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Welcome to another episode of Cathedral Square featuring host Fr. Christopher Smith.

Get ready for another healthy dose of inspiration on today’s podcast, as we welcome Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen to the studio. The newest Auxiliary Bishop appointed to the Diocese of Orange, Bishop Nguyen shares the harrowing story of his escape from Vietnam and his eventual road to the priesthood.

Thank you, Bishop Nguyen, for giving us hope in this time of pandemic.




Originally broadcast on 12/19/20


Get ready for another healthy dose of inspiration on today’s podcast. Host Rick Howick was honored and fascinated by the testimony of our own Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen on the show today, and you will be too! The newest Auxiliary Bishop appointed to the Diocese of Orange, here today to share the harrowing story of his escape from Vietnam and his eventual road to the priesthood.

In this Easter season, he gave us an “alleluia” story from which we can all draw inspiration and strength on our faith walk. Thank you, Bishop Nguyen, for giving us hope in this time of pandemic.



Originally broadcast on 5/16/20


Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a series about the relationship between the Diocese of Orange and the Catholic community in Vietnam. 


Thai Binh Province, Vietnam – About halfway between Vietnam’s capital city and the edge of South China Sea sits a rural area home to rice fields, auto part factories and a modern school preparing young students for a bright future.  

The newly built school rises next to a Catholic convent of nuns, the Dominican Sisters of Thai Binh, many of whom work there as teachers. Opened in October, Binh Minh Preschool of Thai Binh enrolls about 130 students from mostly low-income households and is supported with funding by Companions in Grace, an Orange County Catholic nonprofit.  

“This is one of the best schools in Vietnam,” said Minh Nguyen, a retired engineer and Orange County resident who supports educational initiatives in Vietnam through Companions in Grace. “Parents want their children to go to school here.” 

Nguyen started Companions in Grace to find peaceful, effective solutions to complex problems in Vietnam, like breaking cycles of poverty and ensuring children from poor families move up in social status.  

“We can solve problems and transform the system by giving children access to a quality Catholic education,” Nguyen said.  

The nonprofit’s first major project is the Binh Minh Preschool.  

Parents arrive by motorbike around 6 a.m. to drop their children off. Each student is greeted by a nun who holds their backpack and walks with them to class. The simple ritual is the start of a school day that, for many children, will stretch to 5 p.m.  

On a recent morning, outside a brightly lit classroom on the school’s second level, children’s sandals and sneakers were neatly placed on wood shelves. Inside, students sat at tables working on math problems. Art covered bulletin boards fixed to the walls – drawings of animals with names written in Vietnamese and English next to crayon-colored maps of the globe.  

Binh Minh Preschool exposes students to Western-style education methods in a Communist-run country experiencing rapid population growth. About 23 percent of the country’s 97 million inhabitants are under the age of 14, according to United Nations data.  

Although Vietnam is experiencing booming economic growth, many residents struggle to pay tuition to send their children to good schools. Most workers in manufacturing and low-skilled jobs earn less than $250 per month, according to data from Trading Economics, an independent firm that tracks global economic trends. Many families with students at Binh Minh receive financial aid directly through the preschool and from Companions in Grace. Students’ parents work as farmers, mechanics and in the nearby factories. 

“This is the Catholic Church working quietly in a part of the world that is often ignored, but needs great help,” said Cami Gienger, who fled Vietnam for the U.S. when she was 18, after the Fall of Saigon in 1975, and financially supports the school. “Life in Vietnam can be difficult. But if students have access to a quality education, they will be able to handle anything.” 


Western-style education  

Classroom curriculum at Binh Minh Preschool is based on the Montessori Method of Education, which focuses on problem solving, critical thinking and individual learning. Nguyen helped create the school, modeling its curriculum and learning principles on St. Columban Catholic School in Garden Grove. 

“We saw the success St. Columban School was having, and we wanted to replicate it here,” Nguyen said.  

Students learn to read and write in English, are exposed to basic science concepts to develop an appreciation for the natural world and are encouraged to express themselves through art.   

“This is a new method of teaching in Vietnam,” said Sr. Maria Mai Diep, who teaches at the school. “Students are being introduced to English and given opportunities to focus on problem solving – which requires them to pay attention. We see that students are more focused through the day.”  

The school operates in a country where curriculum is overseen by a sprawling state-run educational system. Although occurring more frequently, the opening of independent, Western-style schools, like Binh Minh Preschool, remains relatively rare.   


Like a second home 

The students spend much of their time at the school – typically 11 hours a day, six days a week. Hot meals are prepared fresh by the nuns in the school’s kitchen. Classrooms are bright, organized and clean. Bookshelves are lined with titles in Vietnamese and English. Teachers work with students individually and in small groups.  

“We want to help them develop their curiosity, solve problems and think for themselves,” Nguyen said. “The teachers are their guides.” 

Each classroom has about 30 students with students ranging in age from about 1 to 5 years old, and three teachers, who are each educated and trained at a professional school in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Through financial help from Companions in Grace, six nuns have been trained as teachers to work specifically at the preschool.    

On a recent morning, Gienger sat in a chair in the middle of a classroom. Students gathered around her, sitting cross-legged on the floor as she read a story in English. The students repeated each sentence.  

The school represents a direct improvement in the lives of the students and their families, Gienger said.  

“The school is empowering students to think for themselves,” she added. “The education they receive here represents a significant investment into their lives, their community and their country.” 

Along with positioning children for future educational success, the preschool sets a foundation for students to be a part of a skilled workforce and succeed in the 21st century.  

“They will have to compete in a global economy,” Nguyen said. “We want to introduce them to the world.” 

To learn more about Binh Minh Preschool and Companions in Grace, visit


On today’s installment, Deacon Steve welcomes another new friend whose story will surely leave you amazed.

Manny Montanez was gravely wounded in combat in Vietnam some 50 years ago; and he was very fortunate to make it out of that situation alive. He goes on to share so much more of what he has done with his life in the ensuing years.

It’s a beautiful portrait of God’s grace, love, forgiveness and compassion.

Listen in, and be sure to share this podcast with others! 






Originally broadcast on 1/20/19



Team Call Me Catholic was honored and fascinated by the testimony of Bishop Nguyen on the show today. The newest Auxiliary Bishop appointed to the Diocese of Orange, here today to share the harrowing story of his escape from Vietnam and his eventual road to the priesthood.

In this Easter season, he gave us an “alleluia” story from which we can all draw inspiration and strength on our faith walk. Thank you, Bishop Nguyen, for sharing your birthday with us.







Originally broadcast on 4/07/18


Editor’s Note: Last month, Bishop Kevin Vann, along with Fathers Binh Nguyen and Francis Vu, S.J., traveled to Vietnam for the Tet Lunar New Year celebrations and the first days of Lent. “We hope and pray,” Bishop Vann wrote at departure time, “that this visit will continue to strengthen the bonds of faith, family and friendship between our diocese and the people of Vietnam.”

During the trip, Bishop Vann kept up an email correspondence with the diocesan staff, accompanied by several photographs he shot at various destinations in Vietnam.

Some of them are reproduced in this layout, along with Bishop Vann’s correspondence:

“I was mentioning to Father Francis Vu that at a certain time in my life (and this is certainly dating myself!) the word “Vietnam” brought with it connotations of the draft, political unrest, the war and the entire sense that there was a world out there that I knew little about. For better or worse, that is the result of growing up in the 1960’s. The early part of the decade certainly has better memories than the latter for me. It was only when I was in the seminary and met the community of “The Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix” that I began to have a glimmer of insight into the people of Vietnam and the price they had to pay for their faith and fidelity. (Providentially, we visited their general headquarters yesterday and the current Superior General, Father Pius, and I were in the seminary together in St. Louis!) I have friends in the CMC community to this day.

“My knowledge and understanding of the Vietnamese people and their faith and challenges certainly took a giant step forward when I was assigned to Fort Worth with their big Vietnamese population and our four parishes. The parishes were all staffed by the Co-Redemptrix community and we built what I believe is the largest Vietnamese Catholic Church in the US… seating about 2,500 folks. It was there I learned about Tet, family customs, the challenge of living their faith and customs in a secular culture, and to try to understand and pray and live through an “Eastern lens” [that ensures] that memories of suffering and struggle do not easily fade. It also helped me to be grateful to the Lord for what I have and to take less for granted.

“Being here now in Vietnam itself gives me an even wider and human context for those experiences. That is what I recounted to the folks at Tan Phu Church yesterday morning (about 7,000 people present) and last night at Tan Dinh Church with the archbishop. (He and I spoke principally in Italian, as he also studied in Rome.) Fathers Francis and Binh have helped me with more liturgical Vietnamese, so I have been able to use that, and can read along from the Vietnamese Roman Missal.”

“As we are preparing to fly to Hanoi this afternoon, I am reflecting on this week here in Saigon: the Masses, New Year celebrations and the people that I have met and visited with. An unexpected blessing has been all of the priests that are able to speak Italian, from their days of study in Rome: Archbishop Paul of Saigon, Brother Philip of the Cistercians, and Father Peter, who is on the staff of the Bishops’ Conference here. The gift of the Italian language, which we all learned in our student days in the Eternal City, continues to be a blessing, and a help to our communication, and a reminder of the Universal Church.

“Another personal blessing of these days has been the chance to visit with Father Pius, CMC. He is the Superior of the CMC fathers, and he and I were in theology at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in the late 1970’s.

“Yesterday, Friday, also was a day of more personal connections. We visited Vung Tau, and the beautiful statue of Our Lady and a beautiful church, all on the side of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is the home of Father Bill Cao. As we had lunch with Father Binh’s family on New Year’s Day at Chu Hai, I couldn’t help but think of our family when I was young when we gathered at my grandparents, Les and Mary Jones. The cultural setting of the two is certainly different, but the love and care of the family, molded by our Catholic faith, is certainly the same.

“The celebration of Mass in the cemetery at Chu Hai was the same type of celebration that we have in the U.S. for Memorial Day, in Italy for All Souls Day and in Mexico for the “Día de los Muertos.” Again, different cultural expressions, to be sure, but a common unity in the communion of the saints, praying for the deceased and gratitude for the lives of our parents and grandparents who gave us life and brought us to receive the gift of faith through the sacrament of baptism.”



Bishop Kevin Vann traveled to Vietnam this month, on an official visit as part of our relationship as a sister diocese with Hanoi. This is the first trip Bishop Vann has made there. He was there during Tet New Year celebration. He shared these photos.