When Father Raymond Zeugner recounts his journey of discernment his memories are so vivid and present that it seems impossible they occurred some five decades ago.
While he first heard a call to the priesthood at the tender age of 10, he didn’t pursue it. He was a C student, and described his inclination for school by stating, jokingly, “I hated kindergarten.”
It was during military service when he was stationed in France that he discovered quite by accident a booklet on vocations. He talked to a counselor who told him he would need schooling and garner a B average. It was daunting for the young man, but he gave it a try utilizing the GI Bill and entering Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc., before going to the seminary.
Still he had doubts. At one point he left the seminary but spoke of a reflective time in the woods where he debated his options.
“I learned that the Lord put the desire to pursue the priesthood in me, but I had to say yes,” he recalled, adding that he felt conflicted again some two years into his priesthood when he became disillusioned by his role as a priest. He believed as a priest he could help change people’s lives, but he “didn’t see anyone changing.” “After supper I would get in my car and drive and by the time I was just down the road, I was crying. I didn’t want to, but I knew I would leave the priesthood.”
Although frustrated, even angry, he stayed, serving in parishes in the Diocese of Marquette, Mich., where he was ordained. It was a few years later, at a retreat, when things changed.
“I received Communion and I felt an incredible sense of peace. When I left the retreat house afterwards, I was just surrounded by the Lord. I was shivering. God’s presence was so close,” he recalled vividly.
While he tried to create that moment again, he could not recreate it. Some time later, it happened again, quite expectantly, following a moment of great frustration. “I threw my rosary beads in anger, and then, in an instant, there was joy throughout my body. The more I thanked the Lord, the stronger the joy.”
He revealed the moment of clarity behind the peace and joy.
“I was looking for fulfillment in the people, and realized I really didn’t know the Lord,” he said of his own spiritual transformation. “My prayer life changed 1,000 percent. It has been a beautiful 50 years. I wouldn’t change it for anything… over the years I have learned that the greatest thing of all is our own prayer life. As I pray, I am still falling in love with the Lord.”
Father Zeugner continued to serve in parishes of the Michigan diocese and began serving during the summer in Florida some 13 years ago. This is the first year he marks as a permanent resident of the Sunshine State where he continues to assist at St. Matthew in Winter Haven, St. Ann in Haines City and Holy Spirit in Lake Wales.
Not surprisingly, among Father Zeugner’s roles throughout the years has been liaison for charismatic renewal. Today, along with assisting at local parishes, he offers spiritual direction to almost a dozen people.
“The first thing I ask them is what is going on in your prayer life and what is going on in your life,” Father Zeugner said adding while everyone’s relationship with God is a personal one, the sharing and outpouring of God’s love is the best evangelization for the Church. “You have to meet the Lord first, and share what the Lord is giving back.”