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Moving Day: A Priest’s Perspective on Reassignment

Fr. Duy Le was ordained on June 11, 2011, and was assigned to St. Anne’s in Seal Beach, California. The small beach community welcomed him with open arms and hearts immediately. He served St. Anne’s for the past four years and is facing his first priest reassignment. In between packing boxes in both his office and home, I swept him away for lunch to talk about the excitement and fear surrounding his move.

Tricia: So Fr. Duy, how do you feel about the move?

Fr. Duy: Change is good for me, and it’s a part of growing. Growing has pain, but there is also excitement and hope. When you believe in God, you trust God. Whatever is going to happen is good for you and good for His people. I just have to let go of my selfishness, my desires, and my comfort. I know I’m loved and to move away from that is not easy.

T: What gets you most excited about the move?

FD: I’m excited to meet my new family, a family I have never met before, and build relationships right away. It’s going to be a whole new world (sadly he didn’t sing Aladdin but I hummed it in my head). I think it will be like going to Vietnam and meeting my family for the first time. Having them take me in as their son, their brother, their cousin right away. As a priest, we get that benefit. People love us already; we are sent by God and people accept us.

T: Simply by your vocation you get that?

FD: I know; a youth minister doesn’t get that.

T: Yeah – a Youth Ministers has to earn that respect. It’s like a babysitter that the kid will test and push the boundaries to see what they can get away. A priest is more like a father figure that has authority.

FD: Exactly. When I went to visit San Francisco Solano (his new parish), Santa Margarita High School was doing AP testing in the parish hall, and when they finished their test, they were hanging out outside. The teens saw my collar and were immediately respectful. I was surprised and impressed.

T: That’s incredible. How do you think you have grown from your first Mass till today?

FD: I’ve grown a lot for sure. You start learning your priorities. When I first got out I was more concerned if I was reading the words right, saying the right things, or standing properly; really I was more shallow. What do I look like to these people in front of me? I have realized more and more that people are looking past all that. When you are showing your heart, it doesn’t matter. When you put it all out there, they appreciate you more. I still beat myself up after every Mass and Homily; it never goes away.

T: Do you think that is a spiritual attack?

FD: I think it is a spiritual attack, but it also shows the love and care I have for everyone. If I didn’t care, I would be too complacent. If it drives me to do more, better, it’s a good thing. I’ve also realized, that even if I were to do a bad homily or make a mistake at Mass, my presence is 90% of what people need. That is the biggest part!

T: I see that in you. Your emphasis is not just on the homily. I see you talk to people before and after Mass. You love being with the people. It’s more than the motions. When I think of a shepherd, I think of you because your eyes are constantly looking for the lost sheep. You are not letting one get lost. I saw it in you as a Core Member, and I see it even more now.

FD: When I was a Core Member I was still so shy and scared to talk to teens. After ordination, the shyness is still there, but I have so much more courage.

T: It’s like the collar gives you courage!

FD: (Laughing) Exactly! I have no explanation for it! It’s like a shield! I’m out there, and I’m ready and not scared. I’m ontologically changed! My being is changed! Who I am is changed!

Through our Baptism, we are ontologically changed. As much as I am still Duy Le when the Bishop laid his hands on me and anointed me with the oil, I was infused with a Spirit that has filled in all the weaknesses. God has been able to work with me even more now. I can’t explain the difference before and after ordination. It is amazing! I can only attribute it to God.

T: What did your parents say when you wanted to be a priest?

FD: My parents were not happy! My dad was quiet. Being the only boy in the family, there is a role I am supposed to take on, and that would be taken away if I became a priest. Me being the only son, I am expected to take care of them when they grow old, to financially support them, to bring them their first grandchild. Besides, they didn’t think I could do it. They didn’t think I was smart enough, holy enough, I didn’t like public speaking, and I like girls too much.

So they were not excited but they eventually warmed up to it and now they are all proud of me. Now they are like, “Come home so I can show you off to my friends.”

T: What do you think is going to be the hardest thing about leaving St. Anne’s.

FD: Seeing so much of me at St. Anne’s and being ok with it all disappearing. I look at the projector in the church, the youth ministry, the youth room; I look at all these things that God has allowed me to do. I tell myself that I have to be ok with all of it going away. Someone can come in and erase every trace of me. I should be forgotten, and Christ should be all that remains.

T: What are you most looking forward to at San Francisco Solano?

FD: Young families, being next to a high school, and having an elementary school. I think I’m excited about a change. I’m excited for what God has in store for me. I think the only reason He is moving me now is that I’m ready for something new. When we put our life in God’s hand, it can never be boring!

T: What do you wish you had known before you became a priest?

FD: I wish I knew about the priestly brotherhood. It’s automatic. In a normal world, I would never hang out with these guys. The different personalities connected by the common bond of ordination creates strange bonds.

T: You wouldn’t hang out with them?

FD: No! This bond surpasses everything. It allows us to connect on a deeper level beyond sports, language, or culture. People outside the parish, in the secular world, they choose their friends based on likes and dislikes. In a church as one family you don’t choose your brother and sister, you receive them from God. That is how it feels with the brotherhood of the priesthood.

T: What has St. Anne’s taught you about yourself?

FD: It’s ok to make mistakes; people will still love you. The life of service is a life of joy. We don’t choose our brothers and sisters, but we love them all the same. St. Anne’s showed me that God has loved me completely, unconditionally, through His people. I will never understand my place in this world as a priest, but I will always feel loved. I’ve learned I can do so much more than I think I can do. I’ve also learned that people believe in me more than I believe in myself. I don’t think I will ever understand all that St. Anne’s taught me till I am in heaven, and I know what really happened at St. Anne’s.

About the Author

Tricia Tembreull

Tricia Tembreull is a California girl with a Texas-size heart for hospitality. She said yes over twenty years ago to God’s call to youth ministry and never could’ve imagined the adventures and people He had planned for her to encounter along the way. She serves as a Parish Coach for Life Teen and joyfully travels around the globe training, empowering, and praying with youth ministers. When not on a plane, you can find Tricia in a church, spending time with family and friends, in the kitchen cooking up something delightful, or on the beach for an evening walk.