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Vietnamese priest speaks in a tongue all too rare in area

Mass at St. Martin of Tours attracts many families

Feb. 21, 2012

Franklin - About 200 Vietnamese families travel from as far away as Madison to St. Martin of Tours, the only parish in the Archdiocese with a Vietnamese priest.

Those families have been attending services at the church, 7963 S. 116th St., since 2007, when Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked St. Martin of Tour to minister to the Vietnamese Catholic community.

Originally parishioners of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Milwaukee, the Vietnamese congregation was looking for a new place of worship after their priest retired.

Vietnamese-speaking priests were in short supply; in fact, St. Martin of Tour's Father Thi Pham is the only one in the Archdiocese. And he was glad to be their priest and help them retain their language and their culture.

Before coming to Franklin, Pham lived in Mississippi, but he is from Vietnam.

"What brought me here? Freedom," he said, "And freedom to practice my religion."

That's why many Vietnamese in the congregation left their country too, he said, as their faith is important.

"They live not only in Milwaukee, but in Franklin, Greenfield," he said. "Some live in Madison but travel here for Mass."

It's not always easy, especially in winter. "Most of them are working third shift or second shift, and some on the weekend."

Every Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Pham delivers Mass in Vietnamese - the only language the older parishioners know.

"The grandparents speak Vietnamese, the parents speak some English," he said. "The kids who were born and raised here speak English."

So that the younger generation doesn't lose touch with its past, Pham said, each Sunday they have an opportunity to learn the Vietnamese language, and "maintain their identity."

Pham said the Vietnamese parishioners have felt welcomed by St. Martin of Tours, with a membership of between 500 and 600. And, he said, the English-speaking congregants sometimes attend the Vietnamese services.

"They join us for services, for Mass," he said. "They love our culture. One of the comments they make is our culture seems to be more solemn and holy.

"We respect the family," Pham continued. "We respect the elderly. It's something America needs to have in our society."

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