Sr. Ongo survives the seas to make dream come true

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  • April 13, 2011
Sr. Theresa Ongo became a Missionary Sister of St. Peter Claver in Toronto after a harrowing escape from her native Vietnam. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)TORONTO - At 13, Sr. Theresa Ongo of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver escaped in the dark of night and rode a rickety wooden boat from Vietnam to eventual freedom in Canada.

She escaped Vietnam in 1987 with her uncle on a boat that had a legal a capacity of 20 but carried more than double its limit. The seas were treacherous and food was scarce, Ongo recalls. Everyone on the boat received only a spoonful of water and condensed milk each day.

“On the boat, I felt I was at the end of my life,” she said.

What kept her going was praying the rosary her mother gave her before she left.

After several days, a fierce storm battered the vessel. Thankfully, a Korean fisherman rescued them. She spent two years in a Korean refugee camp with other Vietnamese “boat people” before leaving for Toronto in 1989.

Faith had always given her strength. As a child in Vietnam, Ongo, her parents and four siblings attended Mass daily at 3 a.m. The Communist leadership forbade services after sunrise and before sunset.

Ongo’s parents worked long hours on the farm and preferred morning Mass.

She first heard a call to become a nun as a child and discerned her call as a high school student in Toronto, where she rediscovered her love for daily Mass.

“I felt something, like giving thanks to God for bringing me safely to Canada,” she said.

“I couldn’t understand English but I went to Mass because Mass is just the same.”

Call to Service:

A Catholic Register Special Section


April 13, 2011
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