Late deacon escaped Vietnam during war, ministered to refugees

Denver Catholic Staff

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: Denver mayor surprises Catholic school students for Black History Month presentation

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On Monday, February 24, Christ the King Roman Catholic School in Denver held their first Black History Month celebration, and among the special guests was the Denver’s own Mayor Michael Hancock.

The celebration began with the surprise visit of Mayor Hancock, who addressed the students and spoke about the importance of the African American community in our society and remembered those who have made history and impacted our lives.

“I want us all to remember very clearly that this world, our society, has been created by so many people of different colors, races, religions, and we all depend on one another,” Mayor Hancock told the crowd. “Even when we don’t think about it, we’re depending on the inventions and discoveries of people who don’t look like us…Black history Month should also be about celebrating the cultures of history of all people that made this society great.”

After the Mayor’s speech, Kateri Williams, Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry at the Archdiocese of Denver shared her testimony about how she was born and raised Catholic and the impact her faith has had throughout her life.

Mayor Michael Hancock surprised students at Christ the King Catholic School, in Denver Feb. 24 during a presentation on Black History Month. (Photos by Brandon Ortega)

“It’s important that we don’t celebrate in just the month of February or Black Catholic History Month in November, but throughout the entire year,” Williams said. “It’s also important to remember, as Pope Francis has shared, that unity and diversity is something we should have a joyful celebration about. It’s not our differences that we should be focused on, but our unity in our Lord Jesus Christ, that brings us all together and we should bring all of those gifts from all of our ethnic communities together as the one universal Catholic Church.”

As part of the Black History Month celebration at Christ The King, the school held several events during the entire week of February 24, including a basketball game to honor the athlete Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed with seven others in a helicopter accident back in January. Before the fatal crash, Bryant, a Catholic, was seen praying at his local parish.

“The purpose is to bring focus to the contribution that the Catholic Church has [had] with black history,” said Sandra Moss, Teachers and Preschool Assistant at Christ the King Catholic School. “I want students to know Black history is American history. It’s not just about the color of your skin. It’s not about the negativity that is occurring everywhere in the world. I wanted them to see the good side of it… Black history is American history.”