Theological education opportunities are virtually nonexistent in Vietnam—especially for women. There are no Catholic seminaries, and women aren’t afforded these opportunities elsewhere in Asia. Where do you go from there? Chi Tran, C.N.D. headed east, for the Women of Wisdom and Action program at the Jesuit School of Theology.
For years, Sr. Chi Tran (who goes by Lucy) has relied on what she calls her nun’s intuition. As a spiritual director for the Congregation of Notre Dame in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, she was the one to whom young people in her congregation turned for guidance. Was it OK to live with a partner before marriage? How do you keep religion in an urban center when so few live religious lives?
Most of the time, Tran felt she came up with solid advice. Sometimes, she wished she had a greater depth of theological knowledge. “I helped them organize their lives for academic and spiritual success,” she says. “But I wanted to deepen my own spirituality and to continue to cultivate my knowledge of spiritual direction in order to serve God and people effectively.”
Two years ago, Tran got her chance. She was awarded a scholarship in the Praying the rosary in Vietnam. The Women of Wisdom and Action program also supports women from India and China. Women of Wisdom and Action (WWA) program at SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology, which has its campus in Berkeley. WWA was founded in 2012 to build networks of women theologians across Asia—from India, China, and Vietnam. The program educates talented women like Tran so they can return home to train other young women to be leaders in their church and community. WWA is a transformative experience. Students live and study together in Berkeley. They’re also given the opportunity to travel to conferences across the country. In this supportive community, the women’s confidence grows.
Tran will complete two graduate degrees this spring: a licentiate of sacred theology (S.T.L.) and master of theology (Th.M.). When she started the program, Tran says, she first had to get used to talking in class. In Vietnam, classes are lecture style. You listen and recite back what you have been told. At JST, along with lectures and readings, classes tackle topics as a group. “In the classroom here, everyone has a voice,” Tran says.
Tran is eager to return to her congregation following graduation. As spiritual director, she will accompany a group of around 30 young Vietnamese women seeking to discern vocations in the consecrated life. The future of WWA will rely on women like Tran to continue its reach. The program was funded by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Conrad Hilton Foundation, which run through 2019. The Jesuit School of Theology is developing a network of graduates in Asia. Faculty will serve as mentors and foster relationships and conversation between scholars.