By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 26, 2022
ATLANTA—In a first, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will have a Vietnamese bishop.
Bishop-designate John Nhan Tran was named auxiliary bishop by Pope Francis. He is scheduled to be ordained in the Atlanta Archdiocese on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.
A priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, he serves as pastor of Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. The appointment to Atlanta was announced in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 25 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
He’ll join Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., along with Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III and Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, as the spiritual leaders of the archdiocese.
Bishop-designate Tran comes to the position with deep experience in parish life. For some 30 years, he served as parochial vicar at four parishes and as pastor of four churches. Since 2014, he has served as pastor of the parish in Mandeville, some 35 miles away from New Orleans. It is located on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain.
Standing in front of a group of Atlanta archdiocesan employees, the new bishop cracked jokes at his own expense about his height and his familiarity with English.
He said he saw himself a priest with “very little to offer” to serve as a bishop.
“There’s nothing on my credential” to stand out, said the bishop-designate. “But I know that as long as we respond to the invitation of the Lord, the Lord will take care of the rest for us,” he said, expressing trust in God.
Taking on the new role as a bishop is not a reward, nor makes me a better person or more faithful, he said.
“God called me not because I’m better than anybody else, but because I’m a sinner and perhaps more sinful than others. And yet I believe that God calls,” he said.
He noted that his list of new things to learn is long.
“I have a lot to learn, not just where to put the pectoral cross but many things,” he said.
Additional bishop to serve the community
The request to the Vatican for an additional bishop was submitted about a year ago. Archbishop Hartmayer said he asked for another clergyman to help with responsibilities, which includes more than a hundred confirmations, requests for celebrating school Masses and parish feast days and anniversaries.
Archbishop Hartmayer said the new bishop’s practice and understanding of serving in a parish gives him the ideal background for relating to priests and communities. That know-how is priceless, he said.
“He brings 30 years of pastoral ministry and experience to his new assignment as auxiliary bishop here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I could not be happier as I welcome Bishop-designate Tran to the archdiocese and I ask you to join me in thanking him for saying yes (to Pope Francis’ request).”
The archbishop said a goal of his is to diversify the leadership of the church.
“We want more people in the archdiocese to see their faces in the bishops,” said Archbishop Hartmayer.
Atlanta is among the top 10 U.S. cities with large groups of Vietnamese residents. There are some 55,000 people with roots in the Southeast Asian country, reported the Pew Research Center. Vietnamese is the third largest language group among the Catholic community.
Two parishes in the archdiocese predominately serve the community, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross, and Our Lady of Vietnam Church, Riverdale.
Kim Huong Vu, who worships at Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church said, “My heart is filled with joy.”
The new bishop shares the life story of so many Vietnamese that will draw them to him, she believes. “It will be so exciting,” said Vu.
Family fled at end of Vietnam War
A native of Vietnam, Bishop-designate Tran was 9 years old when his family fled the country in 1975. They became refugees and settled in the United States. He speaks English and Vietnamese.
“We left empty-handed so that we would be able to practice our faith,” said the bishop-designate. “And of course, we were one of the fortunate ones who were able to not only be rescued at sea, but also to be given the opportunities to come to this country. This country has been a blessing for the Vietnamese people who were able to resettle here.”
Leaving a community ‘filled with generosity and love’
Bishop-designate Tran’s cell phone had three missed calls around Oct. 16, which he thought were spam because he did not recognize the number. The location was from Washington, D.C. It wasn’t until the third call with a voice mail, that he connected with Archbishop Pierre. After what the bishop-designate said was initial disbelief, he asked the pope’s ambassador if he could pray about the decision to serve as a bishop.
He later told Archbishop Pierre that he was “humbled by the appointment and will do my best.”
In a public letter to the parish he is leaving behind, the bishop-designate wrote how the place and its people remain close to his heart.
“I have served as your pastor for more than eight years, and it is hard for me to say goodbye. We have journeyed together through a pandemic, hurricanes and much more. Through it all, I have witnessed the workings of a faith community filled with generosity and love, serving with the heart of Christ.”
He wrote about his nerves on taking up a new mission, but finds comfort in Scripture: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).