By Joyce Coronel, Together Let Us Go Forth ~ Juntos Sigamos Adelante Magazine

Situated across the street from St. Gregory Parish and just a mile away from Phoenix College stands a house where fraternity is a mainstay. But there are no Greek letters adorning the outside of the building.

This is Nazareth House, where men who feel called to the priesthood live prior to commencing studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.

Once a convent for the Sisters of Loreto, the structure became a house of formation for men in 2019. Father Paul Sullivan, director of the Office of Vocations for the Phoenix Diocese, serves as rector of Nazareth House.

“The big advantages are that they know their diocese and the diocese knows them. They know each other, and they prepare for household living up in Denver and in a rectory one day,” Father Sullivan said, adding that the diocese is “shutting the door on the old institutional model” in which seminarians were sent to the Pontifical College Josephinum seven states away in Ohio.

During the past school year, more than a dozen men lived within the walls of the imposing structure, drawing closer to the Lord and each other as they continued the discernment process.

Two of those men, Anthony Scroggins and Zach Zazick, both of St. Anne Parish in Gilbert and both former homeschoolers, shared their vocation stories and how the Lord led them down similar, yet now diverging, paths.

Anthony’s story

Anthony Scroggins studied computer science at Arizona State University (ASU) for a year before entering Nazareth House. He said the first time he ever thought about becoming a priest was when he was 6 years old. It wasn’t always like that though.

“There was a time when I hated going to Mass, but there was a time when I, as a kid, was like, ‘I really want to be like the priest up there, I want to do what the priest is doing,’” Scroggins said.

“As a kid, I would play Mass with my family. I would be the priest, and we would do the whole Mass and everything.”

With six sisters, he had quite a congregation in those days.

“It was just something that attracted me as a little kid that I never really thought much about it — I kind of bounced back and forth throughout my life.”

At ASU, Scroggins said he felt unfulfilled in his studies. There was a girl he liked, and he wondered if maybe he was called to marriage rather than priesthood. He was still helping at the high school youth group at St. Anne’s, though, and that’s where he arrived at a crossroads.

He was giving a talk on a passage of the Gospel about the road to Emmaus. Afterward, a junior high school student approached him with questions about the faith and how to deal with school.

“Towards the end, she was like, ‘You seem super knowledgeable on this stuff. Have you ever thought about being a priest?’” The ladies of the parish had often posed the same question, even going so far as to call him “Father Anthony,” so it wasn’t the first time for someone to broach the topic.

His standard reply of “I discerned it, but I discerned away from it” didn’t rise to his lips this time. “This time, when she asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about being a priest?’ I had like a physical stop in my words.”

“I had to think about it.”

He took it to prayer and afterward, as he drove home that night, he felt a peace descend on him that he hadn’t felt in months.

“I could feel consolation from imagining myself in seminary and in the priesthood, and so I just felt like it was a call to action,” Scroggins said. One of his friends, Zach Zazick, encouraged him to speak with Father Paul Sullivan.

In July of 2021, he was accepted and moved into Nazareth House. Come fall, Scroggins will head to Denver for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. He said he’ll miss living with fellow seminarians at Nazareth House.

“The thing that stands out to me is the very intentional fraternity that is emphasized at the Nazareth House, where everything we do is for community,” Scroggins said. No one is allowed to have a smartphone, and none of the residents are on social media.

Instead, they prepare their meals together, and gather each evening for dinner in a spacious kitchen around a massive square table. Laughter frequently punctuates the conversation.

“It is a rare and unique and beautiful thing to be able to have a meal with these 12 guys, just all sitting down and having dinner together. And we do it every night,” Scroggins said.

Zach’s story

Zazick offered a similar take on the blessings of living in fraternity with men discerning and preparing for priesthood. He entered Nazareth House directly after high school.

Growing up across the street from St. Anne’s, with his father on staff at the parish as the IT director, he spent a lot of time at the church. It was during a Mass he attended his freshman year of high school when he felt the initial tug on his heart toward priesthood.

“During the consecration when the priest elevated the Eucharist, there was this desire in my heart to be exactly where he was, to be so close to the Lord, to hold the Body of Christ, and to give myself totally to Him,” Zazick said.

At Nazareth House, he was able to live in a place where that intimacy with Christ was pronounced. There’s a chapel on the first floor, and the men gather for a Holy Hour and Mass each morning at 6:30 a.m. The chapel is always there, beckoning them, night and day.

One of Zazick’s fondest memories of his two-year stay at Nazareth House was a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike he and fellow seminarians undertook. The men prayed a rosary at the bottom of the canyon and had to hitchhike back to their car.

“It was an awesome experience, and it really spoke to how those bonds of fraternity had formed, how we were able to just enjoy a fantastic trip like that,” Zazick said.

During the summer of 2021, he and other seminarians were assigned to Flagstaff. There, accompanied by priests, the seminarians visited families of the parish for dinner.

“I think my heart was kind of stirred by that vocation and the examples I was seeing,” Zazick said.  

And he began to wonder.

“At first I wasn’t really sure, like, ‘OK, hang on. I’m at seminary. I’m confident I know the Lord has led me to this point. I’m looking forward to spirituality year, so this must just be the Lord giving me the grace to see the beauty of this vocation but not necessarily call me in this direction.’”

Further discernment during the fall of 2021 began to clarify things. It was a tough semester, Zazick said, but filled with personal growth and a sense that he was stepping into his identity as a son of God. He began to recognize the desire for marriage. After the Christmas break, there was a weeklong silent retreat. Zazick brought his concerns to his spiritual director who encouraged him to keep praying about it and ask the Lord to speak to him.

“And the Lord did speak,” Zazick said. He will not be moving to Denver along with Scroggins but will leave Nazareth House to pursue the vocation of marriage.

“It’s terrifying and exciting because there’s a great confidence in knowing what I’m called to with absolute certainty,” Zazick said. “There’s such a freedom and a trust in the Lord, in knowing that I’m called to the vocation of marriage. But there’s also an invitation to trust because I don’t really know what comes next at this point.”

He said he knows he wants to work for the Church and that he loves youth ministry. He’ll miss the bonds of fraternity that were built at Nazareth House over the last two years, but he knows he’s where the Lord has called him to be.

“One of the graces I was asking for was the grace of a new heart because I felt like I couldn’t trust my own heart in this discernment,” Zazick said.

“I was given this renewal of heart … This was from the Lord. He was working through my heart, through my desires, to lead me in this direction. And that was so freeing, it was such a beautiful grace to know that my heart belongs to the Lord and I can trust that.” 

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