The Rev. Joseph Hung Duc Tran had been ordained for about an hour when he stood before the sanctuary at Mission Church Saturday and conferred his first priestly blessings, in English and Vietnamese. The line of worshipers stretched deep into the nave.
“I’m so touched I want to cry,” Tran said, after placing his hands on the head of the last of the hundreds in line. Many had followed the blessing with a hug.
Afternoon light glowed through the stained glass of the majestic church on Tremont Street, officially called the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Mission Hill landmark where Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s funeral Mass was said in 2009
That was a year before Tran and three other Redemptorist seminarians arrived from Vietnam to study at St. John’s Seminary, live in the Mission Church rectory, and help minister there and in Vietnamese parishes around Greater Boston.
They were ordained Saturday in a two-and-a-half-hour service led by the archbishop of Indianapolis, the Most Rev. Joseph Tobin, and attended by nearly 1,000 worshipers.
Most were Vietnamese, and most waited for another hour and a half afterward to receive the first blessings offered by the new priests.
On what he called his own most blessed day, Tran thought about the times in his life when he had been most afraid, for very different reasons: In 2005, when police stopped and detained him for teaching the catechism in a village in Vietnam — where religious restrictions had loosened but Catholicism remained controlled — and in 2010, when he landed at Logan International Airport speaking no English, knowing nothing about Boston.
“It is a miracle. I never dreamed that I would one day study here and be ordained in [such] a beautiful church,” Tran said. “And the first time I arrived here, I was so afraid.”
His growing command of English after three and a half years was clear; though some local place names, like Billerica, where Tran has ministered to inmates at the Middlesex House of Correction, remain as tricky for him as for most non-Bostonian Americans. (“Near Bedford,” he said, working around it.)
And the success of his studies could be read in the white vestment, known as a chasuble, that he donned for the first time Saturday.
Tran and another newly ordained priest, the Rev. Peter Linh Ba Quoc Nguyen, will be assigned soon to bilingual Vietnamese parishes elsewhere in the United States.
The other two, the Revs. Francis Xavier Quang Van Tran and Joseph Thang Nhat Nguyen, will remain for further graduate studies at Boston College, intent on returning to Vietnam as seminary professors.
“Boston is a place for study,” said Van Tran, who will pursue philosophy at BC.
He knew little about the area when he arrived — or about anywhere else in the country.
“When I came here I don’t have any vision about the United States. I think like Abraham: God tell him go and he goes. I feel the same feeling.”
The Rev. Dennis Sweeney, director of students at the Mission Church, said the two professors-in-training will help address a shortage in Vietnam, where the Catholic Church’s 500-year presence was disrupted by the war and the communist regime, and where vocations for the priesthood today far outnumber those qualified to train them, he said..
Sweeney said he was honored to teach, live with, and work alongside the four Vietnamese seminarians the last few years. “They are simple, humble, holy men,” he said, with “just a remarkable spirit, and it’s touched so many.”
That was evident from the hundreds who packed the sanctuary and lined up to be blessed by each of the four Saturday, amid frequent hugs, on a day that mixed Western and Eastern traditions. Organ music blended with strings and a Vietnamese choir during the service, and prawns and sesame balls were served alongside finger sandwiches in the parish center afterward.
“This is a great day for this community,” the Rev. Kevin Moley, the provincial, or head, of the Redemptorist Fathers for the East Coast, had told the worshipers, his remarks translated into Vietnamese.
“There was a psychiatrist who said to be all right in life we need four hugs a day. To be really loved you need eight hugs a day. And to be really, really loved you need 16 hugs a day,” he said. “They have gotten more than that for a whole week at this Mass.”