Phuong Mai Dong Welcomed as Sisters of Mercy Candidate
By Sister Victoria Vondenberger
On Aug. 4, the Sisters of Mercy welcomed Phuong (pronounced “Fong”) Mai Dong as a candidate for the Mercy South Central Community.
About 60 Mercy Sisters, Associates and some of her family members attended the prayer service in Cincinnati at McAuley Convent. Phuong, 22, is a lovely, petite and quiet young lady. Born in Vietnam, Phuong came to the US with her mother and sister when she was five years old. A decade later, her father was able to follow his wife and children.
Asked about when she first considered religious life, Phuong lit up with the memory and offered the very sure response that happened when she was five years old. Phuong’s mother asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. When Phuong had no response, her mother asked, “How about being a Sister?”
In middle school, Phuong kept saying a religious vocation was not what she wanted when pastors, priests and women religious would ask her about possibly having a religious vocation. In high school, she thought about other careers, perhaps in art, which she loves, or in psychology or nursing. Like her friends, Phuong was attracted to different boys and dreamed about dates and marriage. Phuong said she has always been shy and lacked courage to ask a boy for a date. She had many boys who were friends but no serious boyfriends.
Phuong worked as a nail technician doing pedicures and manicures for a time before she got her license at age 18 and went to college to prepare to be a nursing assistant as a step to becoming a registered nurse. She finished college in 2010, worked in assisted living situations and offered home health care, primarily for the elderly.
Her pastor saw that Phuong was very involved in altar service from the days of middle school, even becoming leader of the altar servers for her parish. In her parish, boys and girls become servers after first Communion. There was something about being on the altar that really gripped Phuong and motivated her to be very involved. She recruited others to serve also.
Phuong spent a lot of time thinking and praying about her future before she went to college, and especially as she neared completion of her studies. Meanwhile, her pastors and other priests kept asking Phuong if she thought she had a religious vocation. Finally, she gave in said, “Fine, I’ll be a Sister.” She was introduced to several religious orders, but felt a special attraction to the Sisters of Mercy.
Phuong met vocation minister Sister Kathleen Tinnel and began the process of discerning her vocation to Mercy in 2009. At that time, 19 year old Phuong was the youngest woman considering joining the Mercy community. Phuong also met Sister Elizabeth Nguyen and made a one week retreat in St. Louis with others who were considering religious life. Phuong recalled that she just felt more comfortable with the Sisters of Mercy than with other religious orders she visited. She said she has learned to listen closely to how God calls us in our lives and she also listens to what others who know her tell her that it seems God wants her to do.
After a lot of praying, thinking, retreat and meeting other congregations of religious during two years of discernment, Phuong feels peace in her decision to become a Sister of Mercy.
Asked why she was attracted to Mercy, Phuong said she felt that she fit in with the Sisters. She saw that they prayed together and went out to do ministry, then came home to eat together, to share their lives and to pray together once again before returning to their ministries. It felt “like my home,” said Phuong about what the constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy describe as a rhythm of contemplation and action. At least one other community she considered seemed to pray for long hours, but they did not speak with each other very much.
At first Phuong said her parents were surprised she was seriously considering a religious vocation but they quickly agreed and supported her in her pursuing the discernment process.
Her high school friends were also surprised and Phuong received response such as, “Really?” and “You’re crazy!” but her peers also support her decision. They want to be sure Phuong will connect with them when she visits her family. Most of them are now in college or newly married.
Entering the Mercy community for Phuong meant moving some distance from her Vietnamese family. She has a sister who is seven years older and lives with their parents, her husband and their two and three year old toddlers near Atlanta. It is hard to be eight hours away from the home where she lived with her parents and her sister’s family, Phuong admitted.
At the close of the welcoming prayer service, the group was asked to move to the reception leaving Phuong and her parents some quiet time for prayer. The last ones out of the chapel saw Phuong kneeling on the carpet between her parents before the tabernacle, still supported by the mother and father who nurtured her faith and then generously chose to let their daughter go into God’s service.
Phuong currently ministers at Mercy Montessori, where, along with several other childcare professionals she works with preschoolers in the aftercare program. Those who know Phuong say her gentle manner comforts the little ones in her care.