Beaumont Diocese priest claimed by COVID-19

Father Duc Duong, a native of Vietnam, trapped by war but protected in spirit by his Catholic faith and who succeeded in escaping his homeland and emigrating to the United States where he became a priest, died Saturday of COVID-19. He was 63.

He was attended by family and friends.

Duc served in several parishes across the Diocese of Beaumont during his 21 years as a priest. Before that, he served nearly three decades as a seminarian, mostly in secret, while still in Vietnam until he managed his escape to Hong Kong in a small boat in 1991, said his lifelong friend, Father Khanh Ho, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Mont Belvieu.

Duc attended seminary from 1971 to 1979 — about four years after the communist takeover of Vietnam when his seminary was closed by the communist government, Khanh said.

Khanh and Duc were about 13 when they began studying for the priesthood.

Duc, was born Nov. 2, 1958 in the ancient capital of Hue — the site of a month-long terrible battle in early 1968 during the Tet Offensive in which U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese eventually repulsed the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. More than 5,000 Vietnamese civilians perished during the battle and the city was destroyed.

Khanh said Duc was a year ahead of him in seminary when they were boys, but Khanh managed to escape to the United States where he entered the priesthood in 1990.

"(Duc) spent years as a catechist (a teacher for those intending to be confirmed in the Catholic faith) and as a music director in his parish," Khanh said. "He had to do everything in secret from 1979 to 1991, when he decided to escape. He went to Hong Kong in a small boat. Those were dark, very challenging years."

Khanh said he finally was able to visit his family in Vietnam once normalization of diplomatic relations became possible in the early 1990s. He also visited Duc in Hong Kong, and Khanh sponsored his immigration to the United States, along with five other seminarians.

More Information

Services for Father Duc Duong are as follows:

At St. Anthony Cathedral, 700 Jefferson St.

Reception of Body, 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov 11.

Sharing of Memories, 4 p.m. Thursday

Wake Service, 5 p.m. Thursday

Funeral Mass, 10 a.m. Friday, Nov 12

Meal after funeral at St. Anthony

Burial at Greenlawn Cemetery, Groves

At the time, Bishop Bernard Ganter led the Diocese of Beaumont and gave his blessing to bringing Duc to Beaumont in 1993, but Khanh had nothing in writing and Ganter died soon after.

"I had to send him to a different parish in Raleigh, North Carolina, and then he went to Chicago. I was pastor of St. Joseph in Beaumont. I brought Duc to Beaumont to sing and Bishop Joseph Galante was there and he invited Duc to come here," Khanh said. "Bishop sent him to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans where Duc earned his master's of divinity and then he came back here and was ordained on June 10, 2000, after 29 years as a seminarian."

Khanh said Duc was assigned to be associate pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Port Arthur, then as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Beaumont and back to St. Catherine as pastor. He later served as chaplain at Baptist Hospital of Beaumont and was parochial vicar of Infant Jesus in Lumberton and St. Mark the Evangelist in Silsbee.

"He was always happy and loved to meet people. People were drawn to him because of his joy," Khanh said. "He loved to sing karaoke and he loved fishing. He told people he was a fisher of men (the mandate given by Jesus to his first disciples, referring to their souls). He liked to be called 'The Duke,' like John Wayne."

Khanh said he knew Duc was not vaccinated against COVID, but he had promised Bishop David Toups a few months ago during a convocation a few months in Galveston that he would be vaccinated soon.

Khanh, who said he is vaccinated, agreed to travel with Duc to the convocation so they could spend time together.

"I suspected he was sick then," Khanh said. "Bishop Toups told him he could not force him to get vaccinated, but Father Duc promised he would. He spent three months in the hospital until he died. He had been very healthy, but he just did not get vaccinated."

Bishop Toups said he has encouraged all priests to get vaccinated because "indeed, we are on the front lines" as people continue to practice their faith with one another in their churches.

"Father Duc was a wonderful priest and he will be sorely missed in the community of priests, the Vietnamese community and in his parishes in Lumberton and Silsbee. Let's continue to pray that this is the end of any pandemic deaths in our area," Toups said in a written statement to The Enterprise.

Duc is the fourth Catholic Diocese of Beaumont priest to die since August. Last month, a fifth priest was recalled to Spain.

Dan Wallach is a freelance writer.