Phan Duc Dong, the beloved former pastor at the Church of the Vietnamese Martyrs, knows what it means to lose everything―and to create from that loss a better life. The Catholic Church ordained him Father Dominic in 1970, but his parishioners affectionately call him "Father Dom." (He retired in May 2008.)
Only 12 when his family fled communist North Vietnam, he served as a chaplain in the South Vietnamese Army before being forced to flee again in 1975. He eventually made his way to America, spending the past 23 years in Biloxi, Mississippi.
After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, he turned his church into a distribution and communication center, creating a safe haven for his parishioners. Last year, during Tet (Vietnamese New Year), those same parishioners gathered for a different reason: to celebrate.
"New Year is very important to the Vietnamese," he explained. "It's a time to be thankful for family, for ancestors, and for prosperity. It's a time of reunion. And it's a time to reconcile."
To find interviews with Katrina survivors, visit www.usm.edu/oralhistory.