It all began in 2018 with a possibly suspicious email, the kind you might delete without a second look. Four years later, it concluded with the arrival in Concordia of three Dominican Sisters from Vietnam.
The story from that beginning to its end features bureaucracy, the pandemic, persistence and generosity – and it’s almost as curious as that initial email.
“The email was lengthy and talked about sisters in Vietnam,” recalls Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. The message came from Father Bao Nguyen, a Jesuit priest in Baltimore. “At first it looked like a scam… but for some reason I did not delete it.”
Father Bao was asking women religious in America to sponsor sisters from Vietnam, to come here to live and serve for two years. The program is called Formation Support for Vietnam and was founded in 2008 by a young Jesuit who realized that Vietnamese priests, brothers and sisters did not have access to Catholic educational institutions to deepen their spirituality and improve their area of study.
The program has assisted more than 300 people from Vietnam, in placements with congregations and dioceses across the United States. “I responded to Father Bao’s email asking for more information,” Sister Jean explains. “Then in the coming days the whole Council had a Zoom call with him. We talked to the sisters living at the Motherhouse since the sisters would be living with them to get their input on whether we should pursue this. They unanimously agreed they wanted to do that.”
The next step was applying for religious visas through the Department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And it got complicated, Sister Jean says: “Because we had never sponsored someone on a religious visa before, we needed an on-site visit from Homeland Security to verify we are who we say we are. That took almost a year to schedule.”
Finally, “We were cleared for the sisters in Vietnam to apply for visas in January 2020.”
Then the pandemic hit and nothing happened for two years. In February 2022, Sister Jean heard from Father Bao again: Were the Concordia sisters still interested?
The answer was a resounding yes, even though the visiting sisters would be from a different congregation — which meant the Concordia congregation had to start the visa application process all over again. But this time there was no need for the Homeland Security check and bureaucracy moved a little more quickly. Three Dominican Sister of Go Vap, in Ho Chi Minh City, met the Concordia community via Zoom.
“For several weeks our sisters have communicated with them, helping them to have some knowledge of English when they arrive,” Sister Jean said. “Because there is a 12-hour time difference between us and Vietnam we Zoom at 7:30 at night, which is 7:30 the next morning for them. That has worked out well. Our sisters have a sense that they know them and vice versa which will make the first few weeks of transition much easier for everyone.”
The three women – Sisters Tran Thi Tinh, Nguyen Thi Tien and Hoong Thi Hoai — endured a 36-hour trip to get to Kansas City, and then the 3½ hours drive from there to Concordia. They arrived just in time for the Concordia sister’s annual fall Assembly, where they were officially introduced to the congregation.
Their congregation is one of 147 in 109 countries that make up the Dominican Sisters International Confederation. Together, the Confederation has nearly 19,500 Sisters.
While Sisters Hoong Thi Hoāi, Nguyen Thi Tiên and Tran Thi Tinh arrived safely in Kansas, a fourth Sister was delayed. Thankfully, the visa of Tran Thi Thuy Tiên was finally approved and she was able to start the journey to the Motherhouse. She arrived on Friday, November 18, 2022 to a jubilant round of applause from all of the sisters present at lunch that day.
In their two years here, the four sisters will have the opportunity to become proficient in English and learn American customs. Then they will continue their formal education, with the goal of returning to Vietnam to help their community open a home for the elderly.