Following Phillip’s sermons on Thích Nhất Hạnh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, Phillip Scanlan (a member from our Fernandina branch) shared this touching story from his time in Vietnam:
I worked with a Catholic Vietnamese nun, Sister Imelda, in 1968. She seemed to me to be living the Thích principles.
In 1968 as a junior Army Communications Officer in Nha Trang, Vietnam, I had my company adopt Sister Imelda’s local Catholic orphanage. My company — young men — wrote letters and got donations from their churches back home. They donated every month from their paychecks, and some worked with me at the orphanage on their one day off-duty each week. I named my first daughter after Sister Imelda that ran the orphanage, who I considered a Saint.
That experience at age twenty-four, of working with Sister Imelda, affected my whole life in a very positive way. It is a surprise to most that I was affected in a positive way (Thanks to Sister Imelda) from a year in Vietnam where I was almost killed several times.
Coincidentally both Thích and I returned to Vietnam Nam in 2005, both with a religious connection to our trip. On my trip I resolved to find Sister Imelda — if possible. The only Catholic Sister named Imelda was in a Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) Convent. She had been made speechless from a heart attack and no one knew where she had come from or what she had done. The Communists after they won the war eliminated the ability of Catholics in the South to influence children, by eliminating Catholic schools and orphanages. The French brought Catholics to Vietnam and the Communists felt that The Catholic Religion was anti-communist and one cause of the North-South war that started with the the French occupation.
I visited the Sister Imelda in the Saigon Convent and when I arrived late morning she was still in bed asleep. They woke her up to meet me. I had trouble recognizing her — and her me — after 37 years. However, I had brought a photo album of photos taken of the children in the Nha Trang orphanage in 1968, including photos of both of us with the children. We turned the pages of the photo album for her and after a few pages she looked up at me and smiled — she was “my” Sister Imelda!
I was asked to come back the next day by Sister Jeanne who ran the Convent — so they could prepare for a good visit. The next day we had a celebration — tea, cookies, children singing, all the Convent members present, and we recognized Sister Imelda for her caring for the children at the Nha Trang orphanage during the war. Because the orphanage had been destroyed by the Communist after the war there was no other record of Sister Imelda’s good work and dedication to the orphan children than the photo album I had brought back — 37 years later. The album also included a very nice letter from my daughter, Maureen Imelda Scanlan, on how proud she was of her name and how thankful she was for the very positive influence Sister Imelda had on her father during a time of war. That letter was read aloud for all to hear at the recognition celebration for Sister Imelda.
After my visit I communicated by mail and email with Sister Jeanne and Sister Imelda. After the 2005 visit and recognition celebration Sister Imelda’s remaining “quality of life” was much improved by more supportive contacts with all who now recognized that she was a war time hero serving orphans.
I have tried during my life to live up to the example provided to me at age twenty-four by having the opportunity to work with Sister Imelda for a year at her orphanage in Vietnam — she seemed to be living the fourteen principles of Thích. A year working with someone living those principles, at a young age, has an impact.
95% of the lives lost in Vietnam were Vietnamese. The US lost 58,600 — each name on the Vietnam Memorial — of 1,313,000 total lives lost from 1964 to 1975.