‘Quietly listening’ led to answering ministerial call

Deacon Tom Fursman

Deacon Fursman says time in eucharistic adoration was key


“I’m a big believer in quietly listening for the Holy Spirit to direct you,” said Deacon Thomas Fursman.

That belief mapped out his entire adult life, from enlisting in the United States Navy on a whim to now approaching his eleventh year as a permanent deacon.

“Stuff comes out of the clear blue, and if you don’t have quiet in your life, you won’t hear that,” he continued. “In general, God doesn’t yell at you; he’s whispering.”

Deacon Fursman grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, where he attended Catholic school for first through eighth grade and was an altar server. He attended a Christian Brothers school for his first year of high school and spent his sophomore and junior years at a preparatory seminary.

‘Turning’ into the Navy

In 1968, Deacon Fursman had just finished his freshman year at the University of Minnesota – an experience he said he did not enjoy. While walking to the bus stop after having lunch with his father, he passed the federal building.

“I just took a right turn and walked up and enlisted in the Navy. Just out of the clear blue. I hadn’t thought about that,” he said.

Two weeks later, Deacon Fursman was in boot camp in San Diego. It was August of 1968, and he got a draft notice – number six.

“So I asked my (drill instructor), ‘What do I do with this?’ He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. The Navy already has you,’” Deacon Fursman recalled. “But if I hadn’t walked in there, I would have been in the Army. Ground forces in Vietnam.”

Deacon Fursman became a sonar technician on submarines. When the opportunity arose, he participated in an officer training program, was selected in 1971 and got commissioned.

“I ended up in command of two submarines, which were the exact same class that I was a sonar tech on, 20 years later,” he said. “It was listening to that voice. And when the diaconate came up, you know, you see things.”

Seeds of vocation

In 1995, Deacon Fursman and his wife of nearly 52 years, Jackie, were members of St. Mark, Virginia Beach, where Deacon Fursman taught confirmation classes. They got to know the pastor, Father Dan Klem, well, and Deacon Fursman spoke to him about the diaconate.

“That was the first time I was actually discussing the possibility of the diaconate, and, of course, I’m doing all this in between going to sea,” he said. “And Father Dan says, ‘Well, trying to get into diaconate formation in between everything else you’re doing, that probably is almost impossible.’ But that was always in the back of my head.”

In 1999, Deacon Fursman retired from the Navy.

As they had to choose where to settle, he and Jackie considered where their three children lived. Their oldest son was a bachelor in Minnesota, and their middle son was in the Army at that time. Ultimately, they settled in Louisa County because their daughter and her husband were in the Charlottesville area, and they wanted to be near any future grandchildren.

Although they lived within the Richmond Diocese by two miles, the Fursmans became members of St. Mark, Gordonsville, in the Arlington Diocese because the parish was just four miles from their home. (The nearest Richmond Diocese parish was 18 miles away.) St. Mark and St. John, Orange, merged to form St. Isidore the Farmer, Orange, in 2002.

Discerning the call

When Bishop Paul Loverde reinstituted Arlington’s diaconate program in 2005, Deacon Fursman again considered ordained ministry.

“So you spend some time in quiet reflection, you pray about it, go to adoration and sit in front of the tabernacle for an hour, and you run that through your mind to make sure it’s a real call,” he said.

It was.

Bishop Loverde ordained Deacon Fursman on January 15, 2011. He was assigned to his parish, St. Isidore.

“Obviously you have your liturgical duties you do as a deacon, and a big part of that, at least from my standpoint, is making sure the liturgy is ready to go. I love liturgy,” he said.

In April 2019, Deacon Fursman began serving in the Richmond Diocese and was assigned to St. Jude, Mineral, and Immaculate Conception, Buckner.

“I love doing what I’m doing, and my interactions on all facets, whether it’s liturgy or teaching or visiting the homebound, the dying, the sick, I love doing that out of love for God and love for those that are under my care as deacon,” he said.

Open to what occurs

Deacon Fursman said his goal has always been to best assist his pastor, and because of that, his duties as deacon change daily.

“I pray each day, ‘Let me have an open mind, open ears, open eyes and an open heart to be aware of what’s going on around me,’” he said.

Eucharistic adoration at St. Jude on Friday nights is a favorite aspect of Deacon Fursman’s ministry.

“For me, it’s the perfect event at the end of a week to sit in front of the Lord for an hour and just wind down.”

The life of a deacon is a busy one, so Deacon Fursman credits Jackie for her role as a deacon’s wife.

“I’ve had people come up and say, ‘Thanks for being our deacon,’ and I say, ‘Thank my wife.’ … I say, ‘Don’t forget my wife over here’ because every hour I spend doing this is an hour that I’m not a husband, a father and a grandfather.”

Despite the challenges and the time he devotes to his ministry, Deacon Fursman is a “firm believer” that those who serve God are called to do so.

“But once again,” he said, “you just have to listen for his voice.”

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