The sacrament of Holy Orders is the culmination of years of study, prayer, sacrifice and dedication.
Prior to entering seminary, the men go through a rigorous course of evaluations through the Vocations Office of the diocese.
For the past five years Fr. Paul Sullivan, vocations director, has worked extensively with those seeking to serve the Catholic Church as a diocesan priest for Phoenix.
Fr. Sullivan said by the end of summer, there will be 30 seminarians studying either at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, or at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
Currently, however, there are three men currently studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
The road that leads to a June ordination is demanding. No two men are alike, and it’s Fr. Sullivan’s job to help each man discern his calling.
He works with them through a process, which can last anywhere from six months to two years, that includes intense evaluations, interviews, an application process, medical examinations, psychological evaluations, a written biography and a review board.
“The greatest source of grace is seeing God inspiring young men into service for the Church as priests,” he said. “God is calling forth good candidates.”
Formation doesn’t come cheap. The cost incurred for one year of seminary is about $35,000.
It is only with the help of generous donations to the diocesan Charity and Development Appeal that seminarians don’t have to find part-time work, and can submerge themselves fully into their studies.
“The CDA is the major funding body,” Fr. Sullivan said. “Formation is fulltime. We take this very seriously, and hopefully it results in a faithful priest that can serve for 50 years.”
For 2012, the CDA granted Fr. Sullivan’s office $174,663.
The amount of time a man spends in the seminary depends on his background.
For instance, if a young man shows up out of high school, he will need four years of college, four years of theology and one year of spirituality.
A graduate will need to complete two years of philosophy study, four years of theology, plus one year of spirituality.
Their coursework is not only focused on academics, but also spiritual and pastoral formation.
The spiritual aspect delves into the maturation as a man; they attend retreats and live in community. Pastoral formation includes service to a parish through assignments like soup kitchens, working with university students, hospitals and nursing homes.
They are required to enroll in a 10-week Spanish immersion program in Guatemala, while serving in missions.
Fr. Sullivan said the first two years of seminary are “really big.”
“By immersing him in seminary, he can discern God’s will in a more intense manner,” he said. “We want them to be grounded in God’s love for him. We won’t rush guys through.”
Deacon Chris Axline entered the Pontifical College Josephinum in 2007. He will be ordained, along with Kurt Perera, for the diocese at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, June 1.
Axline, whose home parish is St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler, said he has been humbled by the generosity of the CDA, his parish and organizations like the Knights of Columbus that supported him financially.
“This has been a grace-filled and splendid journey growing in relationship with Christ,” Axline said. “Because of the support from the diocese, I was able to completely focus on prayer and study to be a priest after the heart of Jesus, and not worry about money. I was able to start, day one, to give myself entirely over to Christ. It has been completely liberating to have the capacity and ability to do that. It is my sincere blessing and privilege to be ordained a priest.”
‘Celebrate Your Faith’
Before ordination, every one of our priests dedicates years of his life to preparing for his role as shepherd of souls. This formation would not be possible without the support of the Charity and Development Appeal. Donations to the CDA help nurture vocations to the priesthood as well as provide much-needed funding to more than 70 community and charitable organizations that assist individuals and families in need or in crisis.
To donate to the CDA, call (602) 354-2217 or visit: diocesephoenix.org/cda