Short History of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Los Angeles
Vietnam was first evangelized in the sixteenth century by Dominicans and Franciscans who arrived from Macao and the Philippines. In the early seventeenth Century, the Jesuits had great success under the leadership of Father Alexandre de Rhodes. He encouraged small groups of women who were eager to catechize and help the poor while living celibate lives in community.
On June 27, 1649, Alexandre de Rhodes came back to Rome to report to Pope Innocent X and the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith on the achievements in Vietnam. On this occasion he asked the Holy See to send to Vietnam bishops to ordain local priests. Besides the efforts to bring the Gospel to Viet Nam and to build up a local clergy, Father de Rhodes gave an important contribution to the culture of Vietnam by transcribing Vietnamese into Roman alphabet.
In 1659, Pope Alexander VII appointed Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte Vicar Apostolic of Southern Vietnam (Đàng Trong) and Bishop Francois Pallu Vicar Apostolic of Northern Vietnam (Đàng Ngòai). The two became co-founders of the Paris Foreign Mission Society that was founded in 1663. While Pallu was occupied with other matters, Lambert made three major missionary journeys in both the North and the South of Vietnam.
Soon after his arrival at Nam Định in 1670, Lambert found some of the groups of Vietnamese women who had been encouraged by de Rhodes, and organized them into an apostolic society with what we would today call private vows. The first foundation was at Kien Lao, Nam Ñònh where Sister Agnes and Sister Paula pronounced their vows on Ash Wednesday 1670. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: "This marked the beginning of the feminine missionary catechetical apostolate." (III, 236, c) A second foundation was made in the center of Viet Nam at Quang Ngãi in 1671. Lambert called the Sisters "Lovers of the Cross."
Communities of Lovers of the Holy Cross were founded throughout all of Viet Nam by the local Vicars Apostolic or Bishops. When persecutions arose (which lasted periodically for 272 years) and foreign missionaries were expelled, the Sisters continued their work of catechizing youth, helping Vietnamese priests in parochial ministry, caring for the poor, the sick and afflicted, and coming to the aid of women who had experienced troubles of all kinds. Over three hundreds Sisters gave their lives for the Catholic faith as martyrs. The communities of sisters remain under the jurisdiction of the local Bishops, what we would today call Communities of Diocesan right. In January 2011, there were twenty-four communities with over four thousand Sisters in both North and South Viet Nam. There are four communities in Thailand, one in Laos and one in the United States.
One of the twenty-four Communities is the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross Phát Diệm. Phát Diệm is a diocese in northern Viet Nam about 65 miles South East of Hanoi. The Community was founded there by Bishop Alexandre Marcou Thành in 1902. In 1925, the Sisters pronounced public vows and the Community became a Religious Congregation. In 1950, some Sisters were sent to Belgium for higher education.
In 1954, at the time of the partition of Viet Nam, many Sisters of the Phat Diem Congregation fled to the South and reorganized under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Saigon, while some remained in the North under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Phat Diem.
In 1975, 28 Sisters and Novices fled from Viet Nam and were eventually received into the refugee camps at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. From Indiantown Gap camp, the Sisters were divided into small groups and were sponsored by four different Religious Communities in Erie, PA: The Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Benedictine Sisters and the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. Those from Fort Chaffee camp were sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1976, the Sisters came to work for the Vincentians Fathers in the Food Service in Philadelphia, PA and Northampton, PA where they can live together as a community.
In 1978, the Sisters were asked by Bishop William R. Johnson, Bishop of Orange, to come and work for the Vietnamese people in the diocese of Orange. Their main apostolate in the Diocese of Orange is in the area of Religious Education.
In 1989, with the approval of Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Sisters transferred their Regional Headquarters from the diocese of Allentown to the archdiocese of Los Angeles. To remain faithful to the mission of the founder, the Sisters minister to the homeless women at three separate residences of Good Shepherd Center. They also work as nurses at various catholic hospitals in the archdiocese.
On February 20, 1992, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, having obtained the opinion of Archbishop Nguyen van Binh and the consent of the Superior General of the Lovers of the Holy Cross Phát Diệm in Viet Nam, issued a Decree separating the North American Region from the Sisters in Viet Nam and established it as a religious institute of diocesan right entrusted to the care of the Archbishop of Los Angeles according to the norm of Canon 594. From that day forward, the community's name was changed to Lovers of the Holy Cross of Los Angeles.
In July 2000, the Sisters responded to the invitation of Bishop Gerald R. Barnes to minister in the diocese of San Bernardino, rendering service to the increasing Asian and Pacific Islander population through the office of Asian-Pacific Ministry. The Sisters also served as Coordinators of Vietnamese-English bilingual Religious Education Programs.
July 29, 2000, in conjunction with their annual Profession Day, the Sisters celebrated their anniversary of twenty-five year of service in the United States. (1975-2000).
At the present time (2011), there are 60 professed Sisters, 4 novices and postulants, and 10 candidates doing apostolic works in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino.
The Vietnamese Clergy and Congregation of the Lovers of the Cross Sisters were born almost at the same time, and they have always worked hard side by side in the vineyard of the Lord. It was then a well deserved tribute when the Annals of the Propagation of Faith, Book 27, p.89 gave the following exhilarate report on the Missions of Tonkin and Cochinchina:
"With the frame of the Catholic Church, the Priest and the Nun are sources of Faith and charity for the benefit of the whole nation. The first embodies zeal, and like a good soldier struggles at the risk of his life, the other is the emblem of innocence, shares her time between prayer and good works. To the first belong as a legacy "souls to be conquered," to the other "miseries to be comforted." It is a double mission in which the first stands as a hero to be admired by pagans, and the second as an angel to be respected. These activities are of two kinds but they must be united to express fully Christianity a mysterious mixture of strength and kindness, illustrated by the Calvary where the model of virgins cooperated with the model of Apostles to the Redemption of mankind."