It’s been a winding road, at times even international in scope. On June 1, transitional Deacons Elijah Delello, Jesús Martinez and Joseph Nguyen will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix. Configured to Christ, each of the three young men has had a unique path to priesthood. What follows is a peek into their vocation journey.

Deacon Joseph Nguyen: Boyhood in Vietnam opens door to priesthood, life of service to the Lord 

Deacon Joseph Nguyen remembers his village in Vietnam where all but two families were Catholic.

“I grew up in a very devout Catholic family,” Deacon Nguyen said. “My mom taught me how to pray when I was very young, and that’s how I developed a personal relationship with God.”

He remembers how he used to attend Mass with his friends and noticed what the priest was doing on the altar. “I was like, that’s so cool!”

Not unlike many other boys who grow up to become priests, Deacon Nguyen “played Mass” at home, improvising with what was on hand: in his case, a blanket served as the altar linen and a cup of water and oval-shaped rice cake for “communion.”

The dream of becoming a priest was planted in his soul, but as he got older, distractions came along. For a while, he thought about life as a teacher, singer or actor.

“One thing that really held me back … was because I thought the priesthood is so up there, you know, and I’m so sinful. I’m so small. I’m not talented enough and I’m just not worthy,” Deacon Nguyen said.

At the time, he was very involved in his parish, helping out with catechism and serving in the choir. He was trained as a youth minister at an early age and then became a catechist at the parish.

“I just enjoyed it so much — I like to help and serve others.”

Deacon Nguyen said he was inspired, he said, by seminarians, religious sisters and priests.

“And I just felt like, wow! They give up their life and then they really want to serve people. And then I liked it so much.”

Doubts about his worthiness continued to assail him however until someone invited him to consider priesthood. It was at the end of his high school years while he was preparing for college.

One day while he was visiting the home of a friend, his friend’s father took him aside and mentioned that the priest made an announcement at Mass that day. Anyone who wanted to join the seminary and become a priest should visit him and fill out an application.

“I think you should go. I think you would be a good priest,” his friend’s father said.

Deacon Nguyen heard those words in a new way. Gone were the feelings of unworthiness.

“My heart was moving and burning,” he said. “After hearing this, I was like why? Why did I never think this? Yes, I should go. This is the time for me.” He went home to pray about it and decided to give the seminary a try.

“And the thing is, in Vietnam, it’s not like here. In order to apply for seminary, you have to take a test.” There were about 100 young men applying at the time and only the top 14 would be accepted, Deacon Nguyen said.

He went to discuss his future with his pastor and signed up for the test, then took time to prepare for it.

“I prayed very hard and I was like, ‘God, let your will be done.’”  He wasn’t sure if he could pass the test, but felt that if he did, it was a sign from God that he was on the right path.

The prayerful discernment and hard work paid off. Deacon Nguyen had the top score in the pool of seminary applicants. He spent two years in the seminary there, enjoying the life of community, fellowship, prayer and study. He then served eight months serving at a parish in Vietnam before his family secured visas to emigrate to the U.S.

“At the time, I was like, I don’t want to go,” he said wondering what would become of his vocation if he left Vietnam and settled in the U.S.

His mother, however, prevailed and Deacon Nguyen agreed to go to America with his parents and sister.  Before he left, he spoke with his bishop about one day returning to Vietnam.

The family moved to Olympia, Wash., and Deacon Nguyen secured a scholarship to study at Divine Word College Seminary near Dubuque, Iowa.

In the meantime, his bishop in Vietnam passed away and when Deacon Nguyen returned to visit Vietnam in 2018, the new bishop told him it might be best for him to stay in the U.S. since his family was there and most of his formation had taken place there.

Deacon Nguyen spent three and a half years at Divine Word, preparing for the life of a missionary priest. He planned to serve a year in Australia, working among the impoverished Aboriginal people in the Australian desert. He applied for a visa.

Meanwhile, his family relocated to Phoenix. When it came time to visit them, friends kidded him about Phoenix’s blistering hot weather: “It’s going to be hard. You’re going to die over there!”

He arrived smack in the middle of June, and although the mercury soared that day, Deacon Nguyen saw things differently.

“It was like, no, it’s not that bad!” His father picked him up at the airport and as they drove home, Deacon Nguyen looked around. “It’s beautiful,” he said.

After attending church the next day, he had a new perspective: “I just felt so different, you know, like something going on in my heart … I really feel like God’s present here.” As he prayed about it, he heard a voice in the back of his head telling him to stay in Arizona. His visa for Australia was delayed and he wasn’t going to be able to go on the mission.

One day after going to confession, he looked up the vocations director for the Diocese of Phoenix and called Father Kurt Perera. The two met and Deacon Nguyen applied to transfer to the Diocese of Phoenix.

He was accepted and lived at Nazareth House for a year, then completed his seminary studies. It’s been a circuitous path, but he’s thankful to have landed in Phoenix and is ready to embrace life as a diocesan priest.

“I am always thanking God for this,” Deacon Nguyen said. “Thank you to all those who supported me in different ways, especially praying for me.”


Deacon Elijah Delello: Call to priesthood sparked by relationship during college, devotion to Our Lady  

Deacon Elijah Delello remembers being a little boy when his mother took him to church in their New Jersey hometown and pointed out the tabernacle, telling him, “Jesus is in there.”

The Franciscan Friar of the Holy Spirit also remembers a beloved statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that graced the family’s backyard, never dreaming at the time that Our Lady would play a prominent role in his road to the priesthood. But there was another young woman who also had a part to play in his journey.

Deacon Delello began dating her during his studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey. A non-denominational Christian, she questioned him about the Catholic faith.

“She began to challenge me a lot in my faith,” Deacon Delello said. That pushed him to learn more about the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Bible.

“Can I really call myself a follower of Jesus, or am I just kind of doing this because it’s my upbringing?”

The Lord, Deacon Delello said, used his desire for marriage and family to put him in front of someone who would prod him about his faith and ultimately transform it.

“I just really fell in love with Jesus in a deeper way through studying the faith and seeing how beautiful it was,” Deacon Delello said.

“He really did use her in a very powerful way to convict me that, if I’m going to live this life and this life is all about getting to know and love and serve God, I actually have to take that seriously and do that.”

Then, during his senior year, he began to sense the Lord calling him to the priesthood. At the same time, he really wanted to get married and have children. “The Lord really was very patient with me … I was coming out of this relationship with this young lady, and I decided to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, for a master’s degree.”

At Franciscan, he joined a group of men discerning the call to priesthood. As he looked at various religious communities, he began to see how fulfilling the life of a priest could be. He graduated from Franciscan and took a job in campus ministry at Louisiana State University for two years.

“At the end of my time there, I ended up joining the Franciscan Friars,” Deacon Delello said. “By that time, I was pretty sold out for priesthood and was really ready to give my heart to Jesus and to this vocation.”

At a retreat, he met Father Philip Scott, FJ, who has been his spiritual director for about 12 years. Deacon Delello describes him as a mentor, spiritual father and major influence in his life.

“Just seeing the way that he lives his priesthood … the ups and downs of discernment and the ups and downs of life. He’s been a great guide for me.”

The journey to priesthood has been a long one for Deacon Delello. He joined the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit seven years ago, about eight years after he felt the initial call to priesthood.

“For whatever reason, when I gave the Lord my yes and I entered the community, there was just a total grace of never doubting from that moment.”

In the Diocese of Phoenix, the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit tend to the spiritual needs of the Native American communities on the reservations. Growing up in New Jersey, Deacon Delello didn’t have a frame of reference for that, but he’s excited to begin his priesthood among his Native brothers and sisters.

“So many of them have been through so much, but they’re just ready for Jesus. They’re ready to hear the Gospel. They just need somebody to be there to walk with them.”

The intercession of the Blessed Virgin continues to impact his vocation.

“The rosary has been huge for me, even just in my initial conversion. Our Lady was so present to me, mothering me and giving me the strength and grace to respond to what the Lord was calling me to, especially in those moments where I just felt too weak or felt these resistances in my heart.”

As he approaches ordination to the priesthood, he has a deep sense of peace. God, he says, has known from all eternity what He was going to do in Deacon Delello’s life and His plan is perfect.

“And that’s where I’m going to find, ultimately, union and intimacy with His heart, which is the deepest thing that I want in my life — the deepest thing that all of us are looking for. I very much attribute that to the Blessed Mother, to her love and her constant presence in my life.”

After ordination, Deacon Delello will be serving as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist in Laveen, Ariz.


Deacon Jesús Martinez: Call to priesthood comes through during eucharistic encounter 

Deacon Jesús Martinez was 11 years old when his family left Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, Mexico, and settled on Phoenix’s west side. Growing up the eldest of four siblings, he and his family attended St. Augustine parish in Phoenix.

“It was a true gift,” Deacon Martinez said. “My experience of St. Augustine was under Padre Carlos who was the pastor there for 17 years.” Father Carlos Gomez would play a pivotal role in Deacon Martinez’ vocation story.

St. Augustine, a thriving parish where it’s often standing room only in the adoration chapel and there are seven weekend Masses, has been pulling for Deacon Martinez since he entered seminary seven years ago.

“It was a gift to see such an active community,” Deacon Martinez said, “to have so many people praying for you and encouraging you along the way.”

Although he was an altar server for five or six years, he said he never really thought about becoming a priest. He attended a public grade school and St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix. At St. Augustine, he was active in the parish youth group.

“I think when you’re young, it’s not something that you necessarily fully consider. I really started taking my discernment seriously when I was around college age,” Deacon Martinez said.

He started taking his faith more seriously then, too.

He was influenced, he said, by the Christian witness of his young adult friends from St. Augustine.

“I saw in them their faith and it was kind of like an invitation for me, too. I could also be doing the same with my faith.

“What stood out to me was their joy.”

He noticed something else, too.

“These guys go to church every day. I wonder why that is?”

At Arizona State University’s downtown campus, Deacon Martinez was studying criminal justice and considering law school. His classes didn’t start until later in the morning, so following his friends’ lead, he began attending daily Mass at St. Augustine. He was praying the rosary daily and frequently prayed in the adoration chapel.

During his junior year, there was a shift.

“It was around that time that I started to ask the Lord, ‘What is it that you want from me? How could I serve You in the Church?’ I was looking for an answer from the Lord and I didn’t know what that answer was going to be.”

On a random Wednesday morning at Mass, as he knelt in prayer and Father Gomez prayed the words of consecration, a longing began to build in him.

“I started to feel this desire to be doing what the priest was doing at the altar. And that’s what really ignited my intentional discernment for the priesthood.

“It was profound. He really spoke to me, and I felt like the Lord was answering my question in way that was tangible and I could understand.”

The draw toward priesthood was “very strong and very real” Deacon Martinez said, “but at the same time, it was also a little bit scary.”

It took a couple of weeks to work up the courage, but he made an appointment to talk over these internal stirrings with Father Gomez. For about a year, Deacon Martinez met with his pastor.

“I think it’s the Lord,” Father Gomez eventually told him. The next step was to contact the vocation director for the Diocese of Phoenix at the time, Father Paul Sullivan. Deacon Martinez was invited to visit St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.

Moved by the 2017 visit, Deacon Martinez  felt the pull to return. He entered that fall and began his spirituality year.

As he learned to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and developed his relationship with Christ, he had a growing understanding of his identity as a son of God.

“I think it helped me deepen my baptismal identity which was one of the greatest graces I received that first year.”

He said he was deeply impacted by his formator during that first year, Father Jim Thermos.

“He’s a very humble man, a very spiritual man. I have a great relationship with him.”

Since his ordination to the diaconate last May, Deacon Martinez has been able to perform many baptisms at the parish he’s assigned to in the Archdiocese of Denver.

“It’s been such a joy, such a special joy of feeling like a father.”

And since he felt his initial call to the priesthood during the consecration, it seems providential that Deacon Martinez will celebrate his first Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi which this year falls on June 2.

He plans to continue beginning each day with a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, just as he has done in seminary.

“It allows me to receive the peace of the Lord so that I can serve Him the best I can throughout the day.”

After ordination, Deacon Martinez will be serving as parochial vicar at St. Jerome parish in Phoenix.


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