Fr. Luan Tran emphasizes a point made during an eighth grade religion class he co-taught at St. Agatha School in Southeast Portland last school year. He taught the class to better understand students’ struggles and thus “better serve them and be there for them,” he said. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Fr. Luan Tran emphasizes a point made during an eighth grade religion class he co-taught at St. Agatha School in Southeast Portland last school year. He taught the class to better understand students’ struggles and thus “better serve them and be there for them,” he said. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Born in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Father Luan Tran was raised Buddhist. But as a 19-year-old in the United States, he made the bold decision to convert to Catholicism.

That choice emerged from a deep love of God — a love that has flourished in the priest during his quarter-century of ministry.

“Everything I have and am as I walk along this journey of my priestly service has come from him,” said Father Tran, currently pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Southeast Portland.

The young Luan arrived in the United States as a refugee less than a decade after the war ended. Before his parents could join him the teen was cared for by the Adorers of the Holy Cross Sisters in Portland. The sisters, whose order was founded in 17th-century Vietnam, tended to the wave of Vietnamese refugees who arrived in the region during the 1980s.

Many of the refugee youths, including Luan, looked to the sisters as mother figures.

The sisters “consoled the children … after their dramatic escapes,” recalled Msgr. Morton Park in a 1998 Sentinel story on the order.

Father Tran would go on to graduate from Grant High School in Northeast Portland and earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Portland State University. In 1988, he entered Mount Angel Seminary.

The seminarian completed a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplaincy program and served for years as a reservist. As a priest Father Tran was training at a squadron officers’ school in Alabama when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

That October his parishioners welcomed him back with relief. “All were concerned he might be called to active duty in the aftermath of the tragedy,” read a 2001 Sentinel article.

Ordained in by Archbishop William Levada in 1994, Father Tran served as parochial vicar of St. Mary Parish Corvallis and St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. He later ministered at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rainier, St. Mary in Vernonia, St. Frederic in St. Helens and St. Birgitta in Portland. Last year he was assigned to St. Agatha.

Sharon Johnson, a member of St. Frederic, wrote a letter to the Sentinel this spring celebrating the priest’s observant, sensitive nature and his compassion.

While Father Tran served at St. Frederic, Johnson’s husband, Frank, was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive disease that attacks nerve cells.

“It’s a difficult disease for the patient and the caregiver,” Johnson wrote. “At one point, Frank was hospitalized. Father Tran came to visit. He came into the room, looked at Frank, and said he would be back shortly. I thought to myself, ‘This is strange.’ But then he came back with a razor and shaved Frank. I will never forget that.”

Father Tran brought that same roll-up-his-sleeves, pastoral approach with him to St. Agatha. He’d never taught at an elementary school before but wanted to help. So this past year he co-taught a religion class for eighth-graders.

It was an opportunity to “know what the students are thinking, what they are struggling with, so I can better serve them and be there for them,” said Father Tran.

Reflecting on his 25 years in the priesthood, Father Tran deflected the attention and kept his words brief: “May my life and my ministry reflect the only thing in my heart on my silver jubilee — gratitude to almighty God.”