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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Obedience to her mother brought Sr Cecilia to a life of safety, hope in Christ

George Al-Akiki
George Al-Akiki
George Al-Akiki is a junior multimedia journalist at The Catholic Weekly.
Sr Cecilia Susanne Nguyen celebrates her 50 years in Australia on 11 May. Photo: George Al-Akiki
Sr Cecilia Susanne Nguyen celebrates her 50 years in Australia on 11 May. Photo: George Al-Akiki

Sr Cecilia Susanne Nguyen is more than appreciative of God’s intercession in her life—she’s indebted to him, after it might’ve been much different in a poor and war-torn 20th century Vietnam.

Sister Cecilia celebrates her 50 years in Australia on 11 May in the same Holy Trinity Granville church where she made her final profession six years after arriving in 1974.

“Although I got here at 18, I feel I’ve truly grown up here. I love this place,” she said.

It’s a country that Sr Cecilia, a teacher’s aide at Trinity Primary School, can appreciate after a previous life riddled with fear.

War followed her parents from North Vietnam to the south when in 1954 Sr Cecilia, the youngest of four children, was born.

By the time she was 12 they sent her to the local convent.

“I just listened to my parents. I asked all kinds of questions, but in the end I obeyed,” she said.

“I hated the early wakeups. I would be studying from 8am sometimes, and after school we’d be working in the garden, which I found so boring.”

After three years, a teenaged Sr Cecilia told her mother she didn’t want to continue.

“She said, ‘My daughter, living inside the convent is a better life than I could ever give you outside it.’

“I truly didn’t understand it then, but I obeyed one more time.”

Her obedience paid off when at 18, Sr Cecilia freely took her vows of chastity, obedience and poverty as a Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the World, before migrating to Australia.

“In the beginning, I virtually had to say yes to life in the convent. It wasn’t truly from my heart. Now, it was my decision, not my mother’s, and I loved it,” she said.

Her fondest memories stem from 26 years as director of the Golden Rose Childcare Centre which her order established the street over from Holy Trinity after she completed childcare studies.

“When I first came here, I was the baby in my group, the youngest sister. In my culture, the older has more responsibilities, but in my studies I learnt to take on responsibility. It opened my mind,” she said.

“I loved it and it was some of the most fulfilling work I’ve done in my mission. The innocence of God’s children at that age is something so beautiful to witness.”

Now, as Sr Cecilia sits quietly in prayer at the steps of the church after a long school day, she thanks God for sending her to Australia half a century ago.

“As I get older, the more I see the beauty of this life.

“My mother always told me that inside the convent was better, safer. Maybe a part of her did think of it physically, as I always thought she meant, but as time goes on, I believe she may have meant the spiritual life.

“Because nothing physical lasts long, but eternal life lasts forever. Living with Jesus is a true sacrifice, but there has been nothing better than taking up the cross and walking the journey with him.”

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