Province: USA West
Birthday: November 11, 1967
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Education: Bachelor’s degree, computer engineering and Master of Business Administration, Santa Clara University; Master of Divinity, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University
Highlights of Jesuit Formation:
1. Taught math and science at St. Andrew Nativity School in Portland, Oregon.
2. Served as a deacon and leader of children’s faith formation at Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland, California.
Post-ordination: Will serve as associate pastor at St. Aloysius Parish in Spokane, Washington.
Fr. San Mai, S.J., was born in Saigon, Vietnam, with his two sisters. He immigrated with his family to Portland, Oregon, in 1975 at the age of seven. San attended Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, where he met the Jesuits. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 1989 and a master’s in business administration in 1994. Although he was noticeably impressed with the joy and zeal he saw in the Jesuits at Santa Clara University, San did not feel called to religious life but rather to pursue the Silicon Valley dream. Prior to entering the Society of Jesus, San worked for 20 years in the Bay Area as a product management and marketing executive for various public and private technology companies. Calling his vocation “late and surprising, yet incredibly consoling” given his career in the corporate world, San entered the Society of Jesus in 2011. As a novice, he worked as a teaching assistant at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. San then studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago in 2013. Missioned next to St. Andrew Nativity School in Portland, Oregon, he worked for two years as a math and science teacher. This past May, San earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. He also served as a deacon and leader of children’s faith formation at Our Lady of Lourdes in Oakland, California. (USA West Province)
Who’s your favorite saint, and why?
My favorite saint is Peter Faber, S.J. Peter Faber is known for being simple, humble and unassuming and this is why he is called the Quiet Companion, which may explain why it took so long for him to be canonized. After Ignatius himself, the early Jesuits respected and loved Peter Faber the most. This is because Faber possessed the gift of friendship to a remarkable degree. Simão Rodrigues, one of the early Jesuit co-founder, says this about Faber: he was "endowed with charming grace in dealing with people, which up to now I must confess I have not seen in anyone else. Somehow he entered into friendship in such a way, bit by bit coming to influence others in such a manner, that his very way of living and gracious conversation powerfully drew to the love of God all those with whom he dealt.” This gift of friendship enabled Faber to become a master at giving the Spiritual Exercises, which is all about deepening one’s friendship with Jesus. Ignatius himself acknowledged that no one was better than giving the Exercises than Faber. Although Faber was a quiet and unassuming introvert, he was extremely effective as a preacher and retreat director. Just as many people flocked to Jesus to hear him proclaim the Kingdom of God, many people flocked to Jesus’ disciple, Peter Faber, to engage him in spiritual conversation and receive his guidance for their souls. Faber had more requests from priests, prelates, and princes to make the Spiritual Exercises than he himself could handle. Ignatius once said Faber had enough work in one town for more than ten Jesuits. Faber's humility enabled him to dialogue with all, even the most remote and even with his opponents, and this is something we desperately need today in this divisive country of ours. Pope Francis considers Faber one of his favorite saints and so do I.
From San’s diaconate ordination in October 2019 at St. Mary’s Chapel, Moraga, California. From left to right: Howie Mai (sister), Hanh Le (brother-in-law), Sydney Le (niece), Bich Hoang (mother), San, Sy Mai (father), Han Mai (sister) and Brian Smith (brother-in-law).
What’s one interesting fact about yourself not everyone would know?
During my years of studying theology in Berkeley, California, I learned how to play golf. Alas, I wished I had learned to play golf when I was younger because it is not an easy sport to learn. There are three reasons why I love golf, even though I continue to be a terrible golfer. First, I love spending time outdoors in the quiet beauty of God’s creation on the links where I can pause to admire the towering trees, the whispering grass, and the rolling hills of Berkeley. Second, golf requires a lot of patience, a virtue I lack, not only because of the time required to play a full round but also because it is a hard sport to master. Finally and most importantly, golf has revealed something important about my relationship with God. As a novice golfer, I have a tendency to grip my clubs very tightly. When I do so, I tend to swing rather poorly. This tendency reflects my need to be in control of many aspects of my life. In contrast, when I hold my clubs more loosely, my swing is freer and often more consistent. This has been an important reminder for me to loosen my grip on life because I am not in control. God is in control.
From left: Fr. Perry T. Petrich, S.J.; Fr. David Romero, S.J. and Fr. San Mai, S.J.
What was one particularly meaningful experience you had during your formation, and why was it meaningful to you?
For my regency assignment, my provincial missioned me to St. Andrew Nativity School, a Jesuit inner-city middle school in Portland, Oregon, for underserved young people. To be clear, this was not my first choice because I was hoping to be missioned to a high school or university. Having worked in the corporate world for many years and being the oldest Jesuit scholastic at the time, I had many reservations about working with middle schoolers. Would I be able to connect with them given our age differences? How would I deal with classroom management given that many of them would be going through all kinds of hormonal changes? Would I even remember the math and science I learned so many years ago when I was their age? Despite these initial reservations, I had an incredibly consoling and affirming experience during regency. I love St. Andrew Nativity and I especially love my students. In retrospect, what I have learned is that while the math and science I taught to my students was important, loving them and receiving their love in return was much more important. Although my “official” ministry as a regent was to teach math and science, I think it is more accurate to describe this regency assignment as a ministry of love, which is really what Jesus’ ministry was all about. I am grateful to my former students for teaching me how to be more patient, kind and loving as they are essential qualities that I pray will make me a good Jesuit priest.
San’s eighth-grade students from St. Andrew Nativity School in Portland, Oregon, June 2017.
Tell your vocation story. One catch: You must use only six words.
“Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37
How has your spirituality changed since entering the Society?
As many Jesuits will attest, the Spiritual Exercises have transformed my relationship with God, and in particular, Jesus, who I now see as a faithful friend and companion who is always with me at every moment of my life. The Spiritual Exercises have helped me to understand and embrace that I am a loved sinner. As a Jesuit, I have never felt more loved by Jesus than right now as I look forward to serving the Church and the Society as a Jesuit priest. And, my love for Jesus has grown as I have come to better know Him through the people of God I accompany in my studies and ministries. In the fourth week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius asks us to contemplate how God loves us in deeds, and shares with us, and we with God — it is this mutuality and reciprocity that informs everything I do as a Jesuit.