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Four deacons will be ordained as priests for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at a Mass of Ordination June 2 at 10 a.m. at St. Louis Cathedral. The deacons are, from left, Vincent Nguyen, Dominic Arcuri, Cletus Orji and Thien Nguyen. [Photos by Frank J. Methe | CLARION HERALD]

Deacon Dominic Arcuri still has the holy cards Dominican nuns at St. Peter School in Reserve – who nudged him to be a priest in elementary school – gave him. They knew something he didn’t yet realize, writing on the back, “Accept his will. You’ll never know why.”

He told the nuns the tight Roman collars weren’t for him. But, Deacon Arcuri said, the Lord must have said “Aha,” and, for the next 40 years, he wore a starched shirt and tie in the banking industry. “The Roman collars are a lot more comfortable than a shirt and tie,” he now jokes.

Deacon Arcuri said people have mentioned how his practical rather than theological homily approach reaches them where they are, saying, “Mixie, you should have been a priest,” because they relate the Gospel message through his sharing of joys and challenges as a son, spouse and father.

In 1984, Father Peter Bergeron, then St. Joan of Arc pastor, asked him to consider the permanent diaconate. He and his wife Tru, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, finally accepted in 1997. Arcuri was in the January 1998 class, something he said became a blessing in his life.

When his wife died in 2015, the Lord pressed on his heart. Deacon Arcuri sent a letter to Archbishop Gregory Aymond expressing his priestly desire. That letter prompted a quick response from the archbishop, resulting in a meeting. He went on a directed silent retreat at Grand Coteau and then met again with the archbishop.

Deacon Arcuri is awaiting his chance to consecrate the Eucharist and hear confession, “letting Christ lead me in that confessional because I am representing him.” He also hopes people continue to seek him when troubles arise. His heart is open.

“Anytime I feel fearful or nervous, I feel the Lord walks with me. He helps me to calm down and feel confident in ministry,” said Deacon Nguyen, who will cultivate that trust and confidence as parochial vicar of St. Francis Xavier Parish following his June 2 ordination to the priesthood.

Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, Deacon Nguyen didn’t give much thought to becoming a priest until he was a high school junior. His uncle, a newly ordained Dominican priest based in Calgary, Alberta, asked to speak to the then-16-year-old on a long-distance call from Canada.

Although mostly uninvolved in church ministry up to that point, the teen, inspired by his uncle-priest, promised to stay open to the idea of the priesthood. He began teaching CCD, singing in the choir and remained active throughout college as he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Deacon Nguyen felt something nag at him when he took up a second degree in law studies.

“I realized that my heart was not in it. I kept thinking about the priesthood,” Deacon Nguyen said, noting that his vocational attractions continued to occupy him when a Baton Rouge-based friend of his uncle’s offered to sponsor the young man’s studies abroad.

“During those first six months in Baton Rouge I felt like I had lost the ministry in my home parish (in Vietnam),” Deacon Nguyen said. “I didn’t have a chance to go to church in Baton Rouge very often. I felt something empty in my heart. I missed the church, and I wished I could go to Mass every day.”

As he was wrestling with this, Deacon Nguyen’s uncle phoned him again about the priesthood. This time, his answer was yes. In 2009, Deacon Nguyen entered the discernment program offered by Notre Dame Seminary, enrolling in literature, math and sign language classes at Delgado to retain his student visa.

Although restrictions on religious freedom enacted by Vietnam’s communist regime had loosened by the time he came of age, Deacon Nguyen was well acquainted with their impact: His uncle had been jailed twice because of his own desire to become a priest and had to wait nearly 40 years to enter the seminary. He was ordained in 1998 and died in 2000.

“(I was inspired by) seeing the sick and also seeing the good shepherd in the bishop who went to the hospital to visit the sick on Christmas Day,” Deacon Nguyen recalls. “On Christmas Day you can say Mass in the cathedral; you can spend that afternoon with your family. But instead he went to the hospital to visit the sick. I think I heard the call to become a good shepherd like him.”

After doing well in the seminary entrance exam, Deacon Nguyen was invited to study in the United States in 2010. He immersed himself in the English language at Divine Word College in Iowa before earning a master’s degree in philosophy and religion at Illinois’ Mundelein Seminary.

“My experience of visiting people in the hospitals reminded me of the very first moment when I was seriously thinking about the priesthood – in the hospital for the lepers,” said Deacon Nguyen, who hopes to invite more young people into church ministry at his first priestly assignment at St. Ann.

After one year as a transitional deacon, Deacon Cletus Orji says his vocation to the priesthood has come into even clearer focus as he has strived to incorporate the four pillars of seminary formation: human, pastoral, intellectual and spiritual.

“I had the opportunity to preach every two weeks at weekend Masses and every day for weekday Masses,” Deacon Orji said. “That gave me the opportunity to make practical what I had learned. In the beginning, I was trying to be a little strict in going with what we were taught in the seminary. But as time went on, I adapted to the reality of the situation and tried to make the homily about the people in front of me.”

Deacon Orji has close ties to his family of eight siblings. He was nourished in the Catholic faith by his devoutly religious parents, who recited the rosary daily. That practice eventually led to an attraction after high school graduation to consider entering the seminary.

Deacon Orji had hoped that his mother and one of his brothers could come to New Orleans for the June 2 ordination, but they could not obtain a visa to enter the U.S. He hopes to visit his family after his ordination if he can get the proper travel documents himself.

“That is where we meet God,” he said. “Pope Francis said in one of his letters that God is reaching out to us and we encounter that in confession. I myself have experienced God’s mercy in so many ways. I understand the joy that comes from forgiveness, because I myself have been forgiven and God continues to forgive me. I am looking forward to being an instrument of God’s forgiveness to his people.”