Doctors told the mother there was no hope for her 9-year-old son.
It was early summer 1979, and a severe dengue fever outbreak had ravaged Saigon.
Neighborhood friends of young Bao Thai had died, and he likely was next.
His distraught mother, Kim-Anh Nguyen, made a promise as she prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary: If she would heal her son, she and her five children would become Catholics.
As doctors continued to monitor Bao, his condition, miraculously, started to improve. He eventually went home fully recovered.
A few months later, on Aug. 15 — the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – Bao’s mother made good on her promise. She and her five children were baptized in the Catholic Church.
Bao’s father, Minh Thai, was baptized six years later after the paratrooper in the South Vietnam military was released from prison. He had been captured by North Vietnam soldiers two days before the Vietnam War ended, on April 30, 1975.
These events sealed the desire of Bao, then 15, to become a priest.
And now, he’s Bishop Kevin Vann’s choice to succeed Fr. Christopher Smith as rector of Christ Cathedral, the spiritual home of the Bishop of Orange and a major center of Catholic worship on the West Coast that attracts 11,000 people to church each weekend.
“I’m speechless,” Fr. Bao said about receiving the new assignment, in which he will run a parish whose members come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
“First of all, I thank God for the new mission entrusted to me,” Fr. Bao said. “Secondly, I’m grateful to Bishop Kevin Vann and his Episcopal Council for having such confidence in me. This appointment is an honor.”
FR. BAO THAI WILL SUCCEED FR. CHRISTOPHER SMITH AS RECTOR OF CHRIST CATHEDRAL. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE.
Fr. Bao’s appointment is effective July 1, 2022, when Fr. Christopher will assume the title of rector emeritus and finish some ongoing projects on the Christ Cathedral campus at Bishop Vann’s request. Fr. Bao earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and taught high school for a year in Vietnam before the U.S. sponsored his POW-led family’s relocation to the U.S. They arrived in Orange County in July 1993.
His passion to become a priest still burning, Fr. Bao became active in his home parish, St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach. He entered Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon in August 1995. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
In 1998, Fr. Bao earned a master’s degree in divinity and a master’s degree in spiritual philosophy at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo.
After being ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 2003, Fr. Bao went on to earn his licentiate of sacred theology in spirituality at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (“The Angelicum) in Rome in June 2009.
Fr. Bao’s tenure in the Diocese has included serving as parochial vicar at the parishes of San Francisco Solano, Holy Family Cathedral, St. Anthony Claret and Our Lady of La Vang. Bishop Vann appointed him administrator of St. Cecilia in July 2015 and pastor in 2017.
Fluent in Vietnamese and English, and with a good knowledge of Spanish, the newly appointed rector also served concurrently as parish administrator of La Purísima
Catholic Church for a six-month period in 2020.
Fr. Bao is on the board of the Orange Catholic Foundation, and he served two terms on the Diocese’s Priest Personnel Board. He also was instrumental as an advisory board member for the July 2021 dedication of Christ Cathedral’s Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, a contemporary outdoor display devoted to the Virgin Mary as she is believed to have appeared before a group of Vietnamese Catholics in 1798.
BREAKING THE NEWS
Bishop Vann noted that he spent considerable time at St. Cecilia with Fr. Bao a few years ago while recovering from a surgical procedure.
“My time there helped me to not only know Fr. Bao, but to see his love for his parishioners as their pastor,” Bishop Vann said. “And I got to see first-hand his ability to work with the Vietnamese, Hispanic and Caucasian parishioners of St. Cecelia, which is the same ethnic mix at Christ Cathedral.”
Recognizing Fr. Bao’s skills and accomplishments, Bishop Vann invited Fr. Bao to dinner at Il Barone Ristorante in Newport Beach on Jan. 14, 2022.
There, over a meal of fish and red wine, Bishop Vann asked him if he would accept the assignment as the new rector of Christ Cathedral. Fr. Bao’s acceptance makes him the
fourth Vietnamese rector of a cathedral in the U.S. and the second in California.
“I will humbly utilize my gifts to carry out the vision of Bishop Vann for Christ Cathedral with the help of God,” Fr. Bao said.