Late deacon escaped Vietnam during war, ministered to refugees

Deacon Joseph Van Tam Le, 97, passed away peacefully on the evening of July 18, 2019. Deacon Joseph was assigned to Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs in Wheat Ridge throughout his diaconal ministry.

Le Tam Van was born on March 15, 1922 in Nam Dinh, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam to Le Van Ho and Le Thi Su. He was baptized into the Catholic faith soon after his birth, where he took the name Guise or Joseph. As a young man, he attended French Catholic schools. He also attended seminary and high school at St. John the Baptist de La Salle with the intent of entering the priesthood. Eventually, he joined the Vietnam La Salle Christian Brothers and at one point was the Provincial of the Christian Brothers.

In Saigon, he taught a variety of subjects and eventually became the principal of Taberd School. He also travelled to France, England and Italy to study English and French Literature. Afterwards, he went back to Vietnam and continued his teaching career until his departure from Vietnam. Tam was fluent in Vietnamese, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Laotian, and Cambodian.

In 1974, while helping his community prepare to escape from their country, he was arrested by the Viet Cong and subsequently released for no apparent reason other than by the grace of God. Tam escaped Vietnam in a small boat with 66 other individuals on board. After three days at sea, they ended up on a small island in Singapore and were taken captive. He was released three months later and arrived in the United States on July 30, 1975.

On August 21, 1976, Joseph Tam married Terese Tan Thi Hoa at Holy Ghost Parish in Denver. They have four children: Mary, Gerard, Bernadette and Joseph. He then went to work for the State Social Services administering to the needs of the displaced refugees of different countries; predominately, the Vietnamese refugees. The couple began attending St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish where the Vietnamese community in the Denver metro met for worship.

On June 16, 1984, Joseph Tam Van Le was ordained a Deacon at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception by Archbishop James Casey. He was immediately sent to Queen of Vietnamese Martyrs parish to assist with the Vietnamese community that had escaped from the Communist regime in Vietnam and relocated to Denver.

“Deacon Joseph lived his diaconal ministry every day of his life,” said Deacon Joseph Donohoe, Director of Deacon Personnel, “He not only helped those in need, he experienced it in his own life. The deacons are blessed to have called him our brother.”

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash