Meet Sister Mai Dung Nguyen
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Vietnam. My family came to the United States in 1992 through the sponsorship of my older brother, who had escaped Vietnam by boat.
I attended public schools and colleges. I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and master’s and doctorate degrees, both in the mechanical engineering field, focusing on biomedical applications.
How does being an engineer and scientist fit into the Dominican Sisters’ mission of preaching?
Our Dominican motto is: To Praise, To Bless and To Preach. We preach through praising and blessing God, who is the source of all things. Being involved in research, I praise God with a heart full of gratitude at different levels: in cells, through the interactions of molecules, and the interconnectedness among God’s creation and via energy/forces in the engineering field. Finding ways to improve the quality of life is another way to serve God and to bring God’s peace to the world.
How did you experience your religious call?
In August 1999, at a Vietnamese Marian Festival in Carthage, Missouri, I met some Kentucky Dominican Sisters at their booth, and they gave me some articles. I was inspired by one article written by a new member who shared her experiences living with Sisters in the house of discernment in Boston, Massachusetts. This house was opened for those who wanted to explore religious life with Sisters. I was reluctant to consider religious life at that time, but I said to myself; “If I can spend many years in academic study, why not give myself a chance to explore religious life and have a real experience with Sisters?. If I don’t like it, I can leave, but this experience may strengthen my faith and open my view more.” Thus, I emailed a Vocation Director to explore more. I must admit that I had a lot of wrong assumptions about religious life at that time. Religious life is much more than what I had imagined. I have found great joy and peace and my life has become more fruitful because of this call.
What challenges did you experience at the beginning of your religious life?
My two greatest challenges were learning English as a second language and how to interact with people because I was a shy and passive person. I was concerned also about how my engineering-scientific background would fit into religious life and how to live in a predominantly white culture.
How did you overcome the challenges you experienced?
By getting out of my comfort zone, being patient and open, praying, and seeking help with trust, I was able to overcome the challenges I encountered early in religious life. Through prayer, I received courage and affirmation. I also found Sisters who were very patient in reaching out to me, supporting me, and encouraging me, making me feel part of this congregation as we live and move into the future together.
What has been most rewarding to you about being a Sister?
I must say daily fulfillment is the reward I experience. People may think that being a Sister is so lonely because we do not have a spouse or our own family, but this is not the case for me. Daily fulfillment comes from so many sources–through prayer, community, study, and ministry. It can be from breaking bread with one another in daily life with my local community, during prayer, and in ministry. Another significant source of fulfillment is getting to know more about God and myself. By recognizing and embracing my gifts/talents while also accepting my limitations, I feel more enriched, which allows me to be myself and to welcome others into my life more easily.
What excites you about being a Vocation Minister?
As a Vocation Minister, I am excited to hear about the life journey of women discerning religious life, and at the same time, I enjoy helping others discover their calling. The sharing of a woman’s story and the conversations we engage in are sacred moments. Many times, after talking with a discerner, I like to sit quietly to embrace how beautiful a woman’s life is and how God is working through this person. These moments draw me to pray for that person and for the gifts of life.
What Gospel message speaks to you about your vocation?
I have a lot of Gospel messages that I like and that touch my heart. But from a vocation perspective, this is the passage that holds the greatest meaning for me: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul delights.” (Matthew 12:18) I received this affirming message in 1996 when I greatly doubted my call to religious life. At that time, I felt I was not worthy and did not have any gifts/talents to live this life. This affirming message gave me the courage to nurture and pursue my call. Even now, this passage continues to be my motivation to move forward and accept how I am called based on the signs of the times.
What message do you want to share with women who are searching for their call in life?
Well, it may be: “Trust in God, trust yourself, and trust God’s call in you. Be courageous, be open and take the action, then let God fulfill the rest for you, which is more than you can imagine. Religious life may seem challenging but it is a beautiful life and worthy to discern/pursue. God will be with you. With God and community, you will never walk alone.”
What do you think about the future of religious life?
I believe that religious life is a call from God and will continue, though it will be different in these ways:
- Women may enter a congregation one or two individuals at a time, instead of in large numbers at once.
- Many will be confident and competent to live this life and to minister to others, bringing with them more life experience and professional skills, with a deeper faith life, with a richer, more diverse background, and a greater understanding of religious life before they enter.
- Women religious will engage in more collaborative efforts across congregational boundaries for support, visioning, and ministries.
We have a strong foundation to build on for moving into the future. So many of our now-aging Sisters have been pioneering leaders, and their spirit, lived experiences, and ministerial work are a treasure from which our newer members learn as we look to the future.
We cannot live in the future, however, unless we trust in God’s providence AND unless we learn from the past and embrace the present. As we move into the future, we will be shaped and enriched by a more diverse group of women who represent different cultures, ethnicities, professional backgrounds, ages, faith practices, and congregational charisms. I am blessed to live this life at this time and look forward to the future of religious life.
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul delights.” (Matthew 12:18)