July 19, 2017, Seattle, Washington – The Adrian Dominican Sisters living at Assumption Convent recently bade a sad farewell to a beloved friend. Sister Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, a young Dominican Sister from Vietnam, recently left Seattle to make some visits in the United States before returning to her home country after spending 2 ½ years with the Sisters.
“It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience,” said Sister Cele Gorman, OP, Coordinator of Assumption Convent. “No one will ever forget Lan, and her spirit will remain here.”
The Sisters at Assumption Convent had no idea 2 ½ years ago how positively they would be impacted by their decision to allow a Dominican Sister from Vietnam live with them. Sister Lan had been sent to the United States by her superiors to study pastoral ministry. After spending a year with the Houston Dominican Sisters to study English, she was to attend Seattle University to earn her master’s degree in pastoral theology.
Sister Cele received a call asking if Sister Lan could stay with the Sisters at Assumption during her studies. “We had a meeting to see how everybody felt, and everybody was very open to it and excited that a young Sister was coming,” Sister Cele recalled.
Sister Cele described Sister Lan as very outgoing, a young Sister who enjoyed new experiences and adapted well to new situations. “She was very open to new ideas, very accepting of people, and respectful of her elders,” Sister Cele said. She was also very studious, taking difficult courses and studying frequently – while still being engaged in community life at Assumption.
Along with her studies, Sister Lan served as an intern at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, helping with a weekly dinner for people who are homeless. In addition, she served as a catechist for children in a Vietnamese parish in Seattle.
But she also ministered to the Sisters at Assumption, even as they supported and encouraged her in her studies. “She shared her youthful energy with us,” Sister Cele said. “She was 39 when she came. We were her grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”
The differences in age, however, did not prevent Sister Lan and the Sisters at Assumption from forming a close community. The Sisters – particularly Sister Alice Marie Schmid, OP – helped Sister Lan with her English as she wrote her theology papers, and encouraged her as she faced the challenge of studying theology in a language that was not her own.
In turn, Sister Lan introduced the Sisters to the food and culture of Vietnam. “She took us to a Vietnamese restaurant when she first came and told the waitresses what to prepare for us,” Sister Cele recalled. “She was delighted. She loved her culture and she shared it with us.”
Sister Lan frequently took advantage of the large Vietnamese section of Seattle to buy Vietnamese food and prepare special meals for her U.S. Sisters. “She was very generous in sharing that part of her culture,” Sister Cele noted. Sister Lan also taught the Sisters some of her language and celebrated Vietnamese holidays with them.
In addition, Sister Lan connected with the Vietnamese community in Seattle, as well as with a community of Sisters from Vietnam who were ministering in Seattle. An intelligent and independent young woman, Sister Lan quickly learned the transit system in Seattle, using the light rail to attend classes at Seattle University.
Recently, Sister Cele said, the Sisters were delighted to meet Sister Lan’s brother, who had come for her graduation and joined the Sisters for dinner at Assumption Convent. Sister Lan left after graduation to make some visits in the United States before returning to Vietnam. While her exact ministry back home is still unknown, Sister Cele said, she will most likely make use of what she has learned in pastoral theology.
In the meantime, she has certainly had a positive impact on the Sisters she has left behind. “It could not have been a better situation for her or for anyone else,” Sister Cele said. “We were just very blessed and sorry to see her heading back to Vietnam. It was truly a gift and a blessing.” Sister Cele believes that her time at Assumption was also a blessing for Sister Lan. “I’m sure it’s an experience that will be with her for the rest of her life.”
Feature photo: Celebrating Sister Lan’s graduation are, from left: Sisters Cele Gorman, OP, Francine Barber, OP, Sharon Park, OP, Iva Gregory, OP, Alice Marie Schmid, OP, Patrice Eilers, OP, Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, Virginia Pearson, OP, Sister Lan’s brother, Son Bui Nguyen; and Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Jean Marie Lehtinen, OP.