Five Phoenix seminarians are freshmen trailblazers.
They are the first seminarians in the Diocese of Phoenix’s 50-year history to begin seminary life within diocesan boundaries. They moved into Nazareth House Seminary House of Formation in August — right about the same time they enrolled in classes at nearby Phoenix College.
Their plan is to pursue an associate degree while discerning their vocation by living in a small community of other seminarians, plus two priests and a deacon. The young men live a relatively normal college life for most of the day with classes, study and recreation consuming eight hours per weekday.
It’s bookended by the seminarian and priestly norms of Adoration, Lauds and Mass in the morning then Vespers, community dinner, Compline and grand silence in the evening. Weekly themed nights include time for hospitality, grace-sharing, formation and fraternity.
“The Church has discerned the times and has come to see that this preparatory time of focus on the personal and spiritual qualities is so important for the life of the priest. These are hopefully healthy qualities, attitudes and habits that will help them thrive,” explained Fr. Paul Sullivan, diocesan vocations director and Nazareth House rector.
The seminarians regularly connect with Fr. David Loeffler too, who lives with them and serves as director of spiritual formation. He is excited that the Lord is using his charisms for Confession, spiritual direction and pastoral counseling in a new way.
“There are a lot of things as a human that we need to grow in,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted told Nazareth House priests and seminarians during an Aug. 20 house blessing. A household situation naturally affords those opportunities for growth, he said. The bishop also pointed out that the human pillar of formation was the longest section in St. John Paul II’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day.
The seminarians and priests can expect to share in the cleaning, shopping, cooking, sacristy work and maintenance, just like in a regular home, Fr. Sullivan said. Their first projects included building desks and cleaning the back yard — Nazareth House is the site of a long-vacated convent near St. Gregory Parish.
The seminarians will spend Sundays at Phoenix’s Sacred Heart Parish — where Fr. Sullivan also serves as pastor — supporting Masses at the altar and via music. They will engage in charitable work via Catholic Charities Community Services on Saturdays.
“This gives the guys an opportunity to have a ‘work’ experience and also be in touch with the needy of our city,” Fr. Sullivan said.
Nazareth House is a new seminary house of formation for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Text “Seminarians” to 84576 for updates.
It’s a regimen older diocesan seminarians studying at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver are accustomed to. Leadership there insists on a household setup since the seminary opened 20 years ago. (20th anniversary photos) Pre-theology seminarians live in an on-campus house with dorm-like floors within the main building. Seminarians in their theology years live in seminarian houses attached to parishes that even more closely mirror life in a rectory.
“The goal of the seminary is to keep small communities,” said Jesús Martinez who is in his final pre-theology year at St. John Vianney. “They try to keep the communities small for brotherhood and bonding to take place.”
Martinez lives in the Immaculate Heart of Mary House this year among 12 men, including three fellow Phoenix seminarians. He is sacristan in the house chapel, supports similar efforts in the seminary’s Christ the King chapel and rotates typical household chores weekly. He was on restroom duty the week he spoke to The Catholic Sun.
For the seminary’s theology level men, each house formator sets the norms. At the St. Joseph House where Ian Wintering and Dcn. Kevin Penkalski live — each house has a transitional deacon — roles are divided into prefects. Wintering is in charge of community life and birthdays. Household jobs rotate weekly.
It’s a place where work ends and relaxation begins, Wintering said, much like when a domestic father returns home from work. It’s also a place to grow in charity and patience. If there are personality clashes, for example, the smaller community forces the men to work through them rather than avoid the person, he explained. Being intentional on seeking out fellowship and avoiding isolation are also key.
Martinez finds the house structure keeps the young men conscious of the space and people around them when it comes to clearing clutter and keeping quiet, especially during evening study. He encouraged Phoenix’s Nazareth House seminarians to be open and vulnerable. “It can spark great friendships,” Martinez said.
Communal living is an adjustment process, he cautioned, but the gift of experiencing that type of community at a younger age will only help it blossom more once the seminarians transfer to Denver, Martinez said. ✹