Pope Francis Names Two New Auxiliary Bishops for San Diego Who Immigrated to US as Teens
The Diocese of San Diego serves more than 1.3 million Catholics.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed two new auxiliary bishops for San Diego who both immigrated to the U.S. as teenagers.
The Vatican announced on June 6 that Father Michael Pham, 56, and Father Felipe Pulido, 53, will be consecrated as bishops for the Diocese of San Diego.
Father Pham is San Diego’s current vicar general and escaped Vietnam in a refugee boat with his siblings when he was 13 years old.
“Being appointed auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of San Diego by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is incredible and unfathomable news for me. I am so deeply honored,” Bishop-elect Pham told CNA.
While growing up in South Vietnam in the 1970s, Father Pham noticed a Catholic priest in town who was very involved with his parishioners and kind to everyone. At 10 years old Pham thought: “I want to be like that.”
After the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon, Pham and two of his siblings fled the country in July 1980 in a harrowing boat journey in the South China Sea with no food and little water.
“We were jammed in like sardines.There was barely room to sit down,” Bishop-elect Pham recounted to the Mission Times Courier.
Pham and his siblings spent three months in a refugee camp in Malaysia before finding asylum in the United States as unaccompanied minors.
The siblings were hosted by a family in Minnesota until Pham’s father, who had aided the Americans during his service in the South Vietnamese army, also gained asylum in the U.S. and moved the family to San Diego.
Pham finished high school in San Diego and went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from San Diego State University. While working for a company that maintained databases for Boeing, he felt a call to the priesthood.
His father was strongly against him becoming a priest, but Pham’s call to his vocation became more intense and he applied to the seminary without his father’s approval.
“My parents soon realized that they couldn’t stop me from entering the seminary, and they finally accepted my request for their approval. I truly felt the hands of God working throughout the whole process for me to become a priest,” Bishop-elect Pham said.
He enrolled in St. Francis Seminary and later studied at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, before he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of San Diego in 1999 at the age of 32. Father Pham spent four years as the diocesan vocation director and has been the pastor of Good Shepherd Parish since 2016.
“It is truly a privilege and an honor to become a priest. And now, I am being called to serve the Church in a greater capacity as bishop. I don’t know what I have, but I hope and pray through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom, knowledge, and strength to take on this task that the pope has entrusted to me to serve God’s people,” Bishop-elect Pham told CNA.
Father Pulido is the vicar for clergy and vocations director for the Diocese of Yakima, Washington. He was born in a small town in Mexico in the state of Michoacán and is the oldest of seven children.
At age 12 he entered a minor seminary in Mexico, where he studied through high school.
When he was 18, Pulido came to the U.S. with his parents and worked in the fields in Washington picking and packing fruit. He worked as a teacher assistant for three years at the Epic Migrant Head Start program before entering Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon in 1994 at the age of 24.
He spent time in Rome as a student at the Pontifical North American College and earned a degree in sacred theology with high honors at the Angelicum in Rome in 2000. Pulido also studied at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome from 2001 to 2002 and was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Yakima in 2002.
Father Pulido has served as the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Kennewick, Washington, since 2020.
“Father Pulido is the first priest of the Yakima Diocese named to be a bishop since its founding in 1951. We are all very proud of him,” Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima said after the appointment was announced.
As auxiliary bishops, Pham and Pulido will join Auxiliary Bishop Ramon Bejarano in assisting Cardinal Robert McElroy in his duties as bishop of San Diego. The Diocese of San Diego serves more than 1.3 million Catholics.