First Viet Rep former Jesuit seminarian

The first Vietnamese-American member of Congress is a former Jesuit seminarian who served for four years on the National Advisory Council to the U.S. bishops.

Anh "Joseph" Quang Cao, a 41-year-old Republican, defeated Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson in a Dec. 6 runoff election to represent Louisiana's 2nd District. Jefferson had held the seat since 1991, and no Republican has represented the congressional district that includes New Orleans since 1890.

Cao, pronounced Gow, was named in January 2003 to a four-year term on the advisory council, a 63-member group of laymen and laywomen, religious men and women, diocesan priests and bishops that meets twice a year to review documentation and offer recommendations on matters before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A member of Mary Queen of Vietnam Parish in New Orleans, Cao told The Associated Press that his run for political office was motivated by his Catholic faith.

"It was something that I was called to do, literally, in the religion sense," he said.

According to a biography on his campaign Web site, Cao was born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, the fifth of eight children. He came to the United States in 1975 at the age of 8 and settled in the Houston area. He graduated from Jersey Village High School in Houston and earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 1990.

Cao spent the next six years as a Jesuit seminarian, beginning his studies for the priesthood in Louisiana and eventually earning a master's degree in philosophy from Fordham University in New York in 1995. A year later, after returning to New Orleans to teach philosophy and ethics at Loyola University, he left the Society of Jesus and taught at a parochial school in Virginia.

While living in Virginia, Cao became involved as a volunteer with Boat People SOS, a national community-based organization working to help Vietnamese immigrants around the country. He served as a board member of the organization from September 1996 to March 2002.

He returned to New Orleans in September 1997 to study law at Loyola School of Law. After earning his law degree in 2000, Cao joined Waltzer & Associates, a law firm working primarily with Vietnamese-American homeowners and fishermen in eastern Louisiana. He left the firm to become in-house counsel for Boat People SOS and to open a New Orleans affiliate office.

His home and law office both were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. His office took three months to repair, his home a year and a half.

Cao is married to Hieu "Kate" Hoang; they have two daughters, Sophia and Betsy. In addition to English and Vietnamese, Cao is fluent in French and Spanish, according to his campaign Web site.

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