Ngo Dinh Diem at Maryknoll Lakewood
Ngo Dinh Diem, the future President of South Vietnam, was exiled in the late 40's,and was later invited to live in exile at the Maryknoll Seminary in Lakewood, NJ by Maryknoll Fr. Thomas O'Melia. Since Lakewood was not too distant from Washington DC, it allowed Diem the opportunity to conduct whatever he might need to right things with his home country. Diem only spoke French, so those of us in the French class took turns being his guestmaster, cleaning his room, serve his meals, etc. I always enjoyed talking with him, taking walks with him around the property. He was such a gentleman, but very quiet and unassuming. I believe he started living at Lakewood seminary around 1951. Our class was stationed there in 50'-51', before we were returned to GE for our 3rd and 4th years before going to Novitiate.
Diem attended daily Mass while at Lakewood seminary, Whenever we would walk together around the property, he always had his camera with him and loved to take pictures of the scenery. On family visitation days, he kept busy taking pictures of the seminarians with their family.
Those who had up close and personal contacts with Diem at Maryknoll
were part of History. Or maybe it was just another room to clean or
practice your French. He finally left MM to get
to Washington DC in his attempt to make friends in high places to
advance his personal/patriotic goals.
Other Comments The late Brendan Branley was at the 'Knoll when Diem was hanging out there. Branley said as soon as he was asked to perform manual labor to earn his keep, that was the end of him!
Those of us who knew him were saddened to learn of his and his brother Bishop's assassination.
Here is some information about Diem.
Diem was born into one of the noble families of Vietnam. His ancestors in the 17th century had been among the first Vietnamese converts to Roman Catholicism. He was on friendly terms with the Vietnamese imperial family in his youth, and in 1933 he served as the emperor Bao Dai’s minister of the interior. However, he resigned that same year in frustration at French unwillingness to countenance his legislative reforms. Relinquishing his titles and decorations, Diem spent the next 12 years living quietly in Hue. In 1945 he was captured by the forces of the communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who invited Diem to join Ho’s independent government in the newly declared Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), hoping that Diem’s presence would win Catholic support. Diem rejected the proposal, however, and went into self-imposed exile, living abroad for most of the next decade.
Recognizing his political status, Diem decided to leave Vietnam in 1950.
In 1951 he secured an audience with Secretary of State Dean Acheson. During the next three years he lived at the Spellman house at Maryknoll seminary in Lakewood Township, New Jersey and occasionally at another seminary in Ossining, New York.
Note: There were 6 or so buildings on the campus at the Maryknoll Seminary in Lakewood, NJ. Each building had a name. The name of the building that housed all the faculty priests, plus Diem, was named the Spellman house.
In 1954 Diem returned at emperor Bao Dai’s request to serve as prime minister of a U.S.-backed government in what in the following year would be proclaimed as the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
In May 1954, the French surrendered at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Conference began in April 1954. On 16 June 1954, Diem met with Bao Dai in France and agreed to be the Prime Minister if Bao Dai would give him military and civilian control. On 25 June 1954, Diem returned from exile, arriving at Tan Son Nhut airport in Saigon. On 7 July 1954, Diem established his new government with a cabinet of 18 people
Diem defeated Bao Dai in a government-controlled referendum in October 1955, ousted the emperor, and made himself president of South Vietnam.
The Geneva Accords were signed soon after he took office, formally partitioning Vietnam along the 17th parallel. .Diem refused to carry out the Accords, which had called for free elections to be held throughout Vietnam in 1956 in order to establish a national government. The south was torn by dissident groups and political factions, After a rigged referendum in 1955, he proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Vietnam, with himself as president. Diem established an autocratic regime that was staffed at the highest levels by members of his own family, including his brother Ngo Dình Nhu.
His government was supported by other anti-communist countries, most notably the United States. Diem pursued a series of nation-building schemes, emphasising industrial and rural development. From 1957, he was faced with a communist insurgency backed by North Vietnam, eventually formally organized under the banner of the Viet Cong. He was subject to a number of assassination and coup attempts, and in 1962 established the Strategic Hamlet Program as the cornerstone of his counterinsurgency effort.
Diem's favoritism towards Catholics and persecution of South Vietnam's Buddhist majority led to the "Buddhist crisis" of 1963.
The violence damaged relations with the United States and other previously sympathetic countries, and his regime lost favour with the leadership of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. On 1 November 1963, the country's leading generals launched a coup d'état with assistance from the CIA. He and his younger brother Nhu initially escaped, but were recaptured the following day and assassinated on the orders of Duong Van Minh, who succeeded him as president. Diem has been a controversial historical figure in historiography on the Vietnam War. Some historians have considered him a tool of the United States, while others portrayed him as an avatar of Vietnamese tradition. At the time of his assassination, he was widely considered to be a corrupt dictator. However, recent studies have also portrayed Diem from a more Vietnamese-centred perspective as a competent leader focused on modernisation of South Vietnam and nation building.