THE VIETNAMESE CISTERCIAN CONGREGATION
Christianity came to Vietnam in the first half of the 1500’s through Portuguese traders and missionaries. They were later followed by Spanish, Italian and French priests (they were Dominicans, Jesuits and Missionaries of Paris (M.E.P). The experience of the early Church in Vietnam can be compared to the Apostolic Church under the pagan roman empire. There were periods of peace and growth, alternating with hostility and persecution. Some 300 years of persecution brought the fruit of heroic martyrs and eventual peace.
During one period of persecution, when Christians were living in a remote forest area called La Vang, the Blessed Mother appeared in 1798 to a small number of them for their consolation and encouragement. Our Lady of La Vang is now the Patroness of the Catholic Church in Vietnam.
A French missionary priest, Henry Denis, AKA Benedict Thuan, in the first half of the 1900’s kept proposing to his bishop the need for a contemplative monastic community in Vietnam. Finally the bishop told him to establish such a group of monks himself. He began the first monastery at Phuoc Son (the Mount of Grace), called Our Lady of Annam, in Quang Tri province, Hue Archdiocese, on 15 August 1918. Rev. Benedict Thuan went through a novitiate formation himself and worked out the constitution for this monastic foundation, in reference to the Trappist Constitution
Gradually vocations entered the monastery of Our Lady of An Nam and from this monastery several new monasteries were born. The success of the community on the level of local dioceses encouraged Rev. Benedict Thuan to seek acceptance by the international Cistercian Order. The Trappist reformers were not open to that congregation for their Order. Later, the request of Rev. Benedict was accepted for incorporation into the Common Observance of the Cistercian Order on May 24, 1934, the Holy Family Congregation of Vietnamese Cistercians was established.
About 1970, many young women, who desired to devote themselves to God in the contemplative life, petitioned for a Cistercian monastery for nuns in Vietnam. Dec 08, 1973 the first Cistercian monastery for Nuns was officially founded. They have grouwn to 3 monasteries.
Our Lady of Thien Phuoc is situated in Vung Tau city, Ba-Ria Vung Tau Diocese. It is a filial foundation of Phuoc Son, founded May 31, 1975 and become independent in May 1999. It is a big monastery with 124 monks (64 perpetual vows, 34 temporal vows, 18 novices, and 8 aspirants).
They celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cistercian Congregation of the Holy Family in August 2018.
At present there are 9 monasteries of monks in Vietnam and 3 monasteries of Cistercian nuns there. There are also 3 new foundations of Vietnamese monks in the USA, and 2 new foundations of their nuns in the USA. The total number of Cistercian Vietnamese monks is approximately 1002, and of Cistercian Vietnamese nuns about 244.