A little over three years ago, Father Thomas Euteneuer was pastor of a migrant parish in his Palm Beach, Fla., diocese. He was already a tireless worker for pro-life initiatives.
But since 2002, when be became president of Front Royal, Va.-based Human Life International, Father Euteneuer (pronounced EYE-ten-our) has crisscrossed the continent, appeared numerous times on EWTN and traveled to more than 40 countries to spread the gospel of life.
The change was no surprise to Don Kazimir, director of the Respect Life Office of the Diocese of Palm Beach, knowing what he did about the young priest from the first time he met him praying the Rosary at an abortion clinic.
“He was full of energy — very dedicated to the issues, very strongly pro-life, very personable, a fun guy,” says Kazimir. “And very holy. Everything you want in a priest.”
Ordained in 1988, Father Euteneuer was greatly influenced by Father Lou Roberts, a priest in the Palm Beach Diocese who died of Parkinson's disease.
“I was brought into his circle of friends while he was dying,” recounts Father Euteneuer. “It seemed to me he was praying for me and offering his sufferings for the unborn children. He died on my birthday.
“The day I went to concelebrate his funeral was the first day I actually stopped at an abortion mill to pray,” he continues. “I consider that to be the fruit of this priest's sacrificial prayer for my priesthood. He gave me the focus by passing on the pro-life torch to me.”
A pro-life spark appeared years earlier when he was a college student and a friend asked to borrow his car.
“He wanted to take his girlfriend for an abortion,” recalls Father Euteneuer. “I refused. Thankfully. At that moment abortion ceased to be an abstract concept for me but became a concrete reality. I saw the injustice of killing a baby. I was invited to take part in it and I refused.”
With these and other incidents, he believes, Christ was drawing him into the pro-life activities of the Church.
“I experience it as a calling — a vocation within a vocation, so to speak,” he says.
The “torch” Father Roberts passed on to him became a blaze when he arrived to head Human Life International, probably the largest pro-life and pro-family educational apostolate in the world.
There, preaching the gospel of life is a dimension of the New Evangelization for him.
“Abortion and the culture of death is the greatest threat to the souls of people,” he says. “The Gospel addresses that need of conversion from the world of darkness and to the God of life. Our Church has every answer and understanding of God's plan for life, marriage, and family — all the most important things. So when we preach the gospel of life, we are evangelizing.”
That he does abundantly even in non-Christian cultures like India, Indonesia and Singapore.
“Through my words and the message of the Church,” he says, “they now understand something about Jesus Christ and God's plan for everyone's life, not just Christians’ lives. I tell pro-lifers in these areas pro-life is primary evangelization.”
The non-Christians usually lend a willing ear. “I have more Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims listen to me,” he says, “than liberal Catholics.”
One trip to Peru amazed Maryknoll Father Martin Keegan, who accompanied Father Euteneuer on it and was Human Life International's chaplain at the time.
“The thing that stood out was the way he handled himself,” Father Keegan says. He tells how he watched the Human Life International president handle every situation deftly, from hearing out a hostile crowd at a press conference to speaking with students at a Salesian high school in Lima.
The most difficult part of Father Euteneuer's ministry, he says, is bringing the culture of life anywhere abortion is already legal. In those places, including the United States, the deadly procedure enjoys broad cultural acceptance.
“You're like trying to attack a fortress, whereas, in other parts of the world where they have not yet legalized abortion, the pro-life culture is the fortress that you are defending,” he explains. “And usually in those parts of the world the Church is very much in the forefront in defending life, so we work hand-in-hand with the official Church — bishops and priests — easily. Where abortion is already legalized, it's much tougher to work with the Church.”
His apostolate, he says, is spiritual warfare. “I've always seen it not just as a battle of flesh and blood but also a battle with ‘the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,’ as St. Paul says in Ephesians 6.”
He has vivid memories of the battles. One exceptionally moving moment came in Vienna, where the Human Life International affiliate had bought a former abortion clinic and turned it into a pro-life counseling center. Father Euteneuer picks up the story:
“I was able to celebrate Mass where they had done thousands of abortions. They had left all the abortion instruments in the room. It became almost like a museum. The Mass celebrated in that room was the symbol of the victory of life over death.”
It seems Father Euteneuer has made an impact as a priest in many ways, and they're not all directly related to the defense of life. For example the priest's witness was instrumental in inspiring at least one young man to become a priest himself.
Now at St. Juliana Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Father Joe Papes explains what he saw in Father Euteneuer.
“He really loved the priesthood, which really attracted me,” says Father Papes. “Here's probably the first priest I remember who was very outspoken, who wasn't afraid to stand up and speak the truth, and speak it with love. That really made an impression in me.”
How does Father Euteneuer look upon his own priesthood?
“I love it,” he says. “I'm so grateful God called me into it. I can't imagine myself doing anything else.”
Two days later, he was off to bring the gospel of life to Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.