Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Deacon Thomas Zaworski, one of Atlanta’s first permanent deacons, remembered

By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published December 22, 2021

FAYETTEVILLE—Thomas Edward Zaworski, one of the first two permanent deacons ordained for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1977, died Dec. 9. He was 86 years old.

Deacon Zaworski was born on April 25, 1935, in Hollis, New York, to the late Thomas and Mary Zaworski. 

Deacon Thomas Zaworski

He is preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Helen Zaworski, who died on Oct. 1; and their sons, Greg, and Eric Zaworski.

Deacon Zaworski was raised in Atlanta’s West End attending St. Anthony’s School and Hapeville High School. He attended Georgia State University. The deacon retired from Delta Airlines after a 37-year career. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served as a medical corpsman with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He was a member and former chaplain of Marine Corps League Detachment 1325, Sharpsburg.

In 1969, Atlanta Archbishop Thomas Donnellan asked Father Frank Ruff to explore establishment of the permanent diaconate. For the next several years, priests and other church leaders pondered the role that deacons would play in the life of the church of Atlanta.

In 1977, the first deacons, Deacon Zaworski and the late Deacon Charles Moore, completed their formation and were ordained March 19 at the Cathedral of Christ the King. By 2018, the number of deacons serving in Atlanta numbered more than 250.

Deacon Zaworski served at several parishes beginning  at St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro. In 1980, he began full-time jail ministry as the first chaplain at the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department. He was reassigned to St. Philip Benizi in 1984.

In 1987, Deacon Zaworski helped to begin the new mission of St. Gabriel in Fayetteville. From 1989-95, he served as a pastoral assistant at Fort McPherson until a lack of funds there prompted his transfer to Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta. He stayed there until 1999, and then began working as a chaplain at Fayette Community Hospital in Fayetteville. In 1999, he was reassigned to St. Gabriel.

He was actively involved as both a layperson and deacon with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Cursillo movement and the charismatic renewal movement.

In 2002, Deacon Zaworski celebrated 25 years as a permanent deacon, the first silver jubilarian in the history of the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate program.

Then-Archbishop John F. Donoghue celebrated the jubilee Mass at St. Gabriel Church, offering his gratitude for the jubilarian and all the deacons. The archbishop spoke of the first deacon of the church, St. Stephen, who suffered martyrdom for speaking the truth of Jesus.

The story of St. Stephen applied very well to Deacon Zaworski, Archbishop Donoghue said.

“He preaches what he believes is truth, day in and day out…not just in what he says, but in the way he lives his life,” said the archbishop.

In an interview with The Georgia Bulletin, Zaworski acknowledged it had been a challenging path to the diaconate as both the clergy and laity sought to understand the role of deacons, particularly married deacons.

“Though it has been a roller coaster ride, it has all been worth it because I am doing what God wanted me to do,” said Deacon Zaworski at the jubilee. 

The deacon retired from active ministry in 2003 but maintained his faculties to serve.

He is survived by his sons, Stan (Janis) Zaworski and Chris (Connie) Zaworski; his five grandchildren: Tammy, CJ, Lauren, Rachel and Eryn; and 12 great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2022, at Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City. Burial will follow in Jonesboro at Sherwood Memorial Park.