Fr. Vincent Thu Laing | Vocation Story

Dec 14, 2021

I was born on October 12, 1955 in Myanmar. Some people call it Burma. My family are rice farmers. I have two brothers and two sisters. I am the second. 

We were raised in a farming community out in the countryside. In our village, we had 200 families, and everyone was Catholic. It was very special to live there because we are a mostly Buddhist country. 

I lived there until I finished my education. Then I had to go to the city for further education at the boarding house, or it is also called minor seminary. I was only 11 years old. 

I loved it there. When I finished high school, I went to college. I studied mathematics. I also did sports. I played soccer, and I ran. I got second in the 1500-meter race in college. My cousin got first. I don’t know what the time was, but I doubt it was good! 

Eventually, a very prominent priest asked me if I would go to seminary. He really influenced me. I think God was calling me, but I kept running away from the road. So God just pushed the road in front of me. 

After six months in seminary, I knew that I was going to be a priest. I think the Blessed Virgin Mary is responsible for my vocation. I have a deep devotion to Mary. I feel like she is my mother. I can go to her and have comfort, protection and guidance. I would pray every night and ask her to help me do whatever I could for the glory of God. 

In seminary, I did okay in class. I was not the top, but I was not the bottom. My favorite subject was Canon Law. I really trust it, and it was the easiest and most interesting subject for me. The marriage canons were my favorite. The hardest subjects for me were metaphysics and anthropology. I hated those! 

I was ordained on April 4, 1987. I was 32 years old. I don’t think I was nervous for it. The best part of my ordination was when I was lying down in front of the altar, and they sang the litany. It was very moving and reminded me of what my life would be like. 

There were thousands of people at my ordination. That is very common in my country. All the people from the surrounding villages come together. They usually stay a few nights. The hardest part is trying to feed everyone! 

I served as a parish priest for a while. I liked it. It was all very new. In the beginning, you are not worn out and are so excited. Eventually, my bishop got sick. He asked me to come and serve as his secretary. I was very fond of him. He appointed me as the pastor of the Cathedral. 

When he died, a new bishop came (he is now a cardinal). That bishop is the one who asked me to come to the United States. He asked me four times. I was scared to come. I did not speak English. I was scared to fly. I was scared of the culture. I said no three times, but the fourth time, I said yes. It is the will of God that I am here. 

Bishop George Fitzsimmons invited me. I was the first Burmese priest here. I was scared to leave my family. I was only supposed to be here 3 years, but now I have been here for 22 years! 

When I first got here, I went to Independence, Kan. to study English and attend a community college. I also learned to drive. I spent a lot of time watching television and listening to the radio so I could learn English. 

After one month in Independence, I moved to Beloit to be with Father Henry Baxa at St. John the Baptist. Beloit is my first love in this diocese. I was happy there. Father Baxa used to tease me because I would read the comics to learn English. My favorite comic was Pickle! 

My favorite part of being a priest is the Mass. But I also like to sit for Confession. I like it because I can share and show the forgiveness and mercy of God to others. It makes them happy and feel peace.  

The hardest part about being a priest is to preach! Writing is hard for me. I want to write very nice and colorful. But I cannot because there is still a lot of usage and vocabulary that I do not know. I am still learning English! I have several journals that I have filled with words and sentences that I use as a reference. 

With the priesthood, sometimes God calls you, and you don’t want to go. And sometimes you really want to go, but God hasn’t called you. I think you need to discern and follow your heart, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. But you do not need to be scared of the priesthood. If God calls you, he will take care of you. 

For me, my motto is from the prophet Micah. He says, “Love the good things and walk humbly with God.” It is very important to try to be humble. If you have humility, patience and a deep prayer life, God will give you strength. 

I would like to thank the American Church and the Salina Diocese for being so good and supportive. Thank you for treating me as part of your family. I am so impressed with the faith and generosity of the wonderful, good people I am among.  

From the July 23, 2021 issue of The Register