Nguyen Chinh Luan, a student of Master in Public Policy Class of 2022 (MPP2022) at the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM), Fulbright University Vietnam, is a Franciscan friar. Having a bachelor’s degree in economics, Chinh Luan chose to leave mainstream society, stepping into the realm of faith and dedicating his life to serving others. At the Fulbright School, he got exposed to advanced management and leadership knowledge in order to realize his aspirations in the journey of service.
After graduating from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics in 2004, Nguyen Chinh Luan took the road less traveled. Instead of settling down in a professional career like his peers, he decided to enter a Catholic religious congregation. He initially joined the Vietnamese Province of Jesuits (the Society of Jesus), a religious congregation of the Catholic Church, then continued in Jesuit religious formation for nearly four years.
Later, he transferred to the Order of Friars Minor Conventual – a branch of the Franciscans who were founded by Saint Francis of Assisi (Francesco d’Assisi) in 1209. Their mission is to live among the poor, relying on common resources to serve them. Dedicating himself totally to God, Friar Nguyen Chinh Luan professed simple and solemn vows, spending years discerning more deeply the ways of God. He studied Philosophy for three years and Theology for four years at the Franciscan Theological Seminary in District 9, Ho Chi Minh City.
After equipping himself in pastoral theology, Friar Luan began to connect with people in the real world. He went to Thai Binh, a province in Northern Vietnam, where he worked at a friary located next to Van Mon Leprosy-Dermatology Hospital in the Vu Van Commune of Vu Thu District. French priests built this locale as a leprosarium more than 100 years ago. For a year, Friar Luan went to the hospital every day to visit elderly Hansen’s Disease patients. Friar Luan and his religious brothers also opened a facility at the friary to care for children of the commune with Down’s Syndrome. He then went to the U.S. to participate in the Provincial Chapter of Saint Joseph of Cupertino Province of California and begin an apostolic assignment in a parish there.
After 15 years of following God’s teachings in service to the less fortunate, Luan realized that he needed to enrich his knowledge about his profession and learn new skills to cope in this volatile world. At the encouragement of his religious superiors, he decided to pursue a master’s degree. In a conversation with one of the Californian friars who is an alumnus of Harvard University, Luan became aware of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management, which was originally a partnership between the HCMC University of Economics and the Harvard Kennedy School.
“As part of my religious vocation, I had taken care of the poor, orphans, people with HIV, people with leprosy…; everything was done with heartfelt intent. I served them just because I loved them in the spirit of the Gospel. Nonetheless, my management skills were still quite limited. I realized that love without knowledge is a kind of blindness and knowledge without love an emptiness. So I decided to pursue further education in order to better serve the poor as I always desired to do,” he recalled. Friar Luan then applied for the Master in Public Policy program’s Leadership & Management concentration at FSPPM and became a student of the school in 2020.
Realizing the spirit of service
For over two decades, FSPPM has successfully recruited a student base that is diverse in geographical location, expertise, background and work experience, coming from various public, private and social organizations. Luan regards it as a chance for him to meet all kinds of Vietnamese professionals and learn from them. Although the academic pressure at FSPPM is quite intense, no one is left behind.
“At the convocation ceremony of my class, someone said in their speech: “No one will ever be left behind.” Back then, I did not fully understand what they meant. After more than one year studying here, I find it quite accurate. When I saw teaching assistants who were willing to stay up all night to help students with assignments, or teachers and other classmates who were there to help whenever I needed, I really understood that no one would ever be left behind,” Friar Luan said.
To Friar Luan, serving the poor is his purpose of life. Therefore, it is only natural for him to feel deeply connected with the mission of FSPPM, the commitment to public service. Fulbright’s educational environment is where the professors inspire students with the spirit of service and provide them with useful tools to convert their good intentions into good deeds for the community and the country.
“When I first came to Fulbright, I had a vision but it was not clear. Learning from the professors here, I feel inspired and encouraged, and I believe I can gradually implement my plans of service to the community,” he said.
Friar Luan highly appreciated the faculty members at Fulbright, among them Prof. Pham Duy Nghia, Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, Dean of FSPPM, and other senior lecturers like Dang Van Thanh, Chau Van Thanh, Nguyen Xuan Thanh, Le Thai Ha, Nguyen Quy Tam and Huynh The Du.
“Their knowledge is both broad and deep, and so are their hearts, to make their visions come true. I think Fulbright is like a school of old Confucianists in which the professors are truly patriotic Confucians. I can feel their love and their desire to serve the country, and their love is gratified by their contributions to not only education but also to the public policy field,” he commented.
As a Franciscan, Luan deeply understands what it is like to live in poverty. He spent many years living with the poor, the sick and the marginalized. That makes him especially empathetic to their sufferings, their aspirations, and their needs for a better life. He knows that he needs to serve them better with the help of knowledge and skills. At Fulbright, he studies leadership, financial management, budget management and other public administration courses that will help policymakers come up with the best decisions and solutions.
“What I have learned at Fulbright over the last year has changed the way I think and also the way I live. The curriculum provides a wide range of knowledge about the processes of policymaking: how a policy is issued, implemented and supervised. From that macro perspective, students can apply what they learn in order to solve specific problems in their organizations. This knowledge is very useful because it not only helps one navigate the activities of one’s organization, but also steer that organization in a broader capacity, to serve the society we live in,” he commented.
Looking back at his experience at Fulbright, Luan also praised the school for training students to perform well under pressure and to know how to learn on their own.
“Put under high pressures at Fulbright, students learn to withstand any obstacles they face when they go back to work in their respective organizations. They become stronger, more resilient and more determined to perform better at work,” he said.
After finishing his master’s degree in public policy, Luan plans to return to northern Vietnam and build other orphanages and daycare centers for children with Down’s Syndrome. He also plans to expand the daycare system in his order’s friary in Thai Binh Province.
“I want to open more facilities for orphans and for underprivileged people in other provinces. Previously, we just ran the orphanage the way we would run a family. Now that I have acquired leadership and management skills, I can see how things can be better organized,” he said.
He also wants to open more medical clinics for the poor and the elderly. As he sees the need for low cost healthcare services for those who cannot afford medical bills, he sets sight to build a clinic in the friary of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual in Thai Binh province in the near future.
“People in the neighborhood work primarily in agriculture, so the clinic would mostly treat farmers, and elderly people with musculoskeletal disorders, respiratory diseases and common infections like flu and digestive diseases,” he said.
Last weekend, Friar Nguyen Chinh Luan was ordained to the priesthood. The ordination came as he just finished the MPP program at Fulbright and started working on his thesis. Both events mark the end of his basic spiritual and academic training and the beginning of an apprenticeship to his lifelong calling: to love and to serve.