Stunned by violence, St. Alice Parish responds with Masses and rosary prayers for Vietnamese family

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

UPPER DARBY – The Vietnamese Catholic community in Upper Darby is grieving after one of its leading members was brutally murdered on Monday night, Nov. 10. Each evening after the crime and leading up to the funeral for Hoa Pham on Saturday, Nov. 15, hundreds of men, women and children gathered at St. Alice Church for the rosary and Mass celebrated by the Vietnamese priests of the Archdiocese.

It is the Vietnamese custom to gather at the home every night before the funeral for the rosary, explained Father Peter Quinn, pastor of St. Alice. In this case it wasn’t practical because the family home where Pham was murdered and his wife, Thai Nguyen, was brutalized by an unknown and still-at-large assailant was closed for investigation as a crime scene; the large number of mourners would have made it difficult as well.

“Mr. Pham was a very good, devout Catholic. He worked with me to run liturgies and activities for the community,” Father Quinn said.

A former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army, Pham, 60, was imprisoned for seven years after the communist takeover. He and his family were permitted to immigrate to America about 17 years ago. After a short time in the Southwest, they relocated to Upper Darby, where other family members live. There, they raised their six now-grown children, all of whom were active members of St. Alice Parish.

“He was a good father, a loving husband and a good neighbor,” Father Quinn said. “He worked for vocations in his home diocese in Vietnam and every year would raise money to support their seminarians.”

Pham, whose home on Copley Street faced St. Alice, was sleeping, as was his wife, when their home was broken into. The assailant bound and tortured them for several hours to extract money, then stabbed and killed Pham. Thai Nguyen Pham managed to escape and call 911. She was hospitalized for several days following the murder.

Although the evening liturgies were in Vietnamese, people of many nationalities joined in to mourn the death of a good man who should have found peace in America. But the bulk of the mourners were members of the close-knit Vietnamese community.

“Mr. Pham was my vice president,” said Din Xuang Nguyen, chairman of the Upper Darby Vietnamese Catholic Community. “We worked together for four years and he was a hard worker. We lost a good man in service to the Church and the community.”

Following Pham’s Saturday funeral, interment was at St. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Springfield. There was also a candlelit vigil in front of the family home on Sunday evening, Nov. 16.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.