Father Joseph Nguyen: Youngest Jesuit on Boone Ave.

Joseph Nguyen, S.J., has joined the Gonzaga faculty in the Religious Studies.  With degrees from three Jesuit universities (Saint Louis University, Boston College and Santa Clara University), Fr. Nguyen has scholarly interests in Early Church and Ignatian spirituality. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1995 and was ordained in 2007 at St. Al’s.  As the youngest Jesuit at Gonzaga, he is very excited to hear about the vision for a Jesuit center to draw more Jesuits to Spokane. He tells Gonzaga Magazine more, here.

What is your approach to teaching religious studies courses (core requirements for all students)?

The challenge is weighing the material for a varied audience – students who come from a Catholic tradition and those who are of another faith or none at all.

I’m particularly interested in helping people who were raised Catholic but not practicing to come back to the Catholic church. I want to make them feel welcome to come back. And for those who aren’t from the Christian tradition I say, approach this course from your own human experience. We all have the yearning for something beyond ourselves – explore that.

What’s changed at GU since your earlier visits?

It’s more lively on campus, for sure.  The school has grown a lot. And there seems to be more diversity than before.  I’m surprised – in a nice way.

Tell us about your family background.

I grew up in Vietnam.  We were originally from the north and moved to the south. The Church is very young in Vietnam – it was only established in 1965.  Prior to that, Catholic presence was very missionary oriented.  My grandmother was the second generation of our family to convert from the Vietnamese traditional style of Buddhism.

I was 21 when I came to the states.  Our family had relatives who left Vietnam in 1975, a few days before the end of the war. They were originally taken by the U.S. army to one of the islands in the Pacific Ocean and then to Kentucky. They later moved to Nashville.  Our family came in 1990, settled in near our other family members and my parents got jobs there in Nashville. I heard a lot of country music.  It is good for learning English!

Tell us about the Jesuit presence and vision here at Gonzaga.

In my 40s and I’m the youngest Jesuit in the house!  We have an older community here.

It’s very exciting to hear about the vision for a center for formation here. Other universities have centers for Jesuit learning, but this is unique – bringing in young people and attracting more Jesuits to come here.

I know the five young international Jesuits who came here to do ESL (language) studies. They say the experience here at Gonzaga is better than other places.  The Jesuit Center is a great way to bring more international Jesuits here.  It’s a very exciting time!

You spent a short time at Gonzaga back in 1994, then returned in 2002. How do you feel about being here now?

“Coming back, it feels like it’s the place where I belong.”

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