Brother Pio Do, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey, didn’t set out to live a religious life. In fact, he earned his bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering and worked as a telephone technician and a network engineer.
“I figured I’m not going to become a millionaire if I just work engineering. I have to take a risk,” Brother Pio, 47, said.
His risk was becoming a real estate broker. The bigger risk was following God’s call to religious life.
“I went to open a real estate broker business, and that’s the time God called me,” he said.
Brother Pio made his solemn profession as a Benedictine monk at Subiaco Abbey Jan. 16.
“To be a monk you have more time to spend in prayer,” Brother Pio said. “If you were outside (religious life) you fight with all kinds of distractions, you have to make money. Here you do your assignments. Prayer is very important.”
Born in Vietnam, he grew up about an hour away from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in an area that was “100 percent Catholic,” Brother Pio said. His parents, who had escaped North Korea, took their nine children to Mass, but priests were under the close watch of the Vietnamese government.
“They let you have Mass, but the priests cannot go from city to city to say Mass,” Brother Pio said.
At 11 years old, Brother Pio’s parents put him on a private boat, a secret way to sneak him to the United States for a safer life. The plan was eventually for the rest of the family to follow.
“I thought this was kind of an adventure. I thought I could go and come back. But it’s only a one-way ticket,” Brother Pio said. “If they catch you they put you in a jail for life. I didn’t know that.” For the next three days, he was on a 700-square-foot boat with about 100 people onboard.
“On the boat they give you three spoons of rice per day and three spoonfuls of water,” Brother Pio said. “The government was chasing us, so we’d go down under the boat, don’t move around. I asked the captain (does he) know where we’re going. He said hopefully somebody would pick us up or we hit some land or some island.”
They landed on an island near Singapore where he stayed for five months in a refugee camp.
“At first you’re scared, but after a few days you have to face the reality,” he said. “I went fishing, swimming, fun things around the island.”
He eventually made it to New Orleans and then to Biloxi, Miss., where he lived with family, attended Mass and was a part of a Catholic youth group for Vietnamese children.
In 1989, he moved to Dallas for college, staying with other relatives and working. His television breaking would prove to be a life-changing moment for him.
“I said, ‘God you want me to buy a bigger TV?’” but instead, Brother Pio said his sister heard about a new radio station and suggested he listen to that since he didn’t have a television. On air, they were talking about praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Brother Pio began praying it for priests and other vocations when he felt called himself.
“I said no, no not me, I just want to pray for them; don’t call me,” he said, adding that he began looking at the Divine Mercy image and “I see the picture moving. I thought maybe something is wrong with my eyes. … It’s like it came alive. You see a live person.
“I prayed (my relatives) would see it too so they don’t think I’m crazy,” he said, adding his sister saw the image in the unique way and began attending Mass with her family every day. It’s a story he said he rarely talks about, but it was a profound moment in his spirituality.
“The only time I’ll tell this story is to help people ... come to God,” Brother Pio said. “I don’t tell this story (for people) to think, ‘Oh, you’re special.’”
Though he didn’t set out to be a monk, but rather a diocesan priest, he found a home at Subiaco when he came in 2010.
“The more God revealed to me that this is the place. I’d kind of fight with God back and forth for a year,” about it, he said.
Brother Pio serves as the abbey’s mailman and in publications, far from the “millionaire” life he once dreamed of living. But the time he spends in prayer is his joy in life, he said, adding that he does in fact have a favorite prayer — the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
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