Deacons Chris Axline and Kurt Perera pray during the March 25 Chrism Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN FILE PHOTO)
Deacons Chris Axline and Kurt Perera pray during the March 25 Chrism Mass at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN FILE PHOTO)

They spent the last six years as spiritual brothers in formation as Phoenix seminarians.

Now, the two men who just finished their final semester at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, are ready for priestly ordination. They’re also ready to embrace the heavy commitment to prayer and pastoral life that follows.

Deacons Chris Axline and Kurt Perera will come together June 1 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted will confer the sacrament of priestly ordination.

“In both, I see a joy for living life within the Church. They both fit into seminary life so well and I can see this carrying over to parish life. I believe that their future parishioners will find them easy to get to know and easy to relate to,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of the diocesan Office of Vocations.

It was the parish environment, particularly key ministries that fostered authentic relationships and served as a steppingstone for discerning a religious vocation. Helping with junior high ministry laid the groundwork for Deacon Axline.

“That was a lot of the roots of my vocation,” he said.

He described it as a rewarding challenge — trying to reach such young people with the truth in a world that often ignores it. The reward: evidence that some listened.

“Throughout those years I would watch some of the youth I worked with directly or indirectly come back and volunteer,” said Deacon Axline, who grew up at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler. Seeing them take ownership of the faith made a lasting impression.

So did a car accident at the start of his sophomore year of high school. He suffered major internal abdominal injuries. The home-schooled student thought about his faith and wondered if he could get more involved. That’s what connected him with junior high ministry.

Finally, while studying religion at the University of Arizona, Deacon Axline realized he’d have to “let go and let God,” as the saying goes, if he wanted to be truly happy. He said “maybe” to the possibility of a priestly vocation. Now he can’t wait to say “yes” one final time.

“Everything is going to be an opportunity as a new priest. I look forward to doing whatever God gives.”

So does Deacon Perera. His family of four have long seized the opportunities God gives them. The Pereras emigrated from Malaysia when Deacon Perera, their eldest son, was 5 to escape economic and religious struggles there.

They settled in the United States, where a positive family relationship with life at Corpus Christi Parish in Ahwatukee and praying the rosary at home impacted their children. So did a constant parental message of “whatever makes you happy is going to make us happy.”

Deacon Perera became an altar server in the fifth grade even though he thought he was too short and knew he would be nervous in front of so many people.

“Don’t worry about the people, it’s God that you’re serving,” his mother June told him.

After that, she said her son loved what he did. He even took on the monthly Unity Mass coordinated by the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry, where he served for at least eight years.

“Through that I got to know my priest and I got to know other altar servers who were also taking their faith seriously,” Deacon Perera said.

Like his fellow ordinand, this vocation story also resumes in college. Deacon Perera continued daily Mass and eucharistic adoration as his schedule allowed. Through it all, the thought of priesthood that resurfaced in high school was permanent. He spent his final year at Arizona State University at the diocesan Serra House of Discernment while finishing a double major in religion and math.

Priestly practice

The final year of seminary has been a formative one for both priests-to-be.

“We all kind of have one foot in the seminary and one foot out,” Deacon Perera said.

He and Deacon Axline are among seven graduates from the Josephinum becoming priests in the near future. They spent their final year transitioning out by taking classes during the week and serving in area parishes each weekend. They assisted as deacons at Mass, preached homilies, baptized infants and taught adult education classes.

“It’s helped me to put not just this year’s seminary, but all the years of seminary into focus… how to serve the people of a parish in the highs and lows of their life,” Deacon Axline said.

He has also learned his own limitations and related that to his ministry. Complementing those two, Deacon Axline said, are relying on expert help and asking for help when necessary. There is one key lesson he will treasure deep into his life as a priest.

“Wherever you are, be there 100 percent of yourself, 100 percent of your time,” Deacon Axline said. “Don’t be thinking of the next thing. Be there with that family, with that person.”

That’s crucial for both young men as each recognizes their role in bringing Jesus to the people sacramentally and through their example. Deacon Perera said his time in the seminary allowed him to reflect on his dependence on the Trinitarian God.

“The Lord can use any words and sometimes the words you don’t say,” Deacon Perera said. “In the end, it’s the Holy Spirit who touches the hearts.”

The Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of other men in the diocese. Fr. Sullivan said there is a good class of local applicants for entrance into the seminary, but given the demographics of the Phoenix Diocese, the need remains great.

He reminded Catholics of their role to invite young people to consider religious life and to pray that the call will be heard. Fr. Sullivan also noted the importance of eucharistic adoration and affirmed that some have credited the adoration chapel at Corpus Christi for helping them discern their call.

“This is the single most important thing that a parish can do for vocations because it brings the faithful to intimate contact with Jesus,” Fr. Sullivan said. He also quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI who said discernment is above all, the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and His disciples.

Ordination to the priesthood

  • Holy hour: 6:30 p.m. May 31 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, 6351 N. 27th Ave.
  • Mass: 10 a.m. June 1 at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral.