History and Current Affairs
St. Peter’s Vietnamese Catholic Church, located on Garland Road in East Dallas, has roots reaching back in time to 1975, the year of the fall of South Vietnam. The members of the congregation fled Vietnam during the war, coming to America under the sponsorship and support of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Dallas. The church community helped its new members resettle in the United States, providing support by providing food, shelter, and avenues to find jobs.
The Vietnamese community grew under the umbrella of St. Pius, holding a Vietnamese mass on Sundays that averaged an attendance of 400 people plus choir. This was performed for decades, and the group even held their own marriage preparation and religious instruction classes. In 1998, they decided to branch off to create their own, separate facilities. The Vietnamese Catholic Community had grown so large by this point that it split into three groups, St. Peter’s Vietnamese Catholic Church, Giáo Xứ Đức Mẹ Hằng Cứu Giúp (Mother of Perpetual Help Parish), and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish. The parishioners at St. Peter’s purchased Reinhardt Bible Church on Garland Road and renamed it as their own.
St. Peter’s has grown in the past years, now encompassing approximately 80
families and 1,400 members who call the church home. The church has also widened its scope, aiming to help the tight-knit Vietnamese community keep their unique cultural identity in the face of encroaching American globalization and popular culture, as the majority of day-to-day life does not consist of Vietnamese-oriented media and experience. This includes the use of a Facebook page, where members post articles that are written in Vietnamese. These pertain to Catholic religious life and the Dallas religious community in general.
Vietnamese Youth Eucharist Society
The community pays special attention to its young members, hoping to establish a firm connection to the church by fostering a Vietnamese identity. This is seen most clearly in the institution of the Vietnamese Youth Eucharist Society, where members’ children spend Sundays learning Vietnamese and the Bible. The group is designed to tie the children to the church, giving them a space to foster and strengthen their Vietnamese identity through conversing and spending time with others who share the identity and culture.
Walking down the halls of the church, it is easy to distinguish members of the youth group. They are set apart in their dress, wearing dark pants with white button-ups and colored scarves. Those wearing green scarves are Au Nhi, a seedling in the community, whereas those wearing red scarves represent Huynh Truong, a coordinating leader or mentor and the pinnacle of a member in the society. Through learning different lessons in Vietnamese prayers and songs, as well as the ten commandments of Thieu Nhi Then The (TNTT), the students are able to become Huynh Truong.
It has been made a priority at the church to continue the tradition of Vietnamese culture and language with the youth, as it is not seen in a larger scale in school or popular culture. The church offers Vietnamese and Bible classes, so that they may learn both Vietnamese and their religion at the same time and intertwine the two. The group ranges from elementary to high school students, with the group actually leading the noon mass. Older children sing in the rafters, playing piano and guitar, while others still perform the readings in front of the congregation. 12 year olds to teenagers perform readings, some in Vietnamese while others in English, indicating that it is not just learning and speaking Vietnamese that is important, but that participating in religious life is of importance as well.
Spending Sundays together has a profound effect on the insularity of the group. When first introducing the project and ourselves, a member of the youth group extended a plastic skeleton hand when we went to shake hands. This prompted the rest of the group to burst into laughter, showing the strength of the bond between the youth. These relationships are seen in the times intervening between class and mass—they toss around footballs, drink boba together while chatting, and tell inside jokes that make everyone laugh.
The church builds this atmosphere through its direct actions as well. During the priest’s sermon, he code-switched between English and Vietnamese while directly addressing the young members. He was extremely animated and lively, making them laugh while trying to instill within them morals of respecting one’s parents and not eating too much junk food. Another mode of appealing to the youth is the camping trip headed by one of the priests, Father Pham. He takes the group camping in order to foster friendships between members of the youth and with the church itself. This is done in conjunction with the multitude of activities already mentioned in order to create memories and connections that will follow the youth as they grow and change. They carry the memories and experiences for life, and remember that the church provided them, strengthening their identities as Vietnamese Catholics and encouraging them to continue attending the church when they become adults.
The following web sites provide more information about the church: