With the Rev. Than Ngoc Vu’s death, south Louisiana lost a great and compassionate leader whose many contributions to our community cannot be measured.
My only personal encounter with Father Vu came during the dreadful weeks following Hurricane Katrina. A 93-year-old dear family friend and fellow immigrant from Colombia named Carmen suffered horrible injuries in an accident while being evacuated from New Orleans as rising waters threatened to flood her apartment near City Park. Lost for almost a week to her sister and friends, Carmen was finally located, near death, in a Baton Rouge hospital.
I was in Carmen’s room when one of the doctors treating her came in and told us that she probably would not recover due to her advanced age, severity of her injuries and other pre-existing ailments, and that death was probably imminent. The doctor nodded when we asked if it was time to have a Catholic priest come administer the last rites.
While Carmen spoke fluent English, her 90-year-old sister asked me if I could locate a Spanish-speaking priest whom she might better understand in her mostly unconscious state. I inquired with friends and was referred to the Rev. Vu. To my surprise, this Vietnamese-born priest spoke excellent Spanish.
Not having ever met me, Carmen or any other family members, Vu nevertheless promptly went to the hospital, where he spoke to her in Spanish and solemnly administered the Catholic last rites. Shortly following Vu’s visit, Carmen’s condition improved to the point where she could be transferred to a long-term care facility in New Orleans, where she lived near her sister for about another year. In our family, we lightheartedly referred to this incident as “Father Vu’s miracle.”
I had no further contact with Vu following his visit to the hospital, but I never forgot his kindness and willingness during the post-Katrina chaos to rush to provide comfort to an old, dying woman he had never met. What a wonderful community and world we would have if there were more people like Vu.
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