By 2026 all Diocese of Phoenix seminarians will study in Arizona.
Bishop John P. Dolan and the Office of Vocations of the Diocese of Phoenix are pleased to announce a historic expansion of Nazareth Seminary over the next three years.
For the first time in its history, the diocese has plans to house and educate all of its seminarians in the Diocese of Phoenix as they complete their higher education, and also their philosophy and theological studies, in preparation for priestly ordination.
By 2026, the Diocese of Phoenix will be the only diocese in Arizona, and only one of a handful of dioceses in the United States, with a complete, household-model seminary program for its diocesan seminarians within its jurisdiction.
To accomplish this, the Office of Vocations will expand Nazareth Seminary by creating one new formation house of studies in 2024 and another in 2026. The diocese plans to open St. Mary’s House in fall 2024 at the former friary at St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix. It will be retrofitted to house 20 men in their Philosophy Year, while St. Joseph’s House is expected to open in fall 2026 for men in their Theology Year in preparation for ordination.
The newest house of studies, Our Lady of Perpetual Help House, created for men in their third year or Spirituality Year, opened in August on the campus of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Scottsdale.
“Priests are formed in homes not institutions,” Bishop Dolan said. “So rather than sending our guys away, we find that we can respect their love for family by keeping them in the community, our own portion of the Lord’s vineyard.”
Bishop Dolan is carrying on the commitment of his predecessor, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted – who in 2019 established the Nazareth House near St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix, a two-year, college-level house of formation for men entering seminary.
The household model of formation is based on a similar model being used at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, where seminarians from the diocese have been studying for more than a decade. It takes into consideration the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Program for Priestly Formation, Sixth Edition,” which supports a household model where men live in community as in a family.
“What we’ve found is that as men are closer in a community setting they experience more personal growth,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, rector of Nazareth House, now in its fifth year. Men in formation at Nazareth House are in the entry phase, or Propaedeutic Stage, new to seminary and embarking on college courses.
“As seminarians are formed closer to their parishes, we’re finding that it stirs up in men a greater love for their diocese. And when men live in a smaller community they are known more; they have to be more accountable to guys in the house. It’s a model that is closer to rectory living,” Fr. Sullivan explained.
Fr. Kurt Perera, diocesan director of vocations, also lives at Nazareth House and serves as a formator for the five men residing there this year. “It’s a family household setting, so it has its own formation experience. In addition to their studies, the men have household duties and responsibilities. There are common spaces, so it demands a higher level of communication,” Fr. Perera said.
Nine men who studied at Nazareth House last year entered Our Lady of Perpetual Help House this fall for their Spirituality Year. This new, contemplative environment devoid of electronic devices gives them an opportunity to unplug from media and all the noise of the outside world, while allowing them more time to develop an interior life and to hear God’s voice.
“It’s an opportunity for the guys to breathe in and slowly process and take in everything they’ve been learning, to contemplate more deeply and have less distractions,” Fr. Perera explained. “There are fewer academic obligations, so the men can slow down, spend more time in spiritual reading, and reflect in a cloistered setting as guests are not permitted.”
Fr. Will Schmid lives in community with the men at Our Lady of Perpetual Help House and serves as lead formator. He emphasizes that the men completing this final year of the Propaedeutic Stage, even though they are less in the public eye on a daily basis, will continue to visit parishes throughout the diocese on Sundays.
“We’ll still meet with men interested in discerning a call to the priesthood, as well as other parishioners, so the community can continue to get to know them,” Fr. Schmid said. “I am looking forward to journeying with these men, accompanying them toward the priesthood.”
Another exciting element of the expansion of Nazareth Seminary is an arrangement between the Diocese of Phoenix and Mary College at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. Mary College is an extension of the University of Mary based in Bismarck, N.D., sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters.
Located in the heart of the ASU campus, Mary College is a domestic exchange program where students can study in the Catholic intellectual tradition. Mary College members enrolled at ASU can take a variety of Catholic Studies courses taught by University of Mary faculty and fulfill ASU general course requirements.
Seminarians studying for the Diocese of Phoenix can now take Catholic Studies courses at Mary College to earn credits toward a University of Mary degree.
“I’m excited for the ASU students,” said Scott LeFor, program director and assistant professor of Catholic studies at Mary College. “It’s healthy for young people to study with seminarians. There’s something beautiful about an engineering student from ASU and a seminarian in the same class. It’s about building relationships. There’s a level of excitement with the seminarians and the other students.”
Once all four formation houses are open by 2026, Nazareth Seminary will fully meet the specifications from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Program For Priestly Formation” which focuses on four stages of formation – propaedeutic, spirituality, discipleship, and configuration.
The diocese hopes to celebrate the Ordination to the Holy Priesthood Mass for the first class of men to graduate from all four houses of formation of Nazareth Seminary in June 2030.
Household Model Seminary Program
- Nazareth House – Formation years, located near St. Gregory parish in Phoenix (opened in 2019)
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) House – Spirituality year on campus of OLPH in Scottsdale (opened in August ’23)
- Mary’s House – Philosophy years at former friary at St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix (opens in August ’24)
- Joseph’s House – Theology years, expected to open in fall of 2026 in Phoenix
– Tony Gutierrez, The Catholic Sun, contributed