Anthony Nguyen lights a candle before Mass in January at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House. He was attending a retreat for prospective seminarians. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Anthony Nguyen lights a candle before Mass in January at Our Lady of Peace Retreat House. He was attending a retreat for prospective seminarians. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
" I feel like faith can be so much more than just what people think it is. " Anthony Nguyen, La Salle Prep senior who is applying to seminary

MILWAUKIE — Anthony Nguyen, a senior from La Salle Prep, discovered his devotion to the Catholic Church through hardship.

After he was born with a cleft palate, which made it difficult to speak, Nguyen learned that there was a missing piece to the puzzle that was his life — and that piece was faith.

Now, Nguyen’s life continues to revolve around Catholicism as he serves at the altar at Our Lady of La Vang Parish in Happy Valley, leads his school as the officer of faith, and will attend seminary after he graduates.

“The best way to find your faith,” he said, “is through the challenges you face.”

Nguyen was born into a Catholic household, tracing his lineage back to St. Matthew Nguyen Van Phoung. Because of his family’s history, he attributes his introduction to Catholicism to his parents, who had him baptized a month after he was born, enrolled him in Catholic school at a young age, guided him to Sunday school, and taught him to pray before meals and each night before bed.

Although Nguyen said that his commitment to a faith-filled life was steady throughout childhood, he felt further affirmation when, at a confirmation retreat, he was able to “make faith my own.”

“It was really just a profound experience for me,” Nguyen said. “I feel like faith can be so much more than just what people think it is.”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Nguyen has directed hours and hours to the Catholic Church, as he attends Mass at Our Lady of La Vang every day. He said that his parish offers a “sense of connection” because it has allowed him to form some of his most valuable friendships and connect his faith to his culture and Vietnamese heritage.

Nguyen began altar serving in second grade with inspiration from his father and uncle who had done the same. Recently, he has adopted a leadership role among servers, training newcomers and scheduling meetings.

At La Salle, Nguyen leads his community in their religious endeavors as the officer of faith. In this leadership position, he works to “deepen the faith aspect of the school,” planning events such as Masses, prayer services and grade-level retreats.

“Nowadays, with COVID, I think faith is something that people lack or want more of,” he said. “My role is to kind of find ways for people to find the aspect of faith they want.”

In addition, Nguyen  provides students with a space to discuss religion of any type.

“I know that faith sometimes can be a hard aspect to talk about in school, so I just wanted space for students to be comfortable,” he said. “It doesn’t just have to be students of faith, it [can] be students who have questions.”

Through serving his school community, Nguyen has learned about the deeper meaning of faith and that it extends beyond religion, as individuals can have faith in “a variety of different things.”

Seminary has always been something that resided in the back of Nguyen’s mind because of his liking for “service and just helping the people around me,” he said.

Nguyen submitted his 50-page application to the Archdiocese of Portland and went through several interviews as well as a few rounds of psychological testing. He was accepted and looks forward to deepening his faith at Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

Reflecting on what the spiritual life has taught him so far, Nguyen said, “If we really just look at how simple faith is, it’s just loving one another.

“People can love one another in different ways — it doesn’t just have to be through the Catholic faith. … Just that message of love I think is important.”

Carlie Weigel, a senior at La Salle Catholic College Preparatory, is the editor in chief of The Falconer newspaper. She is a member of the Catholic Sentinel Youth Writers Corps.