AVONDALE, Ariz. — They came to the Diocese of Phoenix from the other side of the country, the other side of the border and the other side of the world. 

But as different as the geographical origins and the paths of Elijah DeLello, Jesus Martinez and Joseph (Huy) Nguyen, each found a common destination here and a shared point in their lives divinely ordained long ago, to begin shepherding God’s people, teaching them the Catholic faith and guiding souls to Christ. 

Surrounded by family, friends, the faithful and an assembly of Diocesan priests, DeLello, Martinez and Nguyen (pronounced wihn)  were ordained by Bishop John P. Dolan during a Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church Saturday. 

“What an absolute joy for us to celebrate on this day the ordination of three fine men,” the bishop beamed as he opened the service. “It is a true blessing as we recognize the journey that you, Elijah, you, Jesus, and you, Joseph, took. We recognize the tremendous journey that brought you to this place. And we will journey with you and trust that you will journey with us. But we know this journey begins and ends with Christ Jesus,” the bishop said as he greeted the congregation of nearly 1,200 worshippers. 




Church tradition punctuated the ceremony, with the men vowing, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to preach the Gospel, teach the Catholic faith, celebrate the Sacraments — especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation — and conform themselves daily to Christ, all while obeying their bishop, the Diocese’s chief shepherd. 

 “I do, with the help of God,” each man responded when asked by Bishop Dolan if they resolve to be “united more closely each day with Christ, the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him, to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all.” 

The Rite of Ordination followed a familiar course, with Director of Vocations, Fr. Kurt Perera, affirming for the bishop that the faithful and those involved in the candidates’ formation found them worthy to be ordained, and the candidates promising to discharge their duties unfailingly as trusted co-workers with the bishop. 

While Bishop Dolan noted in his Homily that all three men found a physical and spiritual “home” in the Diocese, their real home “is in Christ, and Christ finds a home in us wherever and whenever we go.” 

The role they were about to undertake, he said, is one requiring sacrifice, including going wherever they are needed. 

“Your home will not simply be within a domus ecclesia.” (Latin for “house of the Church,” or “meeting house.”) It will be a home made of the souls for Christ,” the bishop said.

“It will be a home that will require a sacrifice as you tend to the family of God. But through, and with, and in Christ Jesus, your sacrifice will be made perfect.” 

The transitory nature of the vocation is common.

A priest can be moved if it is deemed his skills, talents or particular spirituality are needed elsewhere. Such a change, though, can be considered complimentary to that priest.

Wherever he goes, he will be accompanied by not only the Holy Spirit, but the prayers of the faithful. 


There is perhaps no more profound moment within the Rite of Ordination than when the candidates physically and spiritually offer their lives before God and man. 

In the Litany of Supplication, the candidates lie prostrate before the altar as the congregation prays. The faithful ask Catholic saints to intercede for the Church, before requesting Christ’s protection for the body and its spiritual fathers. The bishop concludes by asking for the Holy Spirit’s blessing upon the ordinands. 

It is a moment that can stay with a priest through his lifetime, said one longtime Diocesan cleric.

“You hear this prayer over you (during the Litany),” explained Fr. Michael Straley, who was ordained in 1983 and recently retired after reaching the mandatory age of 75. “It’s profound: that feeling of the Holy Spirit, and the Church (being) all there for you. You retain a sense of that throughout your priesthood at various times, largely when preaching. Preaching is really the Holy Spirit,” he said.  

Immediately after Mass, Frs. DeLello, Martinez and Nguyen were hurried off to perform “first blessings,” a tradition in which the newly consecrated priests start discharging their new responsibilities by praying for individuals.  

The lines inside neighboring St. Clare Hall were about 50 deep for each new priest, Worshippers flowed in for about an hour. 

As their sons administered their first priestly acts, their families reflected on what they had just witnessed.

“The family is so happy,” said Fr. Nguyen’s dad, Hoan, through an interpreter and family friend. “We cannot really put it into words.”

His wife, Thanh, added, “It was so emotional. He’s always been a really helpful (devout) person,” she said. 

“I just praise God that my son is now a priest,” said Ellen DeLello, who traveled to Arizona from New Jersey, where she attends Mass daily at St. Joseph Parish in West Milford, part of the Diocese of Paterson and New Jersey’s oldest Catholic community.

“This is all very surreal. I feel like I’m floating right now, honestly. There are no words as a mom to describe how proud I am of my son,” she continued. 

“He’s special,” added Elijah’s father, Anthony, a 4th Degree Knight with the Knights of Columbus, who attends Visitation Church in Brick, N.J., and Sacred Heart Parish in Bay Head – both part of the Diocese of Trenton.

“It’s a great day.”  


Laity with no relation to any of the three were thrilled as well.

“For these young men to have such dedication to their vocation and to make that promise, I’m excited,” said Gloria Gilliam of Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott, where her husband, Chris, is in formation for the diaconate.  

“Our Church needs (them); the community needs (them), and I think they’re going to be great,” she said. 

Ernestine Olivas, who attends daily Mass at St. Augustine Church in Phoenix, where Martinez’ family has gone for years, was happy to see the growing Diocese add more spiritual fathers. “It’s a blessing to see three holy men continue their journey in helping the people of God. I’m blessed to see more priests, which we need. I know I can go to a priest at any church to Confession, to Mass, and I know they will be there for me,” she said. 

The ordination brings to 195 the number of priests — including those retired, sick or absent — aligned to the Diocese stretching across 44,000-square miles including all of Maricopa, Mohave, and Yavapai counties, as well as all of Coconino County except the Navajo Indian Reservation, and the Gila River Indian Reservation in Pinal County.

There also are 229 permanent deacons.

The Diocese has 94 parishes and 23 missions.

Over 90 religious-order priests, such as Franciscans, Jesuits, Crosiers and others, also serve here. 

These clergy, along with women religious, minister to a growing population.

U.S. Census Bureau data show the greater Phoenix area has been one of the fastest-growing U.S. metropolitan areas over the past 7 years, despite a slowdown from July 2022 to June 2023, the last fiscal year figures were available.

The Diocese has been adding an average of nearly three new priests a year since 2017.

A total of 46 seminarians are currently in formation. 

Men like Nguyen, from Binh Thuan, Vietnam, are the second-largest single group of foreign-born ordinands – candidates for ordination — in the United States, according to the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB).

This year’s annual ordinand survey by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), USCCB’s research arm, found 23 percent of all U.S. ordinands were foreign-born. Only Mexico supplied more of them than Vietnam, according to CARA’s report, “The Class of 2024.” 

Each of the Diocese’s three newest priests will serve as parochial vicar at a local parish.

Fr. DeLello will minister to the Gila River Indian community at St. John the Baptist in Laveen, Ariz. Fr. Martinez will serve at St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix, and Fr. Nguyen will stay in familiar surroundings, at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Men such as these are reasons why laity like Annemarie Redivo witness the “beautiful” process that sends a new priest on his life’s work.

A catechist at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, Redivo was attending her seventh Ordination Mass Saturday.

She joined others to encourage and pray for the new priests.

“I value and honor the choice they’ve made to give their lives to the Church, to Jesus Christ, and to support their vocation. It’s beautiful to see them laying down their lives and taking all that responsibility to carry on Jesus’ work in the world and bring Him to us in the Mass and through the Sacraments. I’m in love with the Church and the faith, so I come.” 


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