Establishing a religious community comes with its bumps along the road, but its evident that Our Lady of Fatima is lifting up the Congregation Messengers of Fatima and carrying them through it all.
More than five years after its founding, the Vietnamese religious community located in St. Clair, in rural Franklin County, continues to promote the messages of Our Lady of Fatima, along with serving the poor and marginalized in the community.
“Some people when they come here, they feel something from God and the Blessed Mother,” said the community’s founder, Father Joseph Diep who arrived in the United States following the fall of Saigon in 1975 and was a student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary from 1976-81. “The reason they come to participate in an event like this is to pray and honor the Blessed Mother. They feel something peaceful here.”
The sixth annual Fatima Days celebration, hosted June 23-26 by the religious community in St. Clair, included talks, Masses, youth activities, a Marian procession, entertainment and plenty of Vietnamese food. Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski celebrated Mass June 25 and presided at the renewal of vows for Brothers Martin Maria Thanh and Anthony Hieu. Archbishop Emeritus Robert J. Carlson, who granted permission to start the community, celebrated a Mass June 24 in honor of 117 Vietnamese martyrs.
Fatima Days attracted hundreds of visitors from states across the country, including California, Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia. Catholics from parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis also attended the events.
Mychau Le and her husband, Dong Huynh, along with Mycahu’s mother, Mai Phan, from Resurrection Parish in St. Louis attend Fatima Days every year.
“It reminds us that there are many things I can do for my soul,” Mychau Le said. “Our Holy Mother Mary protects our soul. So we come to her by praying the Rosary, going to reconciliation and attending Mass, especially on the first Saturday.” The events of Fatima Days underscore the importance of why the faithful should pray to the Blessed Mother and seek her intercession, she added.
The Congregation Messengers of Fatima was inaugurated in the archdiocese in October 2017 and given permission to gather companions to form a new religious community. Father Joseph Diep earlier moved to Franklin County near St. Clair to gather members of the Christian faithful to begin living out the proposed charism of the congregation. In June of 2020, Father Diep was incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Brother Martin Maria Thanh, who renewed his vows as a consecrated religious last weekend, will be studying theology with the goal of ordination to the priesthood. His fellow Brother Anthony Hieu, who also renewed his vows, will be studying English before he is ordained a priest.
Brother Thanh grew up with a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima in his home. He said that while there are challenges that come with learning a new culture and language, he relies on God in answering His call to the priesthood. “I try my best,” he said. “I put my trust in God and Mary.”
Minh and Lien Tran of St. Louis who attended Fatima Days, know Nhan and Russell Wallen, the couple who donated their old home and 20 acres off Interstate 44 just north of St. Clair to start the community. “It was a miracle,” Lien Tran said. “The wife had a dream, and in her dream, she saw Mother Fatima who said that this place should become a sanctuary. That’s why this place is what it has become.”
Kim Brobst of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and her sister Huonz Pham of Orange County, California, wanted to show their support for their cousin, Father Diep, by attending Fatima Days.
“This is a chance for our family to be together, so it’s like a reunion for all of us. It’s a happy day,” Brobst said.
Pham’s son, Hoa Hoang, said the Congregation Messengers of Fatima are dedicated to spreading the messages of Our Lady of Fatima because “they believe in her and everything that she stands for. Now they’re spreading the word through so many people.”
Pham recently had triple bypass surgery and initially didn’t think she’d be able to make the trip. “After I received a blessing (from a priest) my heart feels very good now,” she said, adding that she participates in a regular prayer group with Father Diep and others across the country via Zoom.
“We talk with her every day,” she said.
Several families from St. Clare Parish in St. Clair attended Fatima Days for the first time. “It’s so cool,” said Liz Hendry, who attended with her husband and children. “There’s a universality of the Church, and I think that’s a fruit of this experience. We have several Vietnamese families in our parish, so this is neat to experience things through their eyes a little more.”
Congregation Messengers of Fatima
In October 2017, the Congregation Messengers of Fatima were inaugurated in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and given permission to gather companions in hope of one day forming a new religious community.
Father Joseph Diep, originally a member of the Society of Charity and Social Services, earlier moved to Franklin County, near St. Clair to gather members of the Christian faithful to begin living out the proposed charism of the congregation, which is the promotion of the messages of Our Lady of Fatima and service to the poor and marginalized.
In June of 2020, Father Diep was incardinated as a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The group’s progress is being evaluated over time to determine whether to take canonical steps toward the formation of the new religious institute. The next step after the discernment is seeking status as a public association of the faithful.
The community’s work of serving people in poverty has included serving meals to others in need. The group has worked with nearby St. Clare Parish in St. Clair to offer regular meals. Father Diep noted that the meals were paused during Covid, but there are plans to resume them.
>> Original messengers of Fatima
Two of the three Fatima visionaries, Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, were beatified in 2000 and canonized in 2017. With their cousin, Lúcia dos Santos, the siblings had monthly visions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, from May to October 1917. Mary asked the shepherd children to promote devotion to her Immaculate Heart and pray the Rosary daily.
Both Martos died of influenza — Francisco at age 10 in 1919 and Jacinta at age 9 in 1920. Their cousin Lúcia, who became a Carmelite nun, died in 2005 at age 97. Fatima is among the world’s great Marian shrines and pilgrimage sites.
Pope Francis canonized two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima, but more importantly, he said, they heeded the call to pray for sinners and trust in the Lord.
“We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints,” the pope said May 13, 2017, as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims broke out in applause before he finished speaking.
The relics of the young shepherd children, encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the “lady dressed in white” as the siblings and their cousin described her.
The Marian apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
The children became the youngest non-martyrs to be declared saints by the Catholic Church.
Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause is completed and other steps are underway.
In his homily at the canonization Mass, the pope reflected on the brief lives of the young sibling saints, who are often remembered more for the apparitions rather than for their holy lives.
But it is Mary’s message and example, rather than an apparition, is important, he told the crowd, which Portuguese authorities estimated at about 500,000 people.
“The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven,” the pope said.
Instead, he continued, Mary’s messages to the young children were a warning to all people about leading “a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures.”
“Such a life — frequently proposed and imposed — risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us,” the pope said.
The hopeful message of Fatima, he said, is that men and women have a mother and like children clinging to her, “we live in the hope that rests on Jesus.”
— Catholic News Service