For Anthony Dang, his ongoing journey approaching the priesthood has been a slow, steady march. After suffering through a traumatic car accident freshman year of high school, Dang began praying the Rosary daily.
Vocations to the priesthood are vital for meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of the 1.1 million Catholics currently living in our diocese.
The cost of educating and forming future priests is met through private donations. With an increase in the number of men answering God’s call, an additional $4 million will support their education and formation for future service to His Church.
“In my sophomore year, I was praying the Rosary and I felt a tug in my heart to enter the seminary,” he said. “It was the first time I heard a clear call from God.”
At Resurrection Parish in Tempe, he began playing music for the choir, regularly attended his Life Teen group and went on several retreats. Then in his junior year, he went on a discernment retreat at Mount Claret Retreat Center in Phoenix and heard Fr. Will Schmid, now pastor of San Francisco de Asís Parish in Flagstaff, deliver a keynote address. The priest’s words confirmed the high school student’s call and he knew then he was on the right path.
“I saw all the priests as normal men,” he said “I felt at peace with the idea of joining the seminary.”
Dang is now one of more than 40 men in priestly formation for the Diocese of Phoenix. According to Fr. Paul Sullivan, vocations director for the diocese, the number is the highest it has been in its history and double the amount eight years ago. Yet the diocesan blessing of home-grown priests comes at a price. The cost per seminarian is about $40,000 per year for tuition and board, health insurance and other expenditures. Formation for each future priest takes about eight years.
“We are allowed to continue by way of the Charity and Development Appeal and the ‘Together’ campaign,” Fr. Sullivan said.
Since supporting the vocational call to priesthood for the Diocese of Phoenix is a monumental call, the “Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante” campaign has dedicated $4 million to form and educate future priests.
According to Cande de Leon, director of the Office of Mission Advancement which oversees the campaign, there are two main reasons for the diocesan commitment to priestly formation: Polling among parishioners and leadership showed that supporting vocations was a top priority; and it allows parishioners to play a part in priestly formation.
By the Numbers
Number of seminarians for the Diocese of Phoenix
Annual cost per seminarian
Approximate diocesan cost per year for seminarian support
Number of years for seminarian formation
“Together” campaign contribution to seminarian support
“It is important to the Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix,” de Leon said of seminarian support. “It gives every Catholic an opportunity to help play a part in the formation of our priests by making a sacrificial gift. The seminarians are making great sacrifices for us — the ‘Together’ campaign is an opportunity to make a sacrifice to our seminarians before they are priests.”
Fr. Sullivan agreed with the importance of parish support of future priests.
“As far as the awareness of a vocation, it absolutely starts in the parish,” said Fr. Sullivan. “It is rare for someone to go to seminary that hasn’t heard something from their parish. It is quite normal that parishes or (Catholic) schools that speak about it the most and those that have Adoration tend to have the most vocations.”
Dang said that for him, the support of his parents, his parish and the diocese has given him a chance to focus on his studies rather than how to pay for them.
“I am appreciative of what the diocese has done to cover the high cost of seminary formation,” Dang said. “I am very grateful for that …. I look forward to being with the people and meeting them where they are at and supporting them in their lives, in whatever situation they happen to be in — to be an instrument of God to bring the light of Christ to others.”