LACEY – As the monks at St. Martin’s Abbey prepared to elect a new abbot to succeed longtime Abbot Neal Roth, Benedictine Father Marion Qui-Thac Nguyen knew there was a slight possibility he would be nominated.
Across the world, studying in Rome, Father Marion consulted his spiritual director there about declining the nomination.
“We’d been reflecting on how God’s will worked in the lives of the desert fathers and how God’s will was discerned in community,” he said.
That wisdom helped Father Marion decide to allow the Holy Spirit to work. But first he had to get back to Lacey. His original plane ticket was canceled when Ireland closed its borders because of COVID-19.
“Abbot Neal insisted that I try again,” he said.
He was successful on the second try, arriving in Lacey in early June to learn the monks had decided to postpone the election until his arrival. As the vote was tallied, other monks’ names were initially called, then Father Marion’s name began being called over and over.
“It started ringing in my ears,” he said. “It was surreal.”
At the end of the vote, he was elected the ninth abbot of St. Martin’s, following the 27 years of leadership of Abbot Roth, who resigned at the end of May.
On August 15, during a livestreamed ceremony, Abbot Marion received an abbatial blessing from Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne.
“Your first priority is to be conformed to Christ as completely as possible,” Archbishop Etienne advised Abbot Marion during his homily at the Mass.
From priest to monk
Born Qui-Thac Nguyen in Vietnam on November 3, 1976, Abbot Marion is the second of four children of Thien Nguyen and Thu-Trinh Pham. His family escaped the communist regime when he was 4, traveling by boat. “We thought we would die,” he said.
The family spent three years in a Thailand refugee camp before moving to Everett, where he attended Immaculate Conception School and then O’Dea High School in Seattle.
Abbot Marion credits his vocation to his family’s survival; the intercession of Mary led them to the refugee camp, he said. While attending a retreat at O’Dea, he said he reflected God’s goodness and decided to become a priest.
He attended St. John Vianney Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and studied in Rome at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University.
He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Seattle on June 12, 2004, at St. James Cathedral. He served as parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, and was parochial vicar, then pastor, of Sacred Heart Parish in Bellingham, where he served as chaplain of Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at Western Washington University.
Later, he discerned his vocation to the Benedictines, in part, he said, because of the Christian Brothers’ great example to him while attending O’Dea. He entered St. Martin’s Abbey in 2012 and took his solemn vows on the feast of St. Benedict on July 11, 2016.
Abbot Marion Q. Nguyen is the ninth abbot of St. Martin’s Abbey in Lacey. Photo: Courtesy St. Martin’s University
Before his election, Abbot Marion was studying for a doctorate in monastic spirituality from the Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. He also taught classes at St. Martin’s University, worked for the campus’ Benedictine Institute and the University Office of Institutional Advancement, and served at St. Mary Parish in Anacortes.
Choosing their next leader
The process of electing the community’s new abbot began in March with a monastic retreat, said Benedictine Father Peter Tynan. Nearly two dozen monks discussed issues facing the community and the qualities needed in the next superior. COVID-19 restrictions gave the monks additional time to converse with each other, he added.
“It allowed us to see in what way the Holy Spirit is guiding us,” he said.
Abbot Marion will serve as St. Martin’s superior until his death or resignation. Such long-term leadership brings a definite stability to the community, Father Tynan said.
As he leads the monastic community, Abbot Marion plans to make use of his studies of monastic theology and spirituality, drawing from the desert fathers and founders’ well of wisdom. He will guide with feedback from the council of seniors at St. Martin’s Abbey, half appointed by the abbot and half elected by the monks.
“There’s a lot of wisdom in our tradition,” he said.