One of the things I love most about being a bishop is making pastoral visits to our parishes. It is here where one gets a sense of the vitality of the faith that our actively practicing Catholic people possess. Being with them was what I desired in becoming a priest. It continues to be a great source of encouragement and joy for my ministry.
One such visit I recently made was to the Church of St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien in Minneapolis on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Church of St. Joseph Hien.
The Church of St. Anne has its origins in its mother church of St. Clothilde, which was located at what is now 11th and Lyndale Avenues and was founded by my predecessor, Archbishop John Ireland, on April 24, 1884. The first parishioners were of French descent.
The first church building, built in 1886, was destroyed by fire in 1894 but rebuilt a year later. Within a few short years, the French-speaking parishioners began to move to other areas of Minneapolis, bringing about a financial crisis for the parish.
This led the pastor, the well-loved Father Damascus Richard, to petition in 1922 the archbishop to move the parish to a different location with a new church, specifically the corner of Queen Avenue and 26th Avenue North.
A six-room school was built and staffed by the Sisters of St. Benedict. Ground-breaking for the present church took place in 1948, and the completed edifice was consecrated in November 1960. The registration of parishioners continued to increase in the parish and school, so much so that an addition was built to the school and dedicated in 1964.
The vitality of faith in St. Anne’s parish is amply demonstrated by the fact that its families have given 12 priests, 23 consecrated religious women and four religious brothers to the service of the Church.
Finding a new home
The Vietnamese community was established in the Twin Cities in 1976. On April 30, 1975, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam, forcing a Communist government on that southern country. Some 300,000 people from the South fled in rickety, make-shift boats, some reaching various destinations in the Pacific, some perishing along the way. About 70 families finally made their way to Minneapolis.
After worshiping at several different locations, the Catholic Vietnamese community was granted a parish of its own by Archbishop John Roach in 1987, made possible by the purchase of a Lutheran church building, which was renamed St. Joseph Hien, to honor one of the Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 19, 1988.
But the size of the congregation soon outgrew the facility, and so in 2005, Archbishop Harry Flynn decided to merge St. Joseph Hien with St. Anne’s congregation, which at the time numbered only about 90 individuals, and to change the name of the Church to “St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien.”
The incoming Vietnamese numbered about 300 families. Today, they have grown to over 700 families. They are very ably served by the Congregation of The Mother Co-Redemptrix (CMC). Currently the pastor is Father Ignatius Nguyen Hai Durong, CMC. The parochial vicar is Father Hilary Tran Ha Nhuhn, CMC.
When I arrived for the anniversary Mass on Aug. 19, the priests and parishioners were all gathered on the front steps of the church building surrounding a statue of the Blessed Mother. The image was highly adorned with flowers and holding a rosary. Young girls and boys in colorful, native costumes, stood closest to the Virgin, facing her and silently moving from side-to-side. After vesting, I returned to this same spot, where I incensed the image of the Virgin.
A large choir of parishioners sang all the propers of the Mass in their native language. The music was beautifully melodic. I, of course, preached in English, but they had translated my homily in Vietnamese so the pastor read the text after I had finished.
During the Offertory, the procession was joined by the same group of young men and women whom I had met on my arrival. Their gestures were graceful and truly elegant.
The provincial of the CMC was there, seated in a place of honor. Eight or nine other priests also concelebrated. At the end of the Mass, the provincial and I were presented with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers by four very young children in native dress. Entertainment and a dinner followed the liturgy.
What was so apparent to me about the large congregation assembled is that they understood the call of the Second Vatican Council to full and active participation in the Mass. And to be sure, the parish is intergenerational: The elderly, the middle-aged, young married couples with babies, youthful teens and lots of children were all represented. It was a marvelous reflection of a parish congregation truly being “church.”
I want to thank the leadership of St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien for bringing about this reality with the help of God’s grace. It was truly a joy to be with you.
I also want to thank my episcopal predecessors for the pastoral vision they demonstrated by providing ways to welcome the stranger into this archdiocese. Truly, we are all better off for their presence.
God love you!