Year of Faith pilgrimage: Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Friday, Nov. 22, 2013
Year of Faith pilgrimage: Our Lady of Perpetual Help Photo 1 of 2
The mural behind the altar was installed a year ago; the artist is ViVi Vo Hung Kiet, the brother-in-law of one of the parish council members. The mural's background is suggestive of the Rocky Mountains. IC photos/Marie Mischel
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

(Editor’s note: For the Year of Faith, which ends Nov. 24, Bishop John C. Wester has designated 12 churches in the Diocese of Salt Lake City as pilgrimage sites. This article is the last in a series about the sites. More information can be found at

KEARNS — I didn’t consciously make Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish the last stop on my tour of the 12 pilgrimage sites here in the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Subconsciously, though, I was scared of attending a Mass celebrated in a language of which I speak not one word. I also didn’t want to repeat the experience I had once on a subway in Korea, when I suddenly noticed that mine was the only white face in the crowd, and I was overwhelmed with the sense of being foreign, of being different, of being "other," and I knew nothing I could ever do would change that.

All of which led to a low-lying feeling of dread as I approached Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church on Sunday. It didn’t matter that I’ve been warmly welcomed every other time I’ve visited the parish, because on those occasions I was either with Bishop Wester or had an appointment with the pastor, Father Dominic Thuy Dang Ha.

I suspected that going unannounced, on my own, would be a vastly different experience.

How wrong I was.

My experience can best be summed up by what happened after Mass, when a woman approached me, greeted me warmly and told me she was glad I had come, and that she hoped I would come back often.

In all my visits to the various parishes throughout Utah, that has never happened before. Although I was still "different," I certainly felt welcome.

I also felt comfortable during the Mass, which, contrary to my fears, was bilingual. At the back of the church were handouts with the readings in English and Vietnamese, and during the Mass the Word was proclaimed in both languages. Fr. Thuy’s comments also were summarized in English on the handout, and he gave his homily in both languages as well.

In this way, Fr. Thuy told me, he tries to help all his parishioners strengthen their language skills as well as their faith, and to help parents whose first language is Vietnamese to communicate with their children, who tend to be better versed in English.

Fr. Thuy also involves the children in the liturgy, not only as altar servers but as lectors and ushers. He feels this is a good way to build the faith of the next generation – a concern common throughout the diocese, without regard for cultural background.

The parish provides a solid foundation for families with children, said Nga Lam, who converted to Catholicism when she married her husband, Huy Ngo. She now teaches the parish’s seventh-grade CCD class.

The couple, who have been married 18 years, have two children: Damon, 15, and Dylan, 11. The boys study Vietnamese at the church as well as CCD.

Both Huy Ngo and Nga Lam were children when they fled Vietnam after the war. As a teenager, Huy Ngo came alone to the United States; Nga Lam was able to come with her family. Many of their fellow parishioners have similar stories. Utah, through Catholic Community Services, was a settlement site for many of these refugees in the 1970s and this continues today.

"I have always valued the two cultures," said Huy Ngo, who among other ministries teaches the parish’s confirmation class and serves on the stewardship committee.

Their sons were born in the U.S., and with them he talks about taking the best from both worlds – a lesson they have taken to heart.

"Growing up in this parish, especially having the Vietnamese part integrated into the Catholic teachings … has instilled moral beliefs and values that are the base of our moral compass," said Damon, adding that he particularly likes learning how some of the cultural values are the same as Christian values, such as respect for elders. Which, he points out, equates to the commandment "Honor your father and mother."

"It’s nice to have that connection to our heritage," he said.

Dylan particularly appreciates that the parish "helps you live your life happier" by teaching that people shouldn’t worry about the way things happen, he said. "I go to school here to learn about Jesus, to learn about how he did all these things for us and how I’m blessed to have all the things I have that some other people don’t have."

Huy Ngo has seen Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish grow from meeting in "an old Mormon ward with a gym, and now it’s a beautiful church," he said, adding that it was built through the effort of all the families.

Both husband and wife see Father Thuy as a role model.

"He lives what he preaches," Nga Lam said, "and I want to do the same thing. … It’s so important to have a foundation in your home, to be a role model for your kids."


Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish is located at 5415 South 4360 West in Kearns. The Saturday vigil Mass is at 5 p.m.; Sunday Mass is at 8 and 10 a.m. Daily Masses are at 6:30 p.m.

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