As a priest for 16 years, Fr. Paul Sullivan has presided over thousands of Masses, providing a daily Eucharistic encounter between Christ and the people of God. He has spent hundreds of hours listening and advising in the confessional before extending his hand in absolution. He has been present to the faithful through dozens of weddings, baptisms, anointings, and funerals, accompanying his flock in the great joys and sorrows of life.

Through the Sacraments, he is a vehicle of grace and a tangible witness of God’s abundant love – and yet, if you ask Fr. Sullivan what the most important role of the priest is, he does not immediately speak of the Sacraments, or even of an especially impactful ministry.

Instead, he goes straight to the heart; the most crucial task of the priest is to be deeply grounded in his relationship with the Lord, and it is from this unceasing union with Christ that he serves the people of God.

Fr. Paul Sullivan speaks with a Mass attendee | Billy Hardiman | The Catholic Sun

“The priesthood only makes sense in light of the priest being a bridge between God’s people and God himself,” said Fr. Sullivan, who played a significant role in the opening of the Nazareth House in 2019. “So, when a man is grounded in who he is, and who the Lord is in him, he can be a beautiful, stable, and steady bridge for the people of God.”

This is why the Diocese of Phoenix places a special emphasis on helping men called to the priesthood to foster a lifelong relationship with Christ, beginning in the earliest stages of seminarian formation and continuing long beyond ordination.

Discernment and preparation for the priesthood unfold over the 7-9 years of human and spiritual formation, philosophical and theological studies, servant leadership, and integration into parish life. Through these years as a seminarian and transitional deacon, men are well prepared for ordination and the priestly life.

And yet, ordination is just the beginning.

“Priestly formation doesn’t end when we finish seminary,” said Fr. Will Schmid, Coordinator of Ongoing Formation for Priests. “Our Lord is an inexhaustible mystery. The depth of Christ cannot be plumbed, and we are always learning and growing closer to our Lord. So, we continue formation through our priestly life and ministry.”

Fr. Paul Sullivan and Fr. Will Schmid | Brett Meister | The Catholic Sun

The diocesan Office for Priests offers a variety of opportunities for ordained priests to continue growing spiritually, pastorally, and professionally throughout their years of ministry – including advanced degrees, conferences and workshops, retreats and seminars, and opportunities for priests to gather and foster fraternal community.

When it comes to ongoing formation, the bishop may see a particular gift in a priest and ask him to hone in on this gift through specific training or the pursuit of an advanced degree. Not only does this foster the priest in his ministry, but it also allows him to specialize in a particular area to advise the bishop as needs arise. Priests can also request formation in opportunities they feel drawn to.

Fr. Dan Connealy, who will begin his role as Pastor of San Francisco de Asis Parish in Flagstaff on July 1, 2023, experienced both.

In 2015, Fr. Connealy was approached by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted who requested that Fr. Connealy complete a Masters in Bioethics through the University of Mary, which he happily accepted. He also received permission to complete a 3-year spiritual direction training program, which he felt drawn to pursue.

“As priests we are always continuing to grow and to learn new things,” said Fr. Connealy. “New resources are popping up to support priests that are great to tap into. Ongoing formation allows priests to learn how to foster their gifts and relationship with God, and as older priests come closer to retirement, this allows us to have priests with areas of specialization ready to step in.”

The integral role that ongoing formation plays in the life of the priest inspired Priests for Our Future – an initiative in its second year, with the vision of providing wrap-around support for priests in the Diocese of Phoenix from seminary through retirement. This fund strives to enhance the quality of ongoing formation and make it available for every priest who desires it.

“Through your support of this initiative, you benefit the Church greatly because you are helping to form happy, healthy, and holy priests – and that’s contagious!” said Fr. Schmid.

“Happy, healthy, and holy priests have a huge impact on the people of God in parishes, schools, hospitals, and everywhere our priests serve. They are visible witnesses to the joy of Christ, and you help foster their gifts and their relationship with Christ, which is at the heart of it all.”

Your gift to Priests for Our Future supports an abundance of vocations in the Diocese of Phoenix!