6 new seminarians explore priesthood

Thursday, November 15, 2018 - Updated: 12:16 pm

By MATTHEW PEASLEE Associate Editor

There are six new seminarians for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, bringing the total number of students studying for the diocesan priesthood to 32.

They all took part in a recent workshop to identify and apply their strengths in their early formation. The men also have undergone further psychological screening as part of the priestly formation program.

The new seminarians will study at Duquesne University with an emphasis on theology as they learn what it means to be a priest in today’s church.

Thong Van Le, 23, of Vietnam, is a 2017 graduate of Vinh University of Technology Education, where he majored in engineering. He comes from a religious family, as his brother is a Franciscan priest and his sister is a Sister of the Handmaids of Jesus Christ. Le’s parents, Sang Van Le and Tue Thi Ho, are active in their home parish. Le was a children’s religion teacher in his parish before entering the seminary.

Growing up around his parish, Le spent a lot of time learning from priests. He said his childhood pastor influenced him as he saw him bring good news and joy to all parishioners. His dream was to be like him. Le said he personally has a great love for God, as well as all of his followers.

“I want to be able to bring God to everyone,” Le said. “During my study here, I want to cultivate the necessary knowledge for the future mission.”

Hai Ho Tran Nguyen, 27, of Vietnam came to Pittsburgh this year following the guidance of Jesuit Father Bao Nguyen, who immigrated to the United States in 1992. Nguyen’s godfather, Peter Mary Phi Ngoc Nguyen, is a priest of the Da Nang Diocese in Vietnam. He recently suffered a stroke, but called his godson with encouragement and “blessed me to go in the peace of God,” the seminarian said. His parents, Phuc Nguyen and Lan Tran, are devout Catholics who serve on their parish council. They, too, encouraged him to discern a priestly vocation.

Nguyen graduated from Van Hien University in 2013 with a degree in psychology. His most recent employment was as a counselor for a psychology center.

“I believed that God called me, and I am replying to him,” Nguyen said. “I am going to dedicate my life for him, his church and the poor. I always pray to God so that I can become a missionary to go to the places where the church is needed, in the same way missionaries from the west went to Vietnam to preach the Gospel. Catholicism has grown in Vietnam because of missionaries in the past.”

Elisha Novak, 20, of St. John XXIII Quasi Parish on Pittsburgh’s North Side, studied history for a semester at Waynesburg University before entering the seminary. He is a native of Lucas, Ohio, and a 2016 graduate of Clear Fork High School in Bellville, Ohio. He recently worked as a traveling teller for PNC Bank, assisting branches throughout the area.

Novak is a convert to the faith, received into full communion with the church in 2017. His attraction to the priesthood started when he made the decision to become Catholic. That attraction, he said, was strengthened after receiving the sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation and first Communion.

He thanks his first spiritual director, Father Michael Zavage, parochial vicar of the parish grouping that includes St. Athanasius in West View, Incarnation of the Lord in Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill neighborhood, St. Sebastian in Ross Township and St. Teresa of Avila in Perrysville, for guiding him through the RCIA and discernment process.

“I hope to grow in such a way that the faith is totally ingrained into my life,” Novak said. “And that Christ is always kept at the center of my heart, no matter what vocation he is calling me to.”

Daniel Roberts, 39, of St. Bonaventure Parish in Glenshaw, graduated from Grove City College in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in English, with minors in theater and history. He earned a master of fine arts in acting from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 2007, and has used that education in his most recent employment as freelance actor and adjunct theater professor at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California.

The North Hills native decided to return to his hometown and enter the seminary with a lot of prayer and guidance, along with several signs along the way, including a chance encounter in Maryland with Diocese of Pittsburgh vocations director Father Mike Ackerman. Another priest, also named Father Mike, was the chaplain of Roberts’ young adult group in Los Angeles. Working with him allowed Roberts to better understand the daily life of a priest.

“I truly want Jesus to be the center of my life,” he said. “As his followers, I think it’s something we all desire, but so much gets in the way. I want to know him more and more, so that I can get out of the way and let him work in every situation.”

Alec Scheuer, 27, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington, served as director of youth ministry there for two years. He also was the coordinator of youth ministry at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lancaster, Ohio, and a missionary for Reach Youth Ministry in Helena, Montana. 

Scheuer was born in South Korea and adopted by Michael and LeAnn Scheuer when he was 4 months old. He grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, and graduated from Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a minor in theology, at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 2013.

Scheuer said he knew the Lord was calling him to a higher calling in his life, but he will forever be blessed with his opportunities in youth ministry. He credits the priests he worked with at Immaculate Conception — Father William Feeney, Father Michael Conway and Father Dan Waruszewski — for impacting his decision to enter the seminary.

“I hope to grow in my love for the church, which I am called to serve each day,” Scheuer said. “I hope to grow in my devotion to Our Lady and the ultimate ‘yes’ she says, so that I may truly know that the Lord is calling me to the priesthood each day of the week.”

Loc Van Tran, 28, of Vietnam, is a 2014 graduate of Vinh University of Technology Education, where he majored in food chemistry technology. His parents, Long Van Tran and Kim Nguyen Thi, raised him to be a devout Catholic. His father passed away when he was 10 years old, but he said his faithful mother supported him and his five siblings incredibly well over the years. Tran always prays to the Virgin Mary and St. Peter because his mother gave him the holy name of Peter.

He arrived in Pittsburgh in August to build upon his strong faith and follow the voice in his heart. His most recent employment was as a children’s religion teacher. He also helped serve his home parish in a variety of capacities. He always prays for others and the people of his home parish.

“With the Spirit’s help, I hope I will grow in my faith and develop the knowledge and social skills to serve the church and its people,” Tran said.

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