In February 2017, Sr. Valerie Powidzki, from the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth’s (CSFN) Holy Spirit Province in Australia, and Sr. Julianna Tran, from the CSFN’s Holy Family Province in the U.S., traveled to Vietnam to officially open the English program at Catholic Theological Institute in Ho Chi Minh City. The Institute, which opened September 14, 2016, provides theological instruction for Vietnamese priests and religious brothers and sisters who are pursuing a degree in theology.

The opening of the Catholic Theological Institute and Catholic University came after the ending of a nearly 40-year ban on Catholic schools in Vietnam by the Vietnamese government. The Institute is the first university-level Catholic theological institute in Vietnam.

There were 18 students from the Institute’s Master of Theology and Biblical programs who qualified to participate in the English program this spring. Divided into two groups — advanced and intermediate — the students focused on four basic skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

While the Institute is new, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth’s teaching ministry to Vietnamese seminarians is not. In 2010, Sr. Janice Fulmer, CSFN, PhD, then Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth invited Sr. Francesca Onley, CSFN, PhD, then President of Holy Family University, to honor the request from Bishop Dominic Nguyễn Chu Trinh, of the Xuân Lộc Diocese, to provide English language instruction at St. Joseph’s Seminary.

Sr. Francesca along with Sr. Julianna, who was a graduate student in Holy Family University’s Masters in TESOL and Literacy Program at the time, and Dr. Roger Gee, Professor in HFU’s School of Education and Director of the Masters in TESOL Program, traveled to St. Joseph’s Seminary in December 2010. They met with Bishop Dominic, Monsignor Joseph Ðinh Ðức Ðạo, Seminary Rector and Father John Đỗ Văn Ngân, Assistant Director of the Philosophy Program, to discuss the need for English instruction and the manner in which it could be implemented.

Helping the seminarians to learn English meets a critical need in communities and in families there, Sr. Francesca said in a 2011 interview. Many of the seminarians’ texts are written in English, not Vietnamese.

“This program is seen as an extension of the [Holy Family] University’s mission, and shows the students that we practice the mission by assuming responsibilities toward God and society,” said. Sr. Maureen McGarrity, CSFN, PhD, President of Holy Family University. “This program also exemplifies Holy Family University’s motto teneor votis (‘I am bound by my responsibilities’).”

In 2017 – 2018, the English program will be extended to undergraduate students in theology and Biblical studies. Catholic Theological Institute expects to have more students enroll in the program over the next year.

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