Eulogy - Reverend Thomas Ng

- Bishop John Cummins

St. Leo’s Parish

August 21, 2018

 

The ministry of Father Thomas Ng in the Diocese of Oakland I would describe as providential. The hand of God was in it. Without him one would read a different history of both diocese and of our Chinese community.

Our first bishop Floyd Begin coming from Ohio quickly recognized the diversity that is Northern California, the Bay Area and particularly the Diocese of Oakland. He established vicariates to recognize the major communities. One of those was Chinese, noted much by the presence of Father Matthias Lu. Exiled from his own country and urged by the apostolic delegate in the United States to be situated at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Father Matthias’ scholarly work of translating Thomas Aquinas was a time consuming operation. Father Lu also was aging.

Into this situation arrived Father Tom Ng, fresh from Ohio State University with a doctorate in music. What drew him to the west may well have been family in the Bay Area. He was however well informed the existence of the Chinese numbers here as well.

He arrived with papers in his hand from his Salesian superiors in Hong Kong, thus favored by the reputation of Salesians from Asia in the Diocese of Oakland. Most of those before him declined to live in the Salesian house in Berkeley but rather in parishes. They were talented parish priests and were competent colleagues, generous with time in whatever parishes they called home.

There was one moment when three of the Salesians finishing their studies were headed for home. I had them for dinner. I asked the question, “Why are you such good parish priests?” With no undue modesty they answered quickly, “the spirit and instruction of St. John Bosco.” I remember a version of “Bloom where you are planted,” offering ministry in any kind of circumstance.

Thomas followed the example of Pope Francis, first to observe the scene followed by appraisal and judgment leading to action that corresponds to need and opportunity. Providentially we placed Father Tom here at St. Leo’s with reasonable access to Oakland’s Chinatown. The climate of the time anticipated integration from Hong Kong. with the transfer from British rule in 1997. Father Tom discovered that in the meantime newcomers from mainland China had arrived in various and significant numbers. He learned as well the complexity of Chinese Americans. Some had been here for six generations, having built the farms and the wineries, the cities as well, the lumber and the railroads and the Chinatowns in the Bay Area. Additionally those long-standing citizens were spread geographically in Alameda and Contra Costa County.

Father Thomas made a date with me after some few years of observation. His conversation had a note of reprimand that the diocese was not taking care of the sacramental needs, baptism, marriage, education and particularly finding the sense of the Catholic community.

He suggested a storefront in Chinatown. To sum up briefly it did not work. You of the Chinese community supported him and were quick to move with him in his directions. A more religious meeting point was needed. Happily Father Tim Johnson and you people in St. Leo’s Parish offered welcome to the Chinese community.

Very quickly, the realization of priests and people sensed expansion needed to Union City then to El Cerrito. Later with the arrival of Father Stan Poon came the educated and talented community in Mission San Jose.

From these groups came outreach to the house of hospitality long established in Berkeley for scholars from the mainland. The transfer of the United States Catholic China Bureau to Berkeley some years ago drew support as well from our local community. New Year ’s Day became a great event with rousing celebration. I further compliment you in your rich and generous outreach to Chinese youth.

By far the majority of Father Tom’s years in the priesthood were spent here in the Diocese of Oakland. His was a life rich in grace that we celebrate in thanksgiving today. We indeed are appreciative beneficiaries. May the Lord reward him in peace.

 

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