By Catherine Mulhern, The Catholic Sun

Justin Sand, a 27-year-old college graduate and first year seminarian, in front of Nazareth House. Billy Hardiman | The Catholic Sun

“Are you satisfied?”

This is the question Justin Sand felt God speak to his heart in the winter of 2021, the same question that eventually led him to the seminary.

The pondering came at an interesting time in Sand’s life. After graduating from ASU and teaching middle school students for four years, including one year of hybrid classes during the pandemic, he was looking for a change. Sand’s passion for sports and working with youth led him to apply for a new P.E. position and a high school coaching opportunity. He also began the process of purchasing his first home.

“It was a really blessed time in my life. Within a couple of months, I landed the two jobs I was hoping for, I bought a house, and two of my best friends moved in with me,” said Sand. “It felt like I had almost everything I wanted. That’s when the Lord asked me this decisive question about the deeper longings of my heart.

Are you satisfied?

“Even now, was I truly satisfied?”

Sand took this question seriously, and as he considered his answer, the idea of the holy priesthood appeared on his heart. With deep trust in the Lord, Sand surrendered the gifts he had received and applied for the seminary. In fall of 2022, he began his seminarian formation at Nazareth House.

This house, which has become like home, has fostered the growth of Sand and dozens of other young men – helping them come more fully alive, and preparing them to serve in their future vocations to the best of their abilities.

Your gift to the Charity and Development Appeal (CDA) changes the lives of young seminarians like Justin, fostering happy and holy priests for the Diocese of Phoenix. Additionally, you impact the lives of thousands of individuals and families through more than 70 CDA-supported charities and ministries.

Established by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in 2019, Nazareth House is a unique two-year formation program in the Diocese of Phoenix for young seminarians. Located in a refurbished convent just across the street from St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix, Nazareth House embodies a household-style approach. Seminarians pray together, take turns cooking dinner, divide up household chores, participate in weekly community nights, and regularly complete service projects together. They also live alongside formator priests.

Fr. Kurt Perera, director of vocations and Nazareth House formator, laughs with seminarians. Billy Hardiman | The Catholic Sun

“The atmosphere is such a blessing,” said Sand. “Everything we do is geared toward loving others and receiving God’s love. There are 11 of us seminarians here, and we are all in different places of discernment. We have so much to learn from each other and from our two formator priests, whose guidance is such a blessing.”

The vision of a present-day Nazareth – the town associated with Jesus’ childhood home – for our seminarians, which began with Bishop Olmsted, continues to be fostered under the guidance of Bishop John P. Dolan, the fifth Bishop of Phoenix.

“Seminarian formation begins in a home, not in an institution,” said Bishop Dolan. “Jesus lived his own blessed life within a family, a community, and a fraternity of brothers. Seminarians and priests need this same model of support to follow in the great commission the Lord has called them to.”

In addition to a household full of seminarian brothers, Sand shared a few additional gifts that will “never get old” as long as he is living at Nazareth House: having the Blessed Sacrament present in a chapel just downstairs from his room, receiving human formation – including regular spiritual direction and counseling – which has deeply impacted his life, and attending a seminary in the diocese where he grew up.

“When you are blessed with a vocation to be a diocesan priest, you are called to serve a particular geographical area,” said Fr. Kurt Perera, director of vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix, and formator at Nazareth House. “The benefit of forming our seminarians here in Phoenix is that they get to know the Diocese. They get to know our churches. They get to know the priests and the priests get to know them.”

“In sum, not only do our seminarians live a family model in community at Nazareth House, but they also live a family model within our diocese, getting to know those they may one day be called to serve.”

Seminarians celebrate Mass together in the chapel at Nazareth House. Billy Hardiman | The Catholic Sun

Nazareth House is a Charity and Development Appeal (CDA) supported ministry. Your gift to the CDA allows Nazareth House to keep its lights on and its doors open, continuing to impact the lives of young men and foster happy and holy priests for the Diocese of Phoenix. Additionally, funds cover tuition costs for our seminarians, allowing them to focus on discernment without the worry of financial burdens.

“Thank you for providing this place of formation,” said Sand, directing his words to CDA donors. “It’s so incredible what God has done to give me opportunities to grow here with therapy, spiritual direction, and learning about who I am and how my heart is made to love.

“All of these gifts come from God the Father, the only one who can satisfy my heart, who loves me and who has adopted me as his beloved son.”