Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.
Fr. Quan Tran is a parochial vicar at St. Bonaventure Parish in Huntington Beach, California, in the Diocese of Orange. He was born in Vietnam, but fled the country at age six with his family after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Encouraged by his father to be a financial success, he became a lawyer and spent nearly a decade as a deputy district attorney in Orange County. Unfulfilled in his profession, he opted instead for the seminary, and was ordained a priest in 2011.
He founded Fullness of Grace to help promote spiritual growth among the faithful (to hear him explain the purpose of the apostolate, watch this video), and in 2020 released a book, The Imitation of Mary: Keys to Growth in Virtue and Grace. He also has launched a new weekly radio program, “Fullness of Grace,” on Spirit-Filled Radio.
Catholic World Report: What was it like growing up in Vietnam and then coming to the United States?
Fr. Quan Tran: I was born in central Vietnam, and grew up near Da Nang, where the United States had a major air base during the Vietnam War. In 1975, when the South Vietnamese government in Saigon fell, I fled with the first group of “boat people” from Vietnam. I was young, but still have memories of the experience.
I remember being crammed into a Volkswagen van with my family and my extended family. My grandfather who was with us was a prominent anti-communist, so we were careful to hide him. My grandmother encouraged us to pray the Rosary so we wouldn’t be discovered.
We headed for the sea, and found a boat in which to escape. We went to Singapore, but we were not allowed in. We transferred to a larger boat and sailed to the Philippines, where we were put in a refugee camp that was once a U.S. military base. We next went to a refugee camp in Guam, and then one in Arkansas.
My father wrote to the only American he knew, a woman in Denver, only putting her name and “Denver, Colorado” on the envelope. Miraculously, it made its way to her, and she agreed to sponsor us. My family moved to Denver, where I grew up. I later moved to Orange County, California, where I had relatives, and because I liked the weather.
CWR: Do you still speak Vietnamese?
Fr. Tran: Yes, but I had to relearn it so I could celebrate Mass in Vietnamese! All my friends spoke English, so that’s what I was used to.
CWR: Have you returned to Vietnam?
Fr. Tran: Yes, once, 12 years ago, with my mother to visit her parents. We were fortunate that we saw them shortly before they died.
It brought back a lot of memories; I even drove by my old house in Da Nang. It was one of the biggest homes in the area. It’s been converted to a bank. That house belonged to my father, and was left to me in his will. The government will not honor the will, though.
CWR: What was your immediate family like?
Fr. Tran: My father was a businessman, involved in a variety of pursuits, including real estate. I was the oldest of four children. We were a lukewarm Catholic family; we went to Mass most Sundays but were not devout.
CWR: Why did you become a lawyer?
Fr. Tran: Because my father stressed to us the importance of becoming financially successful, and that we should choose some profession like medicine or law. So I became a lawyer because of my dad, but it was not my passion.
I was a public defender in Bakersfield for a year and a half, and then a deputy district attorney for nearly a decade. It is a tough profession; people are competitive and adversarial. It is stressful.
CWR: What led you to the seminary?
Fr. Tran: I had drifted away from my faith, and in college stopped going to Mass. I had a girlfriend who was a devout Catholic, however, and got me to go back to Mass with her on Sundays. Then I had another girlfriend who introduced me to daily Mass, the Rosary and Eucharistic adoration.
I prayed to God to lead me to what he wanted me to do. My girlfriend suggested I become a permanent deacon, and three other people suggested I become a priest. At age 36 I began exploring the ministry, and was drawn to the priesthood. It was scary, as I had never thought about becoming a priest. I had to be celibate, despite my plan to marry and have a family. But it was also exciting, as I thought it might be what God was calling me to do.
I had been attending Mass at St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens, staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The priests there were on fire for the faith. One became my spiritual director, and I joined their community. I took a year’s leave of absence from the district attorney’s office, sold my house and my car, and found homes for my four dogs.
I spent a year in their seminary in Boston, and found out it was not for me. I came back, found another spiritual director, and decided to join the diocesan seminary. I studied at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park for a year, then four years at The Angelicum in Rome. I was ordained in 2011.
CWR: What did your family think about your decision to become a priest?
Fr. Tran: When they heard I was thinking about the seminary, they were shocked. They thought I was throwing my life away. They had an intervention to talk me out of it. When I was in the seminary, my father would come to see me and try to talk me out of it. He’d say, “Have you got this out of your system?”
Once I was ordained, however, my family accepted it. They don’t fully understand it—many in my family do not practice the faith—but they can see I am happy and fulfilled as a priest.
CWR: How have the past 10 years in the priesthood been?
Fr. Tran: It’s been incredible. I’m happy in the priesthood, much happier than when I was as a lawyer. It’s been a huge blessing. I enjoy celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and touching people on a spiritual level. I enjoy preaching and teaching.
On the downside, I don’t care for all the administrative responsibilities, but I suppose it goes with the territory. I’d rather focus all my time on providing the sacraments and helping people grow in holiness. It’s also frustrating that I meet many Catholics who are lukewarm or nominal Catholics, like I once was.
CWR: What advice would you give a man considering the seminary?
Fr. Tran: I’d tell him that worldly pursuits are not all they’re cracked up to be. Don’t get caught up in the things of the world. They will not give you fulfillment or happiness. Seek God’s will. Discern your vocation. Follow God’s plan for you.
CWR: Why did you found Fullness of Grace?
Fr. Tran: I had an inspiration to help people grow in holiness. It is a universal vocation. But grace requires a proper disposition and response to bear fruit. When we look at the Blessed Mother, who is full of grace, we can see and imitate her qualities. I began to communicate this with people, which spawned the idea for my book, The Imitation of Mary: Keys to Growth in Virtue and Grace.
I launched an apostolate to make videos and preach about grace, Mary, holiness and intimacy with God. I give retreats and talks, and I used those notes to write my book. I took three years of vacation time to sit down and write it. It was published in November 2020.
CWR: How has your perspective changed since you were in college?
Fr. Tran: It has taken a 180. I was worldly, materialistic, superficial, and secular. Now, I am detached from the things of the world and focused on helping people become holy and obtain eternal life and true happiness. I am much happier now. God has shown me what is real, eternal, beautiful, and true. My life is much more fulfilled, and I’m doing what I’m passionate about.
CWR: What significance should the Blessed Mother have in the lives of Catholics? Why do you believe her influence is needed in our culture?
Fr. Tran: When I was going through my conversion and discernment, I felt Mary’s presence close to me. I wanted to read about her; I’m a visual person, I wanted to look at her images. She drew me closer to God, who took over my vocation and my life. I entrusted myself to her, and she has done incredible things in me and through me.
Every Christian should have a devotion to the Blessed Mother. She was Jesus’ last gift to us as he was dying on the Cross. He gave what he cherished to us. She can, in turn, bring us closer to God and intercede for us.
In our world, there is much sin, evil and confusion. We need the Blessed Mother. She can lead us to happiness.
CWR: What common messages do you hear from her approved apparitions?
Fr. Tran: I hear the message of conversion, the need to turn away from sin and to live a virtuous life. She tells us we need to practice the faith, pray, especially the Rosary, and receive the sacraments. She also stresses the importance of sacrifice, mortification and self-denial. When we change ourselves in this way, we help to convert others and sanctify the world.
CWR: How can someone cultivate a closer relationship with the Blessed Mother?
Fr. Tran: I’d begin by praying the Rosary daily. I’d also suggest picking out a favorite image of the Blessed Mother and putting it up in your home and office, as it can help you grow closer to her. I’d also recommend making a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine and reading about Mary. I’d also do a consecration to Jesus through Mary, such as the method promoted by St. Louis de Montfort.
CWR: What are some of the topics you address in The Imitation of Mary?
Fr. Tran: I give a definition of grace, a word people use but do not really know what it is. I share that you can grow in grace, but many do not, because they have the wrong disposition or give the wrong response and miss out. I look at Mary, and discuss 12 qualities she has that we can imitate. These qualities can help us grow in grace and be pleasing to God.
I wrote the book because I thought we needed a modern book on holiness. There are many classic treatises out there, but I thought there was a need for one with a modern take. It is a spiritual manual; in it, I gather the information I have received in prayer, from Scripture, the saints, and other sources. People can buy the book through my website.
CWR: What reception has your book received?
Fr. Tran: It’s been incredible. I’ve been blown away by the feedback. Some people tell me it’s been a life-changer. I hear from people at book signings at parishes, or through emails I receive from all over the world. One New York Supreme Court justice told me he has shared it with his rosary group.
CWR: Tell me about your new Spirit-Filled Radio show Fullness of Grace. What topics will you cover?
Fr. Tran: It is a weekly show people can listen to. I interview guests who can help us grow in the spiritual life. My first guest was Fr. Domenico Di Raimondo of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, my spiritual director and director of the House of Prayer for Priests in Orange. I also have interviewed Fr. Hugh Barbour of St. Michael’s Abbey.
I am grateful to Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry, which launched Spirit Filled Radio, for the opportunity to do the program. I was interviewed by its president, Deacon Steve Greco, for his radio program “Empowered by the Spirit,” and then invited him to come and speak at my parish. His ministry then asked me to do this program.
In the upcoming weeks, I plan to speak with Fr. Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center and Fr. Ed Broom of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. I also plan to include religious sisters and lay people who can teach us something about advancing in our spiritual lives. I think people will find my guests have valuable insights which can help them grow closer to the Lord.