Luong, 62, is to be ordained June 11 as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, which includes all of Orange County. The appointment by Pope John Paul II makes Luong the first Vietnamese American bishop in the United States.
"There is no unifying leader in our community, so we are expecting that he will be the one to promote unity," said Thong Tinh Le, a high school teacher from Santa Ana who met Luong in 1989 when the two formed the Apostolate Office for the Vietnamese Catholics in the United States. "What he has done in New Orleans -- we don't expect less here."
In Orange County, the Vietnamese American community -- much larger and more diverse than the one in New Orleans -- has been beset with power strugglesIn 1976, Luong followed a wave of Vietnamese immigrants to New Orleans, where Catholic Church officials realized his head start in the United States made him an ideal candidate to pastor the developing refugee community. A year later, he became an American citizen.
His handiwork can be found everywhere in East New Orleans. Among the most impressive achievements: a drained swamp where Vietnamese entrepreneurs built about 1,000 apartments and homes, a church and day-care center on 35 acres.
For a while, their church was a mobile home, with the electricity supplied through eight extension cords running from nearby apartments occupied by Vietnamese immigrants. The parish -- Mary, Queen of Vietnam -- now has 6,000 members and $1.3 million in the bank, money saved bit by bit over the years.
"We think about the future of our church and don't spend too much," Luong said, before quickly adding, "but we're not too frugal either."
More than 500 people attend one of two daily Masses. On the drawing board is a new $10-million church, and four smaller missions have been set up within a 25-mile radius. The community has named a street after its pastor, Dominic Mai Avenue.