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NGÔ ĐÌNH THỤC, PIERRE MARTIN (1897–1994)

One of Vietnam’s most important Catholic and nationalist leaders. Born in central Vietnam into a Catholic family, Ngo Dinh Thuc was the son of the powerful mandarin and minister of rituals at the Nguyen Court, Ngo Dinh Kha, and elder brother of the nationalist leader Ngo Dinh Diem and of the historian Ngo Dinh Nhu. He entered the seminary of An Ninh at age 12 and spent eight years there before studying philosophy and theology in Rome. He was ordained a priest in December 1925. He then left for Paris, where he studied canon law and obtained his undergraduate degree (licence) in letters in France in 1929. Like his brother Ngo Dinh Diem, Ngo Dinh Thuc was close to Nguyen Huu Bai’s faction at the Hue court, which is why French colonial authorities were wary of him and his rise in the Catholic Church in Vietnam. In January 1938, Ngo Dinh Thuc was named Vicar Apostolic of Vinh Long province in southern Vietnam and then ordained bishop later that year, despite resistance from colonial authorities. He was the third Vietnamese to obtain the rank of bishop.

Like his brothers, he was a Vietnamese patriot and supported efforts to put an end to French colonialism. While he was strongly anti-communist, he was careful not to antagonize the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s authorities in Vinh Long province where he lived and worked. In 1946, he petitioned the Pope and Christians in Britain and the United States to stop the Indochina War and to support full Vietnamese independence of a non-communist kind. During Ngo Dinh Diem’s travels in the West, Ngo Dinh Thuc often accompanied his brother and used his Catholic networks and youth associations to mobilize support for him. The Vatican named Ngo Dinh Thuc Archbishop of Hue in 1960. He was in Rome in November 1963 when his brothers Diem and Nhu were killed in a coup d’état, backed by the Americans.