Bishop Dominic Dinh Mai Luong – the first and only Vietnamese-American Bishop in the U.S. and an outspoken advocate for Catholics in Vietnam – retired December 20 on his 75th birthday, after serving the Diocese of Orange for 12 years.
“Our diocese has the largest Catholic Vietnamese population outside Vietnam, with about 70,000,” Bishop Luong notes, adding that he was uniquely suited to pastoral service here. “Many of our parishes – Holy Spirit, Saint Barbara’s, St. Columban’s and Our Lady of La Vang – are predominantly Vietnamese-American.”
Bishop Luong is known for his self-effacement, work ethic and compassion, as well as his intimate knowledge of the needs and concerns of Vietnamese-American Catholics.
When he was named auxiliary bishop by Pope John Paul II in 2003, recalls then-Bishop Tod Brown, “Bishop Luong flew into John Wayne Airport the day before the public announcement of his appointment was made. He was overwhelmed by the fact that I met him at the airport. That points to his humility. In his own easygoing way, he has brought his own leadership and his own spirituality and pastoral skills, all gifts that have contributed to his service here.”
Dominic M. Luong was born in Minh Cuong, Vietnam in 1940, the second youngest of 11 children. His seminary and formation were at Holy Family Diocesan Seminary high school in Vietnam and in 1958 he came to the United States at 18 years old to continue his studies at St. Bernard Seminary in Rochester, New York. He pursued postgraduate studies at Canisius College, earning two master’s degrees in biology and psychology.
Ordained a priest on May 21, 1966, for the Diocese of Danang, Vietnam, then-Father Luong was prevented from returning to his homeland because the Vietnam War was raging. As circumstances would have it, he was never able to return in pastoral service to his native land. Still, he had many careers, including teaching biology at the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary, working as a hospital chaplain and serving as associate pastor at Saint Louis Parish in Buffalo.
When South Vietnam fell, Father Luong was the individual best suited to help resettle the many refugees who streamed into the U.S. A large portion of them came to New Orleans, so he served there as director of the Archdiocesan Vietnamese Apostolate from 1976 to 1983. He became an American citizen in 1977 and was named founding pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans in 1983.
“Vietnamese Catholics are different,” Bishop Luong explains. “They have a deep devotion that enriches the Church, and a unique dedication to the Blessed Virgin that has helped revitalize their congregations. There is a great devotion to family and to religious vocations.”
In addition to his pastoral duties, Father Luong has served as rector of the Vietnamese Martyrs Chapel in New Orleans and director of the National Pastoral Center for the Vietnamese Apostolate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As the U.S. Conference of Bishops’ director of pastoral care for migrants and refugees, he traveled throughout the country assessing various Vietnamese immigrant groups.
“Bishop Dominic’s choice of motto, ‘You are strangers and aliens no longer,’ (Ephesians 2:19) lovingly represents the reality of our Vietnamese community in Orange who had come here after the fall of Saigon,” says Shirl Giacomi, chancellor of the Diocese of Orange. “From fleeing for their lives and leaving all possessions behind, they became an integral part of our society. Bishop Dominic’s loving care of the community was a powerful sign of their inclusion.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Bishop Luong received numerous phone calls as the flood waters were rising. “The local cell phone towers were not working but long distance towers were in operation, and he took frantic calls from his former parishioners who were hovering on rooftops,” Giacomi remembers. “He was actually coordinating rescues from his office in Orange. I knew that we had been fortunate to receive a very special priest as our auxiliary, but that cemented my deep respect and admiration for him.”
Besides enhancing the Asian presence among Orange County Catholics, Bishop Luong has an easygoing way that makes him a joy to work with, Bishop Brown says.
“He has served not only the people of the Diocese of Orange, which has the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, but as the only Vietnamese-American bishop in the U.S.A., he represents Vietnamese Catholics all over the world,” notes Father Kerry Beaulieu, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels parish in Newport Beach. “Bishop Dominic was a great support to me during the building of our church. He lived here for seven years and was a joy to have in the rectory.”