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Answering God's Call

by Kathleen Bagg-Morgan

On June 23, Bishop Victor Galeone will ordain Deacons David Ruchinski, Robert Trujillo and Steven Zehler to the priesthood. The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.

All three men ordained for the diocese this year have a unique background and a personal story to tell about their vocation. After years of wondering and months of discernment, they have left everything behind to follow the Lord’s call, for at ordination they will become fishers of men.

Deacon David Ruchinski, 37, was born in Warren, Ohio. The Ruchinski’s, a Polish Catholic family, adopted him as an infant through Catholic Charities. He has an older sister, Shari, who was also adopted.
  Rev. Mr. David Ruchinski

Born: July 1, 1969
Place: Warren, Ohio
Career: Teacher
Assignment: Returns to North American College, Rome, Italy for further studies
  Rev. Mr. Robert Trujillo

Born: June 22, 1970
Place: Elizabeth, New Jersey
Career: Computer Programmer
Assignment: St. Catherine Parish, Orange Park, effective July 15, 2007
  Rev. Mr. Steven Zehler

Born: February 7, 1965
Place: Hamilton, Ohio
Career: Marketing
Assignment: Christ the King Parish, Jacksonville, effective July 15, 2007

David was 13 years old when his mother died of colon cancer. She was just 43. David and his father had a difficult time after her death and their relationship deteriorated to the point that a separation was needed. At 16, David went to live with Sue and Dave Ashcraft, the parents of his best friend Steve and his siblings Mike, Tim and Sarah.

In 1987, David graduated from high school and began attending the Pontifical College Josephinum, an international seminary in the Diocese of Youngstown. An excellent student, David graduated from the seminary in just three years at the age of 20. Due to his age, the bishop of Youngstown felt David needed one more year of formation.

David decided to continue his discernment while pursuing a master’s degree in English at Ohio State University. He met a woman there and fell in love. After dating for two years, “I had gotten it in my head that I no longer wanted to be in the seminary - that I was ready to commit to marriage,” David said. Well so he thought.

He received his master’s in 1994 and while looking for a teaching position with the Columbus Catholic Schools, David stumbled into a position that brought him to Jacksonville. Knowing that his mind wasn’t settled about becoming a priest, David’s girlfriend decided to accept a temporary teaching position in Japan. Both were hopeful the separation would help David decide if God was calling him to marriage or to the priesthood.

Father Michael Houle, president of Bishop Kenny High School was in Columbus recruiting religion teachers from the Josephinum. Father Houle was the director of development at the Josephinum when David was there. He recruited David to teach English at Bishop Kenny - an offer he said he couldn’t refuse. He taught at BK from 1992 to 1997.

For the next three years, David taught at Episcopal High School while also pursuing a doctorate in education from the University of North Florida, which he earned in Dec. 2001. In 2000, he accepted a position as coordinator of the New Beginnings Program at Lutheran Social Services - a program he helped developed that addressed the cultural adjustment needs of refugee teenagers.

Even though his job at Lutheran Social Services was very rewarding, David said he was “motivated by a desire to be a person for others - to minister and make that part of his life.” He deepened his prayer life and soon he knew God was calling him to the priesthood and he was ready to say “yes.”

He remembers everything happened quickly. In April 2002, he met with Father John Tetlow, the vocations director at the time. One month later, he learned he had been accepted as a candidate for the diocese. Bishop Galeone sent him to Rome to study at the North American College. He will return to Rome after ordination for further studies.

“The whole journey - the 12 years I spent away from seminary, the 10 years I spent working full-time, and living on my own, have really been a valuable part of the process [of becoming a priest],” said David. “I am so grateful that God took me in that direction instead of going straight into the seminary.”

Deacon Robert Trujillo, 36, was born in Elizabeth, N.J., the youngest of five boys. He was the only member of his family born in the United States. His parents, Ramn and Isabel, and his brothers moved to the United States from their homeland, Colombia, South America in 1968.

A parts salesman for Avianca Airlines, Robert’s father used his contacts in the industry to secure a position with American Airlines in New York. Robert’s father lived in New York for one year before bringing his family to live in Elizabeth where he began working for General Motors.

Robert recalls that his family practiced their Catholic faith nominally at best. However, in the third grade, Robert’s mother insisted that he receive a Catholic education. Robert said he has fond memories of attending Catholic school and being an altar server. The idea of becoming a priest was very real to him at an early age. “I remember telling Father Richard after Mass one day that I think I want to be a priest,” Robert said. He recalls the priest smiling at him and said, “If it is God’s will, it will happen in due time.”

By high school Robert said he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. He said he was attracted to heavy metal music and he grew his hair long, past his shoulders. He remembers declaring himself agnostic and eventually he rejected his faith.

After graduation, he attended college for one year before enrolling in the Chubb Institute, a vocational school where he learned computer programming. In 1992, at the age of 22, he was hired by United Parcel Service (UPS) as a computer programmer.

It wasn’t until he was in a life-threatening car accident and recuperating for two months in a rehabilitation hospital that he started thinking about his faith again. He said he met a group of Christians that seemed to have their lives together. “They weren’t as unruly as I was and that impressed me,” he said. He began sampling other Christian churches and reading the Bible.

In 1997, Robert said he was dating a woman seriously and thinking about marriage. “We decided to go to Mass together. She was Catholic, but not practicing like me,” he said. Just before Communion Robert said he remembers having a powerful conversion experience. “I felt God’s forgiveness was waiting there for me,” he said. He met with a priest afterwards, Father Beau Ardouin, who later became his spiritual advisor. Unfortunately, his girlfriend didn’t have the same conversion experience and over time their relationship ended.

In 1998 Robert began seriously thinking about the priesthood again after attending a eucharistic-centered retreat in Northern Ireland. In 1999, Robert sold his house and moved to Florida to live with his parents who had moved here a year earlier.

Shortly after, Robert explored his options, including serving for six months with the Family of Jesus Healer, a religious community in Tampa that is devoted to healing prayer and serving the poor. He said it was a wonderful experience, but he felt called to become a diocesan priest.

In Feb. 2002, Robert was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Saint Augustine.

“The way I’ve seen my journey is that the Lord presents a door for me to step through and at first it is intimidating, but as long as I do my part and step up to the door, he opens it,” said Robert. “It has been a series of those kind of experiences. …The Lord always seems to carry me through.”

Deacon Steven Zehler, 42, was born in Hamilton, Ohio. His parents, Raymond and Janice still live on the family farm just outside of Hamilton. Steve has one older brother and three older sisters.

Steve attended high school and college in Oxford, Ohio where Miami University is located. He majored in communication arts and photography and he studied for one semester in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - a branch campus of Miami University. “The study abroad literally changed my life and propelled me into the world of travel,” said Steve.

Traveling has become a part of his life. Steve has participated in five International Christian Missions and visited more than 25 countries. “I find it [traveling] a way to not only experience the world and its culture, but also to see the work of God in his people,” he said.

Steve said he never thought about becoming a priest as a child. In fact, he said he was heading down the opposite path hoping to join an Evangelical missionary group when a close Catholic friend, took him under her wing. “I learned right then of the spiritual power of a faithful Catholic woman,” Steve said. “The next thing I knew, I was sitting in on RCIA classes at a nearby parish to learn the Catholic faith, even though I was baptized Catholic.”

Steve remembers being so hungry to learn more about the Catholic faith that he pursued a master’s in theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. While working towards his theology degree, Steve recalls the many people who expressed that they thought he had a calling to the priesthood.

It wasn’t until 1994 when he was in Jerusalem with his spiritual mother, Babsie Bleasdell, that he remembers being open to the possibility of becoming a priest. “Babsie prayed with me in the ‘Upper Room’ in Jerusalem and said, ‘Steve, I believe God is calling you to the priesthood, and the Blessed Mother will always be with you.’” These were powerful words to Steve, but he said it took a series of events and eight years before he consented with a “yes.”

Steve worked in the area of marketing for 16 years. Specifically he managed the production of advertisements and publications at Franciscan University.

“Once I entered the seminary there has never been any doubt in my mind that God is calling me to serve him as a priest,” said Steve. “I love the Catholic Church, and consider it a great honor, privilege and humble blessing to be considered for the priesthood.”