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'Jesus is on Tom's heels'
Hundreds gathered for Mass Tuesday night to pray for the safety of Tom Duesterhaus, last seen in mid-June at Virginia Beach.
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
Gretchen R. Crowe | Catholic Herald
Fr. Jack Peterson (at right), director of the Youth Apostles in McLean, celebrates Mass to pray for the safety of Tom Duesterhaus.

In an outpouring of love and support for Tom Duesterhaus, a lay consecrated Youth Apostle missing since mid-June, more than 200 friends, family, former students and coworkers attended a Mass Tuesday night at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna.

Youth Apostle Father Jack Peterson, director of the Youth Apostles, was the primary celebrant of the Mass, and noted in his homily the confusion brought on by Tom’s disappearance.

“Life can be difficult, confusing, unjust and just plain really hard at times,” Father Peterson said. “Tom’s disappearance is just one of those times that’s just really confusing and painful.”

“In these moments, God, whose love is infinite, whose wisdom is vast and whose concern is immeasurable, asks us to come to Him and place our trust in Him,” he said.

“He wants us to find refuge in Him for the pain and confusion of this world, and that is what I hope to be able to do tonight.”

Father Peterson associated the searching of Duesterhaus with Mary and Joseph’s search for Jesus in the temple. He said that those two parents who know best what Duesterhaus’ family is going through are sending up “powerful prayers” for the son who, like theirs did, has gone missing.

Of anyone, Rich Duesterhaus, Tom’s father, understands this feeling. In a few words to the congregation following the Mass, Rich thanked those gathered for their prayers and support. But, he said, while they have searched for his son “nationwide,” they do not want the search to turn into a “manhunt.”

If Tom needs some time alone, Rich said, “we’re okay with that.” He also said they should be prepared for Tom’s extended absence, and that his family will “welcome him home when he is ready.”

Tom has been missing since June 17, after voluntarily leaving his Youth Apostles home, according to police reports. Tom reportedly last was seen the weekend of June 18-19 in the Virginia Beach area and may be driving a 1999 blue Buick LeSabre with Virginia plates XMT-8126.

According to Caitlin Forst, interim diocesan communications director, Tom’s contract was not renewed at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington where he had been an English teacher and adviser since 1999.

O’Connell President Kathleen Prebble said in a statement that she could not comment on personnel matters out of respect for Tom’s privacy and in conjunction with school policies.

“We are, however, committed to helping the civil authorities in any way that will assist them,” she said. “We are joining with the many people, including faculty and students, who care about Tom and are praying for him.”

Other than that, all his been quiet. All, that is, except for the outcry of concern for Tom from family, friends and community members. News of his disappearance spread earlier this month after Youth Apostle Father David Sharland, director of campus ministry at Marymount University in Arlington, posted a note on Facebook asking for prayers and help for his brother in community.

“Please flood heaven with your prayers,” Father Sharland wrote. “Lord, please send our brother back to us.”

Tom’s own Facebook page has been flooded with messages of love, prayers and support from friends, family, and former students and colleagues since his disappearance. Acquaintances from North Carolina, Florida and Kansas all offered places of refuge for the missing man. Most just want him home safely.

“Thinking of the joy of the Father when his son comes home!” wrote Alicia Scheidler Nagy on Duesterhaus’ Facebook wall. “No questions, just a party to celebrate his return. We're on the porch looking at the horizon for your return.”

A heartfelt plea on the Youth Apostle’s website says it all: “Dear Tom, we miss you terribly. We understand you are in pain. We are praying hard for you, your health and a safe return. We want to make this journey with you. Peace, brother.”

Rich feels the same.

“We’ll come meet him at any place to help work through any challenges he’s got,” he said in an interview to local media.

Tom, who was profiled by the Catholic Herald in April, made his lifetime commitment as a lay consecrated member of the Youth Apostles in 1999. In the interview, he said that, for him, community was everything.

“We are meant to be connected to each other,” he said.

“Without community you can go ‘lone ranger’ for a while, but that’s no long-term plan. That’s no way to live.”

In his homily, Father Peterson said it was presumptuous to answer the question of where to go from here, but he referred to Paul’s words to the Romans: to not grow slack in zeal, to be fervent in spirit, to serve the Lord, to rejoice in hope, to endure in affliction and to persevere in prayer.

“Right now Tom is lost to us, but he is not lost to our heavenly Father,” he said. “Tom is in God’s hands.”

After all, he said, though it may be hard to believe, God loves Tom “more than we do.”

“Jesus told us he was willing to leave the 99 to go in search of the one,” Father Peterson said. “We know Jesus is pursuing Tom as his Lord, his Savior, his Creator … and his best friend. What a blessing to know that Jesus is on Tom’s heels tonight.”

Seen Tom?

Contact Detective Chris Flanagan at 703/246-7860 or the Fairfax County Police at 703/691-2131 or Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS.

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