Another Catholic
in the House

Past Newsworthy Dads


Joseph Cao, his wife Kate and their daughters Sophia and Betsy

As a surprise victor in the congressional district that includes New Orleans, Anh Joseph Cao is the “man of the hour” in the current news cycle. Yet with his strong family values and Catholic faith, which he learned before escaping as a boy from war-torn Vietnam, he could also be a candidate for “father of the year.”

After all, he knows that his role as father will last long after the media glare fades and he settles with his family in the nation’s capital as a first-term congressman from Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“My family is the center of my life. I could not live without my wife and two daughters,” said the 41-year-old Cao in an exclusive Fathers for Good telephone interview. [The "C" in his last name is pronounced as "G"]

He was married in 2001 to Hieu “Kate” Hoang, and they have two daughters, Sophia (age 5) and Betsy (age 4).

The most memorable event of his fatherhood was the birth of his daughters, he said.

“To watch them grow into beautiful girls has been the joy of my life,” he said. “I enjoy coming home to my wife, and reading to my daughters and teaching them piano.”

Late Election

In an election delayed more than a month due to the effects of Hurricane Gustav, Cao defeated incumbent William Jefferson, who was hampered by corruption allegations but still outspent his opponent by a wide margin. Cao, the first Vietnamese-American to be elected to Congress, is also the first Republican to win Louisiana’s 2nd District since 1890.

A man who has been through much tougher battles than a congressional election, Cao is taking his newfound celebrity in stride, keeping his message simple.

“My mission in office will be to rebuild the 2nd Congressional District which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and where many parts still need help,” he said.

Cao’s own home filled with eight feet of water during the 2005 storm, yet he and his family rebuilt and returned, only to be hit again by Gustav this past September, when more than a foot of water rolled into his house while he was serving as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.

These are just two incidents in a personal history marked by struggles against tough odds.

In 1975, as the Southern capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, the 8-year-old Cao was separated from his parents and escaped with two siblings and an aunt, who pulled them aboard a U.S. military airplane.

He landed in Guam and later settled with relatives in the United States. His father, a South Vietnamese army officer, was imprisoned for eight years but was reunited with his family in the United States in 1991.

From the time he arrived here, Joseph Cao’s life has been a true American success story, written with hard work and intelligence. He learned English, settled in Houston, Texas, graduated from Baylor University and entered the Jesuits in hope of becoming a priest.

“I wanted to become a missionary and serve the people of God,” he explained.

He traveled as a Jesuit novice to many poor parts of the world, earned a master’s degree in philosophy at Fordham University in New York City, and in 1995 began teaching at Loyola, the Jesuit University in New Orleans. Soon afterward, he discerned that God was calling him to another mission field, and he left the Jesuit community.

He earned a law degree in 2000 from Loyola University and has served in New Orleans as an attorney and a community advocate.

Through all the challenges, his Catholic faith has been a rock of stability.

“My faith has been the center of my life all these years,” Cao said. “I go to church almost every day to discern what God is calling me to do with my life.”

Right now, Mr. Cao goes to Washington, as a Republican reformer.