UM’s first full-time Catholic priest uses unexpected trials to bond with students

UM's full-time Catholic priest, Father Phillip Tran, used unexpected experiences such as being evacuated to a hurricane shelter, to bond with students throughout the semester. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

This semester threw many people at the University of Miami for a loop, including UM’s full-time Catholic priest Father Phillip Tran. However, Tran has used the unexpected experiences during his first semester from weathering Hurricane Irma, to cheering on the winning Hurricanes football team, to assimilate into his role and bond with students.

“The weirdest thing to me to have learned was all their favorite music comes from the ’90s, where I grew up,” Tran said, especially surprised when he heard students listening to “No Scrubs” by TLC. “I’m like, ‘What the heck are you doing listening to my music?’ This is what I grew up with.”

Though the beginning of the semester was a sharp learning curve, things were going well. Then Hurricane Irma hit, and like everyone on campus, Tran found his plans disrupted.

“It really set us back,” Tran said. “But it turned out well. I think we’re just getting back into our groove. We experienced crazy times with Irma but I think it was par for the course. I’m just super happy because I was expecting once the hurricane came, this building wouldn’t be standing.”

Tran stayed in the shelter UM designated for students who couldn’t evacuate. It was there that Tran had what he considers one of the most memorable moments so far at UM: interacting with students he may have never met otherwise. He now calls those who he shared his hurricane experience with his “hashtag shelter family.”

“It really does feel like a family because you’ve been together through something really scary,” Tran said. “You grow such amazing relationships, doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter their gender identity, sexual identity, religion and so to befriend people at that level, it was beauty in the midst of the hurricane.”

Despite the Irma setback, Tran and the students of the University of Miami Catholic Campus Ministry worked together to relocate and set up a retreat for students. In doing so, Tran discovered something about himself – the ability to lead.

Tran gave up his chance to have a family but said that at the university, he has discovered his own within the University of Miami Catholic Campus Ministry. He tries to be as open as possible to all students, as he wishes he had a guiding presence when he was part of the organization during his time as a UM student.

Arianna Santamaria, a junior from Ecuador, has been in the ministry since last year and has felt the change of having a full-time priest first hand.

“Having Father Phillip Tran is really amazing,” Santamaria said. “I had the experience with and without and I think that is creating a strong community and good representation. We’re not alone, we have a Father, we have guidance.”

The semester has been one full of surprise, both positive and negative. Tran is especially grateful to return to UM at a time when the football team has finally bounced back. He’s a longtime fan, he said, wearing his green and orange socks proudly. At the Notre Dame game, he was even asked to take photos and meet with the Notre Dame priest on the field.

In spring 2018, Tran will be preparing for Lent, a 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter. He hopes to reach out to the many Catholics on campus and beyond that, reach out to everyone.

“How do we teach everyone, not just Catholics, to discover their spirituality,” Tran said. “It’s a component of ourselves and the university acknowledges by churches in the middle of campus, the fact that I’m present here on campus. How do we nurture that? Because we need to take care of our emotional and physical needs and our spiritual needs as well.”