By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
At an early age, Kim Nguyen learned what it meant to be a true servant of God. It’s a lesson she has carried with her throughout her life.
“I believe everything we do is a ministry. Serving our family, our neighbors, and our community is a ministry,” said Nguyen, a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Richardson and one of three recipients of the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools Office’s 2021 HALO Educator of the Year awards on May 4. “I view teaching as a ministry because the work we do for God is making the difference in the lives of others.”
Nguyen witnessed firsthand how that service to others can impact one’s life when her parents fled Vietnam in 1975 in search of religious freedom and a better life for their family.
“We were sponsored by a Catholic priest in West Virginia,” recalled Nguyen, noting that Father William Nolte provided the family room and board. “My dad worked for the parish as a carpenter until Father Nolte helped us reunite with our family in Texas.”
The priest drove the Nguyen family to Texas, gifting her parents his station wagon and ensuring her father had a job and the family a home before returning to West Virginia.
“He visited my family every single summer until he passed away,” Nguyen said.
Family of faith
Nguyen grew up in Bay City, Texas, a member of a large family with six boys and four girls.
While her parents left their homeland behind, Nguyen said her family kept to its traditions and heritage while adapting to life in a new country. She called her father, who worked in construction, a model of dedication and faith in her life.
“The contracting company would expect him to work long hours and sometimes overtime on the weekends,” she said. “He would not agree to working overtime unless they allowed him time to go to church on Sundays with his family.”
Nguyen’s mother worked as well, doing odd jobs such as housekeeping, babysitting and delivering newspapers to make ends meet. Nguyen recalls as a child picking up stacks of newspapers from the printing facility, rolling each individual newspaper with a rubber band, and driving around the city with her mother throwing newspapers on her daily route.
“As immigrants, I learned early on what it meant to be selfless,” she said.
Throughout it all, the Catholic faith was prominent in her life. Nguyen’s uncle was a permanent deacon at their parish. She would travel with her uncle, siblings and cousins to youth rallies and retreats in the Diocese of Victoria.
“This had a huge impact on my spirituality because I learned to unite with other teens and find the meaning of faith in my life,” Nguyen said.
Answering the call
It was that faith that led her to answer the call to her vocation: teacher.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Those words from the Gospel of Matthew sum up Nguyen’s drive to serve others as a teacher.
“When we serve God’s children and teach them the core values of our faith, they too will glorify our God in heaven by spreading the Good News to others they meet. To me, teaching is much more than a job, it’s a vocation,” she said. “I have the privilege and honor to be able to pass on my faith, instill my knowledge, and set an example for my students and their families.”
Nguyen has been in elementary education for 20 years, including at schools in Springfield, Missouri, and Keller, Texas. She began substitute teaching at St. Joseph in 2006, shortly after getting married and moving to the area. In the spring of 2007, she was hired to a full-time position at the Richardson school, where she currently teaches religion, math, science and social studies to third-graders.
“Through my teaching and guidance, I want my students to achieve the best of their abilities and reach their true potential. I strive to help them see how each subject touches every aspect of their lives and how each subject matter relates to God,” she said. “I want to be the teacher that motivates them, inspires them, and challenges them to be creative in their thinking, curious in discoveries, and mindful of He who created all else. I want them to learn with a purpose, and the ultimate purpose is to glorify God in all that you do.”
Fran Thompson, principal at St. Joseph, said Nguyen absolutely lives, teaches and believes in the mission of Catholic schools within the Diocese of Dallas.
“She ensures that all students she teaches have the opportunity to reach college and heaven,” Thompson said. “She integrates the Catholic faith into every aspect of her teaching and lives the mission and vision of our school.”
As an immigrant child, Nguyen said she struggled in school, forcing her to work hard to overcome language and cultural barriers. Those challenges, though, gave her purpose and a desire to help others.
“When I was commissioned in the ministry of teaching, I made a promise to God and my school community that I will sacrifice what it takes to teach others about God,” she said. “Jesus is my model teacher. He is the perfect example of humility, love and service.
“With Him as my guide, I can ‘go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.’ ”