Footprints of our Catholic brethren


Christ the King Church, Evansville

“Peter, do you love me?”

Jim Schroeder

It was a Saturday evening in early April 2016. We were sitting in Christ the King Church in Evansville. As before, a number of family and friends had joined us for the 52nd stop of the diocese historical tour. From the pulpit, the question was again posed, “Do you love me?” Father Alex Zenthoefer then launched into a passionate sermon on the Gospel that day. He initially qualified the question as it often is—a query of love followed by a request that tempers its expression of undying affection and commitment. But as the homily continued, Father forcefully spoke about the need to not see our divine love as an obligation or a safety net. Instead, it should remain the fullest expression of our will to be united with Him.

“Do you love him?”

It was June 3, 1950. Father Eugene Anthony Dewig had just been ordained a priest by Bishop Henry Grimmelsman. Born Nov. 11, 1925, he had a grown up in Evansville. Heavily influenced by his mother, among others, he eventually found himself at St. Meinrad Seminary before becoming a priest. After ordination, he was appointed to a number of positions, including the Superintendent of Mater Dei High School from 1955 to 1971. He taught and oversaw thousands of students, including a young Jim Schroeder, Tom Lehman and Mary Kunz. Almost 30 years later, he would marry their children. After being assigned at multiple parishes, he was appointed pastor at Sacred Heart parish from Nov. 8, 1989, until his retirement on Nov. 5, 2001. It was there he came in contact with a young, introspective boy by the name of Alex Zenthoefer, whom he sensed might share his priestly call. Often, while Alex was serving before school, Father Dewig posed the question, “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” No one had ever asked Alex this question before; but as the years progressed, this question resonated deeply in him. Years later, Tom Lehman found himself in similar circumstances as his career as a fireman wound down. Having done work for the parish for years, Father Dewig broached the question, “Have you ever thought about becoming a deacon? You are already doing deacon work. It is something you should consider.”

“‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’”

It was June 2005. Alex Zenthoefer lay prostrate on the floor of St. Benedict Cathedral. The young boy serving daily masses at Sacred Heart Church now found himself, as a man, embracing the priestly order that started with St. Peter. Forever changed, he had accepted the call that his mentor had; and he would find himself in a life filled with love and service. One month later, Tom Lehman found himself on that same cold floor accepting deaconate ordination. Through the sacraments and clerical responsibilities that would come, it was clear that both had not traveled to the expanse of that cathedral alone. Although their mentor had died tragically in a car accident at age 76 with his close friend Bob Scheller, the legacy Father Dewig left was a great one, represented by the two beloved men that found themselves in Christ the King with our family and friends on a Saturday evening almost 11 years later. In the words of Father Zenthoefer:

“Father Dewig was a tremendous influence in my discernment of priesthood. He was a real man and his integrity and profound faith were very attractive to me.  In particular, I remember serving at the Stations of the Cross during Lent and I was deeply attracted to this sense of mystery in a dark church with candles and incense…it is not his death that remains in my mind. In fact, it is overshadowed by the way that he lived and by the way that he cared for people. His death was tragic…but it did not define his life nor did it diminish in any way my view of him as a man chosen by God to serve His people. He had long before sat down with me and gave me several pieces of wisdom that I find very helpful in my ministry as a priest today.”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’”

It is the evening of May 1, 2016, at our home. All I hear is the chatter of Louis upstairs and the noise of the cars going by. Father Jason Gries and others left many hours earlier after the celebration of Matthew’s First Communion. For weeks leading up, Matthew had practiced the difficult first reading from Acts of the Apostles, determined to correctly enunciate all of the challenging words scattered throughout the story of the travels and travails of Paul and Barnabas in the earliest years of the church. With great excitement, he had had created his own paper chalice the night before—eagerly anticipating receiving Jesus in body, blood, soul, and divinity for the first time. For years, his spiritual fervor had become evident in various ways, either in writing prayers, doing chores for his siblings, or even in the depth of his curiosity and conversation about our Catholic faith. I sometimes wondered, “Would he find himself face first on the floor of a great cathedral one day?” Only God knew. But later, after First Communion, Frather Alex’s words spoke to me when asked about his perspective on encouraging vocations in the younger generation. He said,

“I just think that it's important that young people know that the discernment of a vocation is not something separate from life. It's not something that we have to go someplace else to discover. It is something that unfolds in every day circumstances and in simple ways. If someone is waiting for a voice from on high to discern what to do with one's life, that person might be waiting around for a long time! We have to learn to live with intensity and attention, that's where we will discover God speaking to us.”

“‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,’ Peter replied.”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And when he had said this, he said to them, ‘Follow me.’”

This reflection is from Jim Schroeder’s book “The Evansville Diocese Historical Tour: Footprints of Our Catholic Brethren.” Jim, his wife, Amy, and their kids live in Evansville. They are parishioners at Holy Redeemer Parish. Jim is a pediatric psychologist and Vice President of the psychology department at Easterseals Rehabilitation Center. “The full story, including illustrations, is available on Amazon or with his other books and articles at”