As the fourth of five children growing up in Dallas, Tex., Rev. Jerome Augustine Zeiler, O.P. (’00), had a strong sense of his vocation. “When I was in kindergarten, I knew I was going to be a priest — or a motorcycle policeman,” he laughs. Discerning what kind of priest he was called to be, however, took somewhat longer.
He got the first inclination when he was a freshman at Thomas Aquinas College in 1996. It was at that time that he made the decision to start attending Mass daily and adoration more regularly. “Prayer life is the foundation of the spiritual life, and that really began for me at the College in a way that it never had before,” he recalls. “In seeking to know the truth and act accordingly, I also grew in virtue. I grew in my desire for it and in my practice of it — not perfectly, by any means — but it was a time of great spiritual growth.”
Over the course of his four years’ studies, he came to develop an appreciation for the spirituality of the College’s patron, the Church’s Universal Doctor. “I loved St. Thomas, and I wanted to be his disciple. I wanted his teaching and wisdom to infiltrate my whole spirituality, and I wanted to preach that to others. I wanted a life of study and prayer that pours into preaching for the salvation of souls,” he reflects. “My contemplative life began in earnest at the College, and I knew God was calling me to a continued life of study and prayer. I knew that that had to be a part of my life.”
In hindsight, joining the religious order to which St. Thomas himself belonged may seem like an obvious choice, but it was not at the time. The diocesan and the religious life are both appealing in their own ways, and each religious community has its unique charism. Fr. Zeiler found himself intrigued by the myriad possibilities.
Having read some of the work of St. John Vianney while at the College, he was first attracted to the seminary named in this great saint’s honor in the Archdiocese of Denver. Yet mindful of Fr. Zeiler’s desire for a contemplative life, Denver officials wisely advised him to first spend a year working for the Diocese before formally entering the seminary, so as to see if the diocesan life was for him.
It was not. “I found that I needed the fraternal support, the contemplative aspects, and communal prayer of a religious community,” Fr. Zeiler observes. He also craved the discipline inherent in the religious life, noting, “The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience really appealed to me.” Thus over the course of the next year he tested two contemplative orders, but neither seemed quite like home.
It was then, Fr. Zeiler notes, that the particulars of his vocation became clear. “I realized I had a Dominican charism in my heart, that God was calling me to be a Dominican.” In short order he investigated, applied to, and was admitted to the Dominican Order’s Eastern Province of St. Joseph. As he prepared for the priesthood, he pursued advanced studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of America, earning his licentiate this past spring — just weeks before his May 25 ordination at the hands of the Most Rev. J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Fr. Zeiler now serves as a parochial vicar at St. Gertrude’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, where, in addition to his daily sacramental duties and assisting at the parish school, he is the chaplain for the high-school youth group, the 20-something group, and the RCIA program. “I am extremely busy,” Fr. Zeiler remarks, “but a busy priest is a happy priest.”