“Sometimes my family seemed to live as much in the church as at home. I thought the whole country was Catholic.”
Sister Ngoc-Hà Pham’s devout Catholic parents had raised most of their family in the north of Viêt Nàm. In 1954, the north came under communist control and the family fled south to escape religious persecution. Ngoc-Hà was born in Sài Gòn, the youngest daughter in the family of five sons and five daughters.
In 1975, her peaceful existence was shattered when Sài Gòn fell to the communists and Ngoc-Hà and most of her family boarded a U.S. military transport jammed with people and were flown to safety. “Where is Mom?”, Ngoc-Hà asked her sister who replied, “Mom will join us later.” Later was ten years away. Her mother was waiting for two more sons to arrive but Sài Gòn airport was bombed and destroyed the next day; there were no more flights.
The Pham family stayed in Fort Chafee, Arkansas, until they were sponsored by a Catholic parish in Mason City, Iowa. After four years they moved to Escondido, CA. When her mother and brothers finally came and the family was reunited, Ngoc-Hà shared with them her desire for religious life, and they supported her choice. But nursing came first.
Ngoc-Hà worked her way through college and earned a degree in nursing from Miracosta College and from Palomar College, and worked as a nurse at Palomar Medical Center. When her father became ill with cancer, she nursed him until he died, ten years after the family was reunited.
One day Ngoc-Hà prayed to know God’s will for her. The next day, on a table where she worked in the hospital, she spotted the January, 1996 Maryknoll Magazine and read the article, “Viêt Nàm Visit.” She clipped the vocation coupon and sent it to the Maryknoll Sisters but didn’t respond to the Sisters’ reply for over a year.
When Ngoc-Hà accompanied part of her family who traveled back to Viêt Nàm, she mused, “As I traveled from the south to the north of Viêt Nàm, along with its beauty I could see the poverty, the suffering, the harsh life. My vocation was confirmed.” Ngoc-Hà finally answered the Maryknoll Sisters invitation to join them in 2000.
In her first years of orientation, besides studying at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Sister Ngoc-Hà spent her summers working as a nurse, assisting a Mexican doctor in Anapra, Mexico.
On January 1, 2003, she was assigned to El Salvador. She worked in a clinic in San Salvador treating people living with AIDS and also doing preventive education. In Soyapango, she started a Peace Library for children, a space free from the violence that is all around them. She professed her vows for life in 2009 and was assigned to China on June 1, 2010.