 he was named founding pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Kearns, and he has remained at the parish ever since.
On June 24, friends and former parishioners joined the Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishioners in thanksgiving for Fr. Thuy, who will retire on July 31. Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general, was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass. Concelebrants were Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; Fr. Thuy; and Father Vincent Nguyen, a newly ordained priest for the Diocese of Phoenix who was baptized by Fr. Thuy.
In his homily, Msgr. Bircumshaw mentioned that it was the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and like the saint, Fr. Thuy points to the Savior. Over the past 24 years as pastor, Fr. Thuy also has pointed to the sacraments of the Church, and by so doing, “Fr. Thuy has pointed you away from yourselves and toward others, to Christ and his live and salvation for all … Praise be to God for the life and ministry of Fr. Thuy.”
At the end of the Mass, Fr. Thuy began by saying he was holding back his tears, then struggled to do so. He recalled that when the church was dedicated 24 ago, Msgr. Fitzgerald spoke in his homily of the bamboo plant which, after years of forming roots underground, grows into a plant with many uses.
“Your homily has come true for our parish,” Fr. Thuy said to Msgr. Fitzgerald. He went on to thank those present for their friendship and love, and he acknowledged all of the gifts he has received from the parish and his friends. “God has covered me under your warming blanket of love and protected me under the mantel of grace through each of you and your family. … I couldn’t accomplish my duty without your support, love and prayers. You are so dear to me,” he said.
Msgr. Fitzgerald, in his comments, thanked Fr. Thuy for his example as a humble, faithful, self-sacrificing priest.
Among those attending the Mass were Wes and Jean Keller, who met Fr. Thuy when he was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish. At the time, he would go into the parish school and sit in the kindergarten class to improve his English, Jean Keller said, and “We were so impressed with his commitment right then, and he was so good to the children.”
Fr. Thuy became a family friend, and would beat them at ping pong when he visited their home, she added; their friendship continues to this day.
As a pastor, Fr. Thuy “means the whole world to us,” said Steve To, the immediate past president of the parish council. “He is the one who guides us to God and to love one another. I have learned so much from him.”
Because of Fr. Thuy, the parish bonds together, To said. “We’ll miss him. We’ll miss him big time.”
In retirement, Fr. Thuy plans to remain in Utah, he said, although in August he will travel to Vietnam and celebrate a memorial Mass for his father, who is deceased. His wish is that the parish develop new vocations to religious life, he said, adding that he sees a lot of potential for this among the young people.
The parish will host a farewell Mass for Fr. Thuy July 29, his final Sunday as pastor.