Nazareth House Seminary House of Formation now has its official parental figures and a blessed, evolvingly modern but simple space.
Following evening Vespers Aug. 20 inside the house’s temporary chapel, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted installed Fr. Paul Sullivan, vocations director for the Diocese of Phoenix, as first rector of Nazareth House. The seminary welcomes Phoenix seminarians without a previous college degree for their first two years of formal discernment.
The service also saw Fr. David Loeffler, chaplain at Bourgade Catholic High School and diocesan director of ecumensism, installed as director of spiritual formation for Nazareth House residents — currently five seminarians who moved in Aug. 14. The priests, alongside Fr. Vinhson Nguyen and Dcn. Estevan Wetzel, who both have roles in the new seminary, professed oaths of fidelity to their bishops and the greater Church.
The four clerics professed the faith and vowed to faithfully preach and live what is contained in God’s word, handed down in tradition and proposed by the Church, “whether in solemn judgement of the ordinary or universal magisterium.”
“Congratulations, it’s now official!” Bishop Olmsted later told the men with reverent excitement. His opening prayer and homily, alongside a large, locally-commissioned painting of the Holy Family sitting above the altar, helped remind everyone that a name like Nazareth House Seminary House of Formation implies that a seminary “is like a seedbed where the Church’s priests are nurtured for work in their dioceses.”
Jesus spent 30 years in His Nazareth home, which the bishop said speaks to the importance of family life rules: love one another, learn from one another, know one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Nazareth is called the “hidden years” of Jesus’ life, “but certainly, when you live in the same house, you certainly know each other well,” the bishop said.
At a week in and just two days of classes at Phoenix College, Nazareth House’s five seminarians are just getting to know each other and the trio of ordained formators living with them. Nazareth House is meant to be a place of local formation, fraternity and familiarity with the diocese in which they would serve post-ordination.
Fr. Sullivan, whose “rector” title essentially makes him tantamount to pastor of the house, will spend his mornings and evenings there, bookending his other priestly duties as parish pastor and vocations director. Prayer, holy hour and Mass will be in the morning with time for formation, meals and fraternity in the evening.
“It’s like a home. We’re getting it set up with all the good and bad,” Fr. Sullivan said of the first few days at Nazareth House. He looks forward to additional fraternal time with the seminarians as they have recreation, fix up the back yard, help complete the chapel and make other minor home improvements as Jesus — by trade, a carpenter — likely did in His Nazareth house.
Bishop Olmsted blessed each room while the seminarians processed behind, singing in unison. The house has a kitchen, office space, chapel, living room and parlor room for visitors on the bottom floor and modest bedrooms upstairs plus a laundry room.
The bishop said the human pillar of seminarian formation is the primary focus of Nazareth House. “and because this seminary is in our own diocese, we’re much closer in proximity to our own families, so it reminds us of that very key preparation of what the Lord has been doing since you were conceived in your mother’s womb,” he said.
Fr. Loeffler can see how God’s providence has revealed a charism for confession, spiritual direction and pastoral counseling in his four years of priesthood. He feels blessed to do more of it in a unique new way and plans to use the first semester to discern how God has worked in the lives of the young men so far.
“It’s not really my project. It’s, ‘What’s God already doing?’” Fr. Loeffler clarified. “Where are there sparks?” He plans to gently blow on those and continue to nurture what God has already started in the hearts of these aspiring fishers of men.