Fr. Scott Sperry was a part of Chuck and Alice Wold’s family, not biologically but because of the impact he had on the couple. Fr. Sperry even impacted the next generation of the Wold family; he introduced Chuck and Alice’s two sons to their spouses. Fr. Sperry was a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix who passed away from cancer nearly a year ago.
“When he introduced our children [to their spouses], he became part of the family,” Alice said. “After he passed, right away you could sense him working from heaven.”
Alice remembered Christmas Eve last year, the day after he died. The Wold family gathered for dinner, and like every year, was gearing up to pray the rosary together. In previous years, some family members wouldn’t be too thrilled about it. But last year, everyone came with rosaries in hand, eager to pray.
“[Fr. Sperry] knew it had been on our hearts that our family would get together,” Alice recounted with tears in her eyes. “I attribute one of our grandchildren to him because he [told] one of our sons and daughter-in-law that two is not enough!
“Very frequently I feel him acting from heaven and I’m constantly praying [to God], make sure Fr. Sperry is there with you,” Alice said.
Chuck and Alice’s relationship with Fr. Sperry all started because of prayer. They were introduced to him through their involvement in the East Valley Serra Club, a club dedicated to praying for vocations.
Chuck and Alice can tell many more stories of the impact priests and religious have had in their lives, the very priests and religious that they dedicate themselves to praying for because of their 20-year involvement with the club.
The Serra Club was created in 1935 by four businessmen who were eager to help their local bishop with a seminary. They named the club after St. Junipero Serra who founded missions in California. What started as lay men wanting to help their bishop has grown into an international club that spans 30 countries, all focused on praying for vocations.
In the valley, there are three Serra Clubs. The Phoenix Serra Club started in the 50s, The East Valley Serra Club starting in the early 2000s and the West Valley Club is still getting established.
Alice Wold is the immediate past president of the East Valley Serra Club while Chuck Wolds is the VP of membership. Chuck and Alice joined the club shortly after it was established after being prompted by their pastor. Now, two of their grown children have joined and it’s something they enjoy being a part of as a couple.
“We know so many of the priests and sisters and it’s been so fun to put a face to who you’re praying for,” Chuck said. “It’s one thing to pray for vocations and another to know exactly who you’re praying for.”
Chuck and Alice also got the opportunity to attend an international Serra meeting in Rome in 2017 where Pope Francis was present.
“Pope Francis said that Serra Club is to priests and sisters as Mary and Martha and Lazarus were to Bethany, a place to come for refreshment and safety and relaxation. When he said that I thought, this is just who we are! There’s a sense of friendship and it’s a wonderful welcoming environment,” Alice said.
Chuck and Alice left Rome with hope in their hearts and they also feel hopeful being a part of a diocese that supports vocations.
Bishop John Dolan recently announced that plans are in place to expand Nazareth Seminary into the first full seminary the state has ever seen. Alice said that the witness that the seminarians will give to the diocese is priceless.
“The presence of all the seminarians here in the diocese, it’s extremely inspirational to young men and to us,” Alice said.
Alice has been inspired to pray for specific priests in the diocese. She is part of a program within Serra Club that prays for vocations directors. Her Sundays involve offering up Mass, a rosary and prayers for Fr. Kurt Perera, the vocations director in the diocese for the past year and a half.
Fr. Perera celebrated his 10-year ordination anniversary in June. He first encountered the Serra Club at St. Andrew’s BBQ that the club organized. Perera was encouraged by his pastor to attend the dinner after expressing interest in the priesthood. He said that free food was involved, something that is enticing to any young man! What really stuck out to him though was the casual setting of the dinner.
“I will always be grateful to the Serra Club because they provided a non threatening environment. I felt very much at ease,” Fr. Perera said.
In God’s perfect providence, Chuck and Alice were attendees at that BBQ and remember seeing Fr. Perera there. Even back then, Chuck and Alice’s prayers for vocation were having an impact on Fr. Perera.
Fr. Perera expressed his gratitude to the Serra Club who have been wonderful supporters of seminarians and now are supporters of the expanding seminary. The club has been instrumental in providing funds and desiring to provide a home for seminarians in the diocese.
“[The Serra Club] really helped to contribute along with the other people in my life to planting that seed about thinking about the priesthood,” Fr. Perera said. “I’ve very much felt bolstered by their spiritual support throughout my discernment and even now as a priest. To be affirmed and be supported by them is tremendous.”
Fr. Perera gives encouragement to anyone who wants to start praying for vocations and recommends people make their prayers personal.
“Ask yourself, who are the priests that have impacted my life in a significant way? Who are the priests who have given me holy communion or who have heard my confession? Who are the priests who have been there through the joyous events or times of difficulty? When we think of that, it brings our prayer to a deeper level because we’re praying for priests who we’ve seen Christ work through.”
Tom McGuire has noticed priest’s impacts on his life and has been the president for the Phoenix Serra Club for the past four years. McGuire works as the director of Mount Claret, a retreat center in Phoenix, managed by the Diocese of Phoenix. He first got introduced to the club when they hosted meetings at the retreat center. He’s always felt drawn to support priests and noticed that the Serra Club supports priests in a tangible way.
“The number one in the mission statement is pray for vocations,” McGuire said. “We’re asked to make that commitment daily, to pray for vocations. That’s an underpinning of the whole purpose of the Serra Club.”
McGuire has not only supported vocations through his involvement in the Serra Club but he’s also thought of ways to support vocations while being the director of Mount Claret.
Mount Claret has private rooms and casitas that the retreat center will make available to seminarians as they’re being ordained. The soon-to-be priests can rent out the spaces for free for those who come to attend their ordination.
“For us at Mount Claret, we’re a part of their journey and they bring blessings on us,” McGuire said.
McGuire most enjoys helping to plan the Phoenix Serra Club’s annual priest appreciation dinner, which was hosted this year on October 27th. He sees the event as a tangible way to bring priests together and thank them. The club receives a list of ordination anniversary dates and honors priests with tokens depending on how long they’ve been in the priesthood. This year’s honoree was Bishop Emeritus Thomas Olmsted who celebrated 50 years of priesthood.
McGuire noted that the number of seminarians have increased greatly over the years from around 10 seminarians to over 40. The support from Bishop Olmsted and Bishop Dolan in forming seminarians and now establishing the seminary is a testament to the fact that the prayers for vocations from Serrans are being answered.
Dave Maza, district governor of the Serra Clubs in the valley, first got involved over 20 years ago through Fr. Don Kline who was the vocations director at the time. Maza remembered telling Fr. Kline that he’d help with anything he needed; that’s when Fr. Kline encouraged Maza to join the Serra Club.
Maza says it’s all about getting to know the priests and religious, recognizing they’re normal people and recognizing the power of prayer.
“It’s not about membership. It’s about the mission. We get hung up in what can I go do to change the world? Pray for vocations. That’s really it.
“Where I find my greatest joy is helping [priests], being friends with the priests. They have bad days, too. Together, we can support each other. And then ultimately, I’m getting better in my vocation,” Maza said.
Maza and many other Serrans are gearing up for the annual Golf for Vocations event, happening November 16th at the Legacy Golf Resort in Phoenix. All proceeds go directly to the vocations office. Maza explained the event was started by a long-time Serran, Bill Foltz who’s since passed away. More recently, the Golf for Vocations has become an offshoot of the Serra Club.
This year, the event is expected to raise close to $90,000 for the vocations office. The tournament has also been taken to Flagstaff and the committee is looking to share the event with other dioceses to further promote vocations.
Maza’s role during the tournament is to run the ambassador program with the seminarians who help get the sponsors and donors acquainted. There’s normally 20 to 25 priests who come out for the event and Maza enjoys seeing the camaraderie between the priests and seminarians.
Through being a part of the Serra Club, Maza has found joy in living out another part of the Serra Club’s mission, for each member to grow in their personal call to holiness.
“Being part of this has really helped me grow to build a prayer life, to make [myself] available to the Holy Spirit.
“Bishop Baron in his book, Letter to a Suffering Church, said the bottom line is this. If we want holier priests, we all have to become holier ourselves. The baptized are the communities from which priests come and from which they ought to receive ongoing sustenance. A strong laity shape a strong priesthood. That has stuck with me.”
What has also stuck with Maza is something that Chuck Wold likes to say.
“[Chuck] has a very simple message: show up. Make yourself available for something in the diocese, and great things will happen.”
Maza encourages anyone to show up who’s interested in learning more about the Serra Club. For more information, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.