The community now has 180 sisters, 50 brothers, and in January will gain three transitional deacons, who will be ordained priests in the summer.
"Bishop Paul has a passion for the poor. You can see that every time we talk about helping the poor, his eyes twinkle," Sister Cecilia Nguyen told CNA Dec. 11.
She said the community takes the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but "our first vow is to serve the poor in charity … Bishop Paul's vision has the poor at its heart."
In 2001, Fr. Nguyen was ordained coadjutor bishop of Phan Thiet, which is 120 miles east of Ho Chi Minh City. He took over as head of the diocese in 2005 and resigned due to age in 2009. He now lives with his community and directs it.
Most of the community is in the Phan Thiet diocese, but it also has houses in Paris, Ho Chi Minh City, and in Biloxi, Miss. They operate medical centers, raise hogs, and purify water for the poorest of Vietnam.
Earlier this year, Mahoney traveled to Vietnam to visit Bishop Nguyen and the Community of Charity and Social Services, and the experience was "at once exhilarating and tremendously humbling."
In all these years, Bishop Nguyen has been spared prison or martyrdom. "It's amazing, how he survived the communists," Mahoney said.
The bishop's thought is simple, related Mahoney: "God didn't want me in prison."
"The communists are a delay," says the bishop, "but it doesn't change the outcome … God's love is just an unstoppable force."
Mahoney said that relations with the government even improve at times.
One official who had blocked Bishop Nguyen's efforts to start a particular medical center later called him and asked him to come to a mining village to say Mass.
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"He said, 'This is a mining area out here and there have been a lot of deaths, but none among the Catholics. So come say a Mass and the Catholics can participate and everyone else can watch.'"
"So now," Mahoney related, "the bishop and this communist are kind of getting along."
Mahoney is now assisting the Community of Charity and Social Services and his friend Bishop Nguyen by helping them to raise funds to build housing for the brothers of the order and other needs.
In last year alone, the community treated 142,000 people with medical care, and provided potable water to 56,000 impoverished Vietnamese.
"God was using someone who didn't know he was being used, and who certainly was totally lacking in trust. When you ask an infantry officer to get you a building … I wish I could tell you my reaction was 'God will provide,' but it wasn't.
"But God did provide. If God can use me as an infantry officer with nothing in 1968, he can probably use me now," Mahoney concluded.
Those interested in helping the community can contact Our Lady of Tapao Convent in Biloxi via www.bacaixahoi.org.