A Kiwi and three Vietnamese men entered Holy Cross Seminary this year to discern the plans God has in store for them.
Former Manawatu youth minister Thomas Dravitzki, 26, is studying for Palmerston North diocese.
Mr Dravitzki said he entered the seminary to explore the possibility of priesthood. Faith, like his life so far, had been fairly consistent, he said.
“I’m not really expecting a booming voice from heaven, if my life is anything to go by so far. But it’s one of those things. I’ve got a real curiosity, like an inkling, and I figure, you’re not going to know unless you try,” he said.
Mr Dravitzki said he had always been heavily involved in the Church and had been learning more about what vocation is.
“I guess it just got to the point I just had such an interest and enthusiasm that I wanted to give it a go because I wasn’t going to know any other way,” he said.
He went to Francis Douglas Memorial College (New Plymouth) and then to Victoria University of Wellington, where the highest qualification he received was a Master of Education degree.
He worked for Challenge 2000 as well as the Ministry of Education before becoming youth minister for Palmerston North diocese.
“Whatever it is that I’m called to, I want to live it joyfully and authentically,” he said. “I’ve got an openness to the priesthood. If it’s for me then it’s wonderful. But if it’s not then that’s ok as well.”
Huong Dinh, the youngest of the four new seminarians at 21, is studying for Christchurch diocese.
Mr Dinh said he first thought he might have a vocation when he was 18.
“I was at the medical university and was studying to become a medical doctor in Vietnam. I felt tumultuous. I didn’t really have a sense of fulfilment,” he said.
He said he did silly things like staying up all night, drinking and gambling. In his second year at university (2014), he heard a homily from his parish priest about the joys and challenges of priesthood.
“That homily stuck in my head. I couldn’t get it out,” he said.
Mr Dinh said he then received a call from his bishop, Vinh Auxiliary Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Vien, asking if he (Mr Dinh) wanted to be a priest in New Zealand.
“It was funny and interesting because I had not told anybody about how I felt,” he said.
He accepted the invitation and came to this country without knowing how to speak English. He studied the language while battling homesickness.
“I thought I wasn’t meant to be here, that I didn’t fit in this culture and a few times, I thought of going back home. But something held me back here,” he said.
He went to Lifeteen Camp in Wellington a few months ago. “I saw the hope, the hunger among the teens. And I saw my vocation here in New Zealand, “he said.
Joseph Nguyen, 27, is studying for Dunedin diocese.
Mr Nguyen said he greatly admired the parish priest he had as a young altar boy in Vietnam. Serving at the monthly Masses, Mr Nguyen said he really felt close to Jesus during those times.
He studied history as a pre-seminarian for four years. He was also a minister for Christian Life Community.
“I was preparing for the exam to be a seminarian in Vinh diocese but I didn’t pass. I was confused and I didn’t know what I would do at the time,” he said.
He thought about joining the Jesuit community in Saigon or waiting for two years to try to get into the diocese again. Then, he got a call from Bishop Vien.
“[The bishop] asked if I wanted to be a priest overseas. I didn’t know which country. I didn’t know which diocese that I’ll be in. But I struggled with my English and I wasn’t confident enough to say yes,” he said.
After a day of prayer, he accepted the invitation. He said he believes it was God’s plan for him to be in one of the most beautiful dioceses of New Zealand.
“I hope in the future, my dream will come true: to be a little priest, a little servant of the Church and to respond to the voice of Jesus who I am in love with,” he said.
Suu Nguyen, 30, is also studying for the Dunedin diocese.
Mr Nguyen said a terrible accident about five years ago had an impact on his family. His father’s Catholic faith deepened and that made an impression on him.
A few months after that accident, Mr Nguyen heard God’s call. “I had a feeling that God is calling me to a different way. I prayed and prayed. I asked advice from other priests and my parents,” he said.
Mr Nguyen finished his studies in civil engineering in Nanyang Technical University in Vietnam in 2010. He worked in a construction company for a year.
Deciding to pursue his vocation, he took two years to prepare for an entrance exam to Vinh diocese. Like Joseph Nguyen (not related), he didn’t pass the exam.
He was trying to decide whether to wait for two more years to retake the exam or enter the Divine Word Seminary when he met Msgr Brendan Daly from Christchurch in Saigon.
“He (Msgr Daly) was interviewing a friend of mine. I was with that friend. After the interview, I asked to speak to Msgr Daly and told him (Msgr Daly) I would like to discern for my vocation,” Mr Nguyen said.
At the time, Msgr Daly asked him about his background and then got his contact details. A month later, Msgr Daly sent an email informing Mr Nguyen that he (Mr Nguyen) was accepted by the Dunedin diocese.
He arrived in New Zealand in 2013.