Carrying their crosses together

North Texas Catholic
(May 1, 2024) Feature

Thang and Theresa Nguyen are parishioners of Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

In his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family), Pope Francis wrote, “Spouses are consecrated and, by means of a special grace, build up the Body of Christ and form a domestic church.”

A couple firmly grounded in their faith and bound together by God’s love, Thang and Theresa Nguyen are witnesses and participants of the power of a domestic church and the grace of the mystical body of Christ.


How they met

After moving from Jefferson, Missouri, to Fort Worth in the early 1980s, Thang began studying at the University of Texas at Arlington and became a parishioner of the nearby St. Matthew Parish. There, he saw a “pretty girl” in the Vietnamese choir. He promptly joined the choir, along with his then-roommate Thu Nguyen, who was later ordained into the priesthood and is now the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth.

“We were very active in the church. I think that’s a thing for us — there’s no other place to go except church," Theresa said.

About ten years later, Thang and Theresa married on November 7, 1992.


Family of faith

For a year after their wedding, Theresa lived with her in-laws, learning family traditions, and easing into the role of a daughter-in-law. Theresa saw “how Thang’s parents were so devout; it would give me goosebumps because they’re so holy, and they instilled and passed that down to him, and he then passed it down to our children.”

Her parents and her in-laws’ strength of faith made its mark on how the couple raised their four children.

“We thought, okay, we should do the same thing too, and remember always. ‘You’re a Catholic — whatever you do, just think, you’re a Catholic first,” she shared.

The couple are parents of four: Christian, 30; Victoria, 29; Andrew, 26; and Michael, who passed away when he was 21 after being hit by a drunk driver.

“Three are on Earth; hopefully one is in heaven,” Theresa said.


Weekends at church

Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem arrive for Mass at Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Arlington on Oct. 16, 2021. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Around Michael’s birth in 1999, the family of six became active in the newly established Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington. During the week, their kids attended public school. During the weekend, they were in the church.

The Nguyens belong to many groups, including the Serra Club, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Legion of the Sacred Heart. 

Their kids also participated in the choir, youth groups, and the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, which their daughter Victoria now leads. 


A key to prayer

Having a set time for eating together, praying together, and going to confession together is very important, the couple said. 

“At nighttime, we had a set time, and our children would kneel in front of our family altar. They did that every night until they moved out of the house. We prayed together exactly at 8:30 p.m., right before bed. We taught them all the prayers that they should know in Vietnamese,” Theresa shared. 

“Families pray together; families stay together,” Thang added.


A tradition to process

In a tradition established since their eldest’s birth, the Nguyen family has participated in a procession honoring Our Lady of Fatima, either at their parish or in Missouri or Kerens, Texas, “to give her thanks for all the things that we’d received and to honor Our Lady,” Theresa said. "The Virgin Mary is a very core [devotion] in our family — she holds us together and leads us to Jesus."


Thang Nguyen responded "I do" during the Questioning of the Candidates at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Olson on Sept. 24, 2022 at St. Patrick Cathedral. During the Mass, deacon aspirants were admitted to candidacy or instituted as lectors. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Called to the diaconate

Although he had entertained the thought of becoming a deacon when he was in his early 50s, Thang had decided against attending a Come and See until his youngest child, Michael, entered college. 

“I never thought I would be a deacon because of my goofiness,” he said.

However, when the maximum age for new deacons was bumped up to 57, he took it as a sign, relented, attended the talk, completed some paperwork, and was accepted into the formation program.

“You don’t know how He’s calling you. He’s always calling us to follow Him, to pick up the cross. You decide to pick up a small cross, or a big cross to follow after Him, and we decide to continue or to drop it. … Each of us has our own decisions to make,” said Thang.

“It’s not that easy of a decision too,” Theresa added. “Right after Thang entered the formation, that’s when Michael passed away, and [we thought] should we continue? It was a sad time, and we didn’t know what to do. But his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2022 really secured his determination to follow God.”


A bit about Michael

“We have four very beautiful kids,” Theresa shared. “All of our children were very active in their faith, and the youngest was especially the most active with the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement here at the parish. He was a great musician. He produced his first album titled Love Endlessly on Spotify with songs that he wrote. He produced it several months before his passing. Oh, it’s a beautiful love song that he wrote for Jesus.” 

Michael was very active in the University Catholic Community at the University of Texas at Arlington and led praise and worship there every Wednesday. He passed two months before his expected graduation from the university in October 2021.


The Mystical Body

Everything is in God’s timing, Theresa affirmed. “I truly believe that my faith can be strong in that [belief]. The providence that we’ve seen with our eyes — even with the death of Michael — our family has stayed very strong. And not only that. We have a priest, our pastor here, and the whole congregation, the parishioners, the outpouring of their love for us and the support — we saw them go above and beyond. We feel so loved by those around us. When Michael passed away, I think that's how we were able to move forward.”

At Michael’s funeral Mass, they felt grateful for pews filled with people ready to share their condolences, their love, and prayers for the repose of his soul. 

“I do not know where they all came from,” Thang quietly pondered. “We hadn’t planned on it; we hadn’t invited anyone, but they all showed up.”

That’s the strength of being Catholic, Theresa said. “We live to show the people around us this is one God that gives us hope. Dying is not the end.”


Dealing with grief

“Even today, we still think about Michael. But that’s the good thing about being Catholic. We know we will see him again. We just know because that has been taught — we will be resurrected, our body and soul together, and we can’t wait,” Theresa said.

Thang and Theresa Nguyen stand together before Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Domestic Church, Thang Nguyen, Theresa Nguyen, Vietnamese Catholics, Vietnamese Martyrs Church in Arlington, Catholic Family, trending-english