Day 4: Rebuilding with spirit

Aman Ali

Vietnamese priest brings hope to Biloxi

Father Dong Phan combats the negativity of Hurricaine Katrina with his spirituality. PHOTOS BY GAVIN JACKSON | STATERONLINE

Credit: Steve Schirra

 BILOXI, MISS. — The city of Biloxi is a diverse community that shelters multiple religions and even more denominations.

After Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi last year, Father Dong Phan found himself urging residents to confide in rebuilding efforts and stay faithful in a higher power.

Across the street from Phan’s church is his home, where Kent State volunteers have been all week laying drywall. Hurricane Katrina gutted the entire interior of Phan’s home, and Kent State’s drywall crews are doing what they can to help him.

Phan said he hid in his church when previous hurricanes hit Biloxi, but he had a “deep feeling” that he should not stick around for Hurricane Katrina. He survived the storm by hiding on a fishing boat with other members of the Vietnamese community. He now lives in a trailer parked outside the church provided by the Federal Emergency Management Association.

And despite his past experience with hurricanes and other dangers, Phan remains energetic and optimistic.

“I should have died many times,” he said. “I’ve lost everything many times. What keeps me going is I enjoy serving God.”


Phan grew up in South Vietnam and was ordained a priest in 1970. During the Vietnam War he became a military chaplain for the South Vietnamese Army, and because of his work, he often found himself a direct target for North Vietnamese assassins. His maneuverings through mine-infested battlefields and gauntlets of machine guns could have killed him too.

“I used to drive around in a white jeep with my headlights off and rescued people from the frontlines,” Phan said.

After the South Vietnamese government collapsed in 1975, Phan fled the country with 82 other people to the Philippines.

“Leaving was so dangerous, but we were so blessed,” he said. “We had no compass, no computer and no modern equipment. We just had a sense of direction and prayer.”

After getting in touch with a few contacts in the Catholic Church, Phan relocated to Kansas City the same year. He would stay there until 1985 when he moved to Biloxi.

To read Aman’s blog about his own experiences, click here.

“Biloxi didn’t have many priests, and the situation for some was very needed,” Phan said. “I wanted to take my time and help them.”

Now that Hurricane Katrina has hit, Phan encourages the members of his church to have faith in God.

“Sometimes supplies will be here and one day they’ll be gone,” Phan said. “But faith will never leave. If we have strong faith, God will be taking care of us.”

Check back to throughout the week for daily reports about the volunteers’ efforts.

Contact student affairs reporter Aman Ali at [email protected].