A day before his 25th anniversary as a priest and 39 years after escaping from communist Vietnam, Fr. Vincent D. Bui died of COVID-19.
Father Bui, a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, and the Society of St. Sulpice, a society of apostolic life that consists of diocesan priests who educate, guide and support fellow priests, died June 9. He was 58.
Bui was born June 25, 1961, in Bien Hoa, North Vietnam, and was the sixth of eight children. One of his two brothers is also a priest and a sister is a member of the Order of Preachers — a Dominican Sister.
After graduating from high school in 1979, Bui made 13 attempts to escape from Vietnam but was captured each time. A brother arranged another attempt, and Bui was finally successful, escaping the communist country on Easter Sunday 1981.
The experience gave him a deeper understanding of the meaning of the suffering, freedom and new life represented by Easter, according to the Society of St. Sulpice and the Diocese of Lansing.
After spending about eight months in refugee camps in Thailand and Bangkok, Bui arrived in the US in February 1982. He spent two years studying English at Divine Word College in Iowa and spent a year with the Franciscans in Quincy, Illinois. For the next four years he lived in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, while he worked as a bilingual social worker with refugees through the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center. In addition to working with refugees, he also worked in a variety of other positions for the local community and the local Church. In 1989 he took a position with the Resettlement Program of the Catholic Social Service of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois. Out of this work, he gave himself another chance at official ministry by applying to the Diocese of Lansing in 1990. He began his theological studies and formation at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore in 1990.
Bui was ordained on June 10, 1995. While he was an associate pastor of a church in Flushing, Michigan, he felt drawn to the Society of St. Sulpice, also known as the Sulpicians.
His formation period for the Sulpicians was at the Emmaus Spirituality Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, a mission seminary providing an introductory program for young men interested in going to the major seminary. While in Africa he contracted malaria, which had negative ramifications for his health from then on.
He returned to the States and was admitted as a definitive member of the Society in 2000, then completed a licentiate in Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.
Bui then was assigned to the faculty of St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, interrupting his service to do further studies in Canon Law at St. Paul University in Ottawa. He remained at St. Patrick’s until the Sulpicians withdrew from the seminary in 2017.
After a sabbatical year, Fr. Bui moved to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, in 2018. He served on the Council of Formators and as a seminarian advisor and liturgy director. When the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of the seminary in late March, he went to live with relatives in San Jose, California. He was hospitalized on May 13 in the San Jose Regional Medical Center due to complications from the COVID-19 virus. He died after nearly a month in the ICU and on a ventilator.
Fr. Bui’s family asked that his body be cremated and that the cremains be returned to Vietnam so that he can be buried in the family plot. A memorial service will be held in the Diocese of San Jose. Bishop Earl Boyea will offer Mass for Fr. Bui at St. Mary Cathedral in Lansing on Tuesday, June 16, at noon.