Father John Vianney first Beatitudes priest to be ordained in Denver

On Nov. 7, the Community of the Beatitudes made history by ordaining the first member from their community in Denver. Father John Vianney Thanh Viet Thai, originally from Vietnam, was ordained a priest by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Parish. 

Father Vianney is the first priest of the Community of Beatitudes to be ordained in Denver. Ordinations of their members usually take place France, where the community was founded in 1973, but due to the pandemic, Archbishop Aquila ordained Father Vianney is a very intimate celebration. 

Father Vianney was born on March 31, 1983, in Vinh Long, South of Vietnam. He was raised in a non-Catholic family, something that didn’t stop him from following God’s call. In 2000, when he was a high school senior, he moved to student housing at a Catholic parish, thanks to a family friend who was Catholic. There, he walked into a Catholic church and experienced the sacrifice of the Holy Mass for the very first time. He immediately fell in love with the beauty of the liturgy. During his time there, he also learned about the parish charity work that was often led by the pastor of the church and the nuns from the charity congregation. Amazed by all these acts of kindness and mercy, he soon felt the desire to consecrate his life to God and serve the less fortunate. A year later, he was baptized during Easter Vigil. 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila ordained Father John Vianney Thanh Viet Thai Nov. 7 at St. Catherine of Siena parish. Father Vianney is the first member of the Community of Beatitudes to be ordained in Denver. (Photo provided)

In 2002, he joined the Community of the Beatitudes and lived in their New Zealand house from 2003 to 2005. Years later, he took some time to complete a degree in psychology.  

In 2011, Father Vianney took his first vows with the Community of the Beatitudes and started his religious life and priesthood formation. From 2015 to 2019, he moved to Blagnac, France and continued his formation at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse. On June 29, 2019, he was ordained a deacon and two months later was assigned to the house of the Community of the Beatitudes in Denver and practiced his diaconate at Saint Catherine of Siena Parish.  

“The active faith of the American youth amazed me when I first arrived in Denver,” Father Vianney said “That’s why I am so pleased and happy to be ordained here. My challenge is to give testimony to the young adults of Saint Catherine of Siena Parish where I serve.” 

Along his journey, Father Vianney had important religious figures who helped him form into the priest he has become, starting with our Blessed Mother.  

Father Vianney is embraced by his brother priest and fellow Community of the Beatitudes member Father Anthony Ariniello. (Photo provided)

“I have had a deep devotion to Mary through the rosary even before I was baptized…Also Saint Catherine Labouré and Saint Therese of Lisieux,” he said. “For my priesthood ministry in the future, I entrust myself especially to my patron saint, John-Mary Vianney and to Saint John Paul II.”  

As he begins his new journey, he looks forward to celebrating Mass and the sacrament of confession.  

“I feel unworthy but also very excited and grateful that my desire will become true,” Father Vianney concluded. “And surely, to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus every day and to show the mercy of God through the sacrament of Reconciliation.”  

Editor’s note: An earlier version is story suggested that Father John Vianney was the first member of the Community of the Beatitudes to be ordained in Denver. He is in fact the first priest from their community to be ordained in Denver. We apologize for the confusion.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.