By Greg Mellen     12/10/2019

On a rainy Thursday, Nov. 21, a small group of parishioners, clergy and construction workers gathered at the site of the future Our Lady of La Vang shrine on the Christ Cathedral campus. As Auxiliary Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen began blessing the construction site and praying for an on-time and safe completion of the shrine, as if in a nod from the Blessed Mother on the proceedings, the sun winked out from behind the cloud cover.

At the private ceremony, Bishop Nguyen noted for the first time publicly an October 3, 2020 target date for completion. “We are God’s co-workers, so today we ask you to bless the project,” Bishop Nguyen said.

The site of the Marian Court, where Our Lady of La Vang will be the first monument, is surrounded by an eight-foot white plywood wall with artists renderings of the future site.

The land is graded, a footprint for the shrine has been dug out and infrastructure such as gas and electricity are in place, according to Dr. Elysabeth Nguyen, La Vang Shrine Committee project manager.

Ground was broken more than a year ago on the $10 million project that Vietnamese volunteers brought to Bishop Kevin Vann in 2016.

The Marian Court is expected to eventually be home to several shrines honoring the Virgin Mary. It will be anchored by a 12-foot-tall statue of Mary as she appeared in the late 18th century to persecuted villagers who had fled to the jungles in central Vietnam.

The statue will depict Our Lady in traditional Vietnamese garments, cradling the infant Jesus. They will be beneath an up-swirl of stainless steel panels under a glass roof. There will also be a plaza, Rosary gardens and room for future multicultural shrines honoring Mary.

Gray Construction, a Lexington, Kentucky-based engineering, architecture and construction firm best known for large industrial projects is building the site. This is its first job for the Diocese of Orange.

“It’s very exciting; it’s a very special project,” said Jim Thorne, vice president of architecture and engineering preconstruction for Gray. “It’s more a piece of art. This is our first shrine.”

Although much of the work that has been done is not yet visible, Elysabeth Nguyen said many elements, such as the statue and panels, are being assembled offsite and nearing completion.

“It’s not a typical building where you see everything,” she said. The project manager says she has been keeping a close eye on developments. “My building is right there,” she said, pointing to the nearby looming City Tower Building where she works. “I can see the project every day.”

The ceremony was quick, with two Vietnamese songs, a “Hail Mary” and “Lord’s Prayer,” and the bishop’s blessing. Bishop Nguyen said he and parishioners are eager to see the finished project. “They are loving her so much,” he said of Our Lady of La Vang. “They want to SEE her.”