Father Ly anticipates ministering to Hmong community as priest

| May 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

The seeds of Father Toulee Peter Ly’s priestly vocation were sown while he was attending the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. During his college days, he was asked several times to work with the youth group at the church of his upbringing, St. Vincent de Paul in St. Paul.

Father Toulee Peter Ly

But, there was a problem.

“Church was never a big part of my life,” said Father Ly, 35. “I went [to Mass] on Sundays to accompany my mom because my mom and dad were divorced, so my mom was just going to church on her own.”

Although his faith life was “pretty shallow,” he felt the need to step up and help the young people in his parish. He did that for nearly five years.

Along the way, while trying to help others grow in their faith, he ended up growing in his.

Helping the process was getting to know priests who served at his parish, first Father Joseph Johnson and, later, Father John Paul Erickson and then-Father [now Bishop] Andrew Cozzens.

“Having those three priests in my life was huge,” Father Ly said. “They helped me really establish a faith life, a deeper faith life.”

He was motivated to grow in his faith because he felt a responsibility to the youth he was serving at his parish.

“I realized that I was supposed to be some kind of role model for them in the faith,” he said. “And, if I was supposed to be a role model, then that means I should know what I’m doing in regards to the faith so I can give it [faith] to them.”

During that time, priesthood had not yet entered his mind. That changed in 2008, when he felt God was calling him to “do a little reflecting on life.” He was working at Thomson Reuters in Eagan, and he liked his job as a publishing specialist.

That summer, he had a dream one Sunday morning that he had gone to St. Vincent looking for a priest but couldn’t find one. He awoke and went to Mass that morning, and during the Mass Father Erickson announced to the congregation that he had been reassigned and was leaving the parish.

He talked to Father Erickson about the dream after Mass, then continued to reflect on it throughout the rest of the week. Eventually, he asked God a question: “Are you calling me to do something more with my life?”

Part of the answer came when he examined what brought him joy in life. He had a good, meaningful job, but he came home exhausted every night after sitting in front of a computer all day. What he really looked forward to was the weekend — Friday with the youth group, and Saturday and Sunday with Mass and the various church projects he took on.

Another consideration was his Hmong ancestry. Growing up, he was well aware that for most of its existence, the Hmong Catholic community at St. Vincent had been without a priest who spoke the native language. Some of the elderly members speak little or no English, making the sacrament of reconciliation difficult, even impossible.

“I want there to be someone to minister to the [Hmong] people, for sure,” said Father Ly, who learned his ancestral language growing up, as it was spoken by his mother and eight siblings.

His thoughts all seemed to add up to entering the seminary, which he did that summer. He joined St. John Vianney College Seminary in the fall.

“At that point, it just seemed like things were leaning that way,” he said. “It just felt like a natural thing [to do].”

He was ordained to the priesthood at 10 a.m. Mass May 26 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul with three other men: Fathers Aric Aamodt, Colin Jones and Matthew Shireman.

His 10-year path included getting a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, plus taking two years off for more discernment after studying at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. For a while, Father Ly was classmates with members of the 2015 priest ordination class, and he stepped away at the start of the spring semester in 2014, before that class’ ordination to the transitional diaconate.

“I realized that there were some things I wasn’t really ready for,” he said. “A big part of that was [letting go of] marriage. … As the diaconate ordination was coming up, all of a sudden marriage kind of crept back into my mind, so much so that I started to have cold feet [about ordination].”

He thought about dating during his time away from seminary, but decided not to. Instead, he got a job and continued to meet with a spiritual director to discern his vocation.

Eventually, he realized that “God is really calling me to the priesthood,” he said. “That’s also where my heart was calling me to.”
He returned to seminary in spring 2016 and picked up where he left off.

“Those two years I was gone really brought me a lot of peace about where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “There’s been no looking back.”

As the date of his ordination drew near, he began to think about his future ministry as a priest and “just being on the journey with the people,” he said, “to accompany them in their faith life in growing closer to Christ.”

He will make it his priority to listen to the people he serves, a skill he says he developed from his years in the corporate world working as part of a team. He also plans to keep in mind something Father Johnson said to him during spiritual direction.

“The Lord is never outdone in generosity,” he recalled the priest saying. “I like that advice just because it helps me to learn to trust and have more faith in him.”

Father Ly understands that, at some point, either now or in the future, he will likely be assigned to work with the Hmong Catholic community. His background should help him minister to people he has known throughout his life.

“I look forward to it because I think that’s something that will help our community, the Hmong community, grow stronger in their faith,” he said. “Just like any other community, having someone from their own community will help foster growth.”


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