Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By

6/26/2009 (5 years ago)

Catholics in the Military (www.catholicmil.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=185)

He chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women.

(Father Vakoc: Heroic Virtue lived in a true Priest of Christ)'When people saw him, they became grateful for their own lives, no matter what they were experiencing.His ministry didn't end at the time of his injury; it just changed.'

(Father Vakoc: Heroic Virtue lived in a true Priest of Christ)'When people saw him, they became grateful for their own lives, no matter what they were experiencing.His ministry didn't end at the time of his injury; it just changed.'

Highlights

By

Catholics in the Military (www.catholicmil.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=185)

6/26/2009 (5 years ago)

Published in U.S.


ST. PAUL (Catholics in the Military) - Father Vakoc, a Minnesota Army chaplain who was seriously injured in Iraq in 2004, died June 20. No cause of death was given. Family and friends were with him when he died, according to his CaringBridge Web site.

Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 25, at Gearty-Delmore Funeral Chapel, 15800 37th Ave. N., in Plymouth. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Friday, June 26, at the Cathedral of St Paul. Interment will be at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, 7601 34th Ave South, Minneapolis.

Father Vakoc, 49, had been living at the St. Therese of New Hope nursing facility in New Hope. He lost an eye and sustained brain damage when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee on May 29, 2004, as he was returning to his barracks after celebrating Mass for U.S. soldiers.

In recent years, Father Vakoc (pronounced VAH-kitch) had been showing signs of physical and cognitive improvement.

A June 11 entry on Father Vakoc's CaringBridge site noted that he participated with family and friends in a special Mass June 10 celebrating the 17th anniversary of his ordination, five years of post-accident life and appreciation for all those who were contributing to his care.

‘A man of peace'

"All of us in this Catholic archdiocese are grieving with the family of Father Vakoc," Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a statement. "We are joined in that grieving, to be sure, by the men and woman whom he served as chaplain in Iraq and those who witnessed his extraordinary courage and faith at Walter Reed Hospital and here at our Veterans' Hospital."

Calling Father Vakoc "a man of peace," Archbishop Nienstedt said "he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women. He has been an inspiration to us all and we will miss him.

"We ask everyone to remember him in prayer," he added.

Praying with soldiers

Father Vakoc was born Henry Timothy Vakoc Jan. 8, 1960, and attended Our Lady of the Lake in Mound. He graduated from Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park in 1978 and then attended St. Cloud State University. Prior to entering seminary, he worked with college students and university officials as the regional president of Tau Kappa Epsilon international fraternity. He was an avid traveler.

After his ordination in 1992, he served as an associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony and St. John Neumann in Eagan from 1993 to 1996 before joining the Army.

His military service took him to Germany, Bosnia and Korea. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., when he was called up for active duty in Iraq in 2003. He was the first Army chaplain to be seriously injured in Iraq.

According to a National Catholic Register story printed just a month before his own accident, Father Vakoc flew to a combat surgical hospital to be with two soldiers who had just been injured in a roadside bombing in which two others had been killed. One died before he reached the hospital.

He prayed for the soldiers who died and with the injured soldier, and then prayed with the other soldiers in the convoy who were not injured, but "in the state of shock."

Father Vakoc's ministry - which earned him the rank "major" - also included presiding at a memorial service for a young man killed in a roadside explosion, who just days before had talked about faith with Father Vakoc and read at Mass.

"The bottom line in helping these soldiers through the grieving process is to be present to them and walk with them," Father Vakoc told the Register in an e-mail. "I prayed with the soldiers who died. I brought the sacraments of the church and the light and love of Christ into the darkness of the situations."

‘Intentional presence'

Father Vakoc called his ministry one of "intentional presence," and it included counseling soldiers, ministering to Catholics and soldiers of all faiths, escorting the bodies of fallen soldiers, speaking with soldiers' family members and keeping up morale.

"I live with the soldiers, work with them, eat with them, care for them, listen to them, counsel them," Father Vakoc told the Register. "The soldiers know if you are real and genuinely care or not. The soldiers see me out there with them and that makes a difference."

The day Father Vakoc was injured in Mosul, Iraq, the two soldiers traveling with him were not harmed and administered first aid to him, Jeff Vakoc told The Catholic Spirit in June 2004.

"They couldn't wait for the medics or they would have lost him, so they drove him back on two flat tires to the base, and he was flown to Baghdad from there." Father Vakoc underwent surgery to relieve brain swelling at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, before being flown to Washington, D.C. He eventually went into the care of the Veterans' Hospital and St. Therese of New Hope nursing facility.

‘A reason he's alive'

The date of his injuries was also the 12th anniversary of his priesthood. Just days after Father Vakoc was injured, Jeff told The Catholic Spirit that he felt God put his brother in Iraq, and he was doing what he was supposed to do there.

"There's got to be a reason he's alive," he said. "I've got to believe there's a purpose." He still believes that, he told The Catholic Spirit June 22.

"He just plain old inspired a lot of people towards the Lord," he said. "There are a lot of people who were very needy spiritually, and just his example and fortitude and strength really played on that for a lot of people and helped them along."

Jeff's own faith grew during the five years after his brother's injury, he said. "I think it has brought me closer to the Lord. I've seen things that are miracles - little things, but I think that's how miracles come. It's changed the entire family."

It is a tremendous feeling to know people are praying for him and his family, Jeff said. "We're going to miss him. He was a part of our lives," he said.

Jeff visited his brother every week as his guardian and conservator, he said. Members of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace also visited and prayed regularly with Father Vakoc, who followed along in a prayer book and mouthed the words.

The Franciscan Brothers of Peace were friends with Father Vakoc's sister, Anita Brand, at the time of his injury, said Brother Paul O'Donnell. Because of his pro-life work, Brother Paul consulted on Father Vakoc's medical care shortly after the accident. After his condition stabilized, the brothers continued to visit him regularly to pray and help with exercises.

Those who knew Father Vakoc before his accident described him as having a sense of humor and an inclination to reach out to others. Those qualities were still evident after his injuries, Brother Paul said, describing how he would joke with the brothers.

Along with his family, the brothers advocated on Father Vakoc's behalf to continue to receive physical therapy, Brother Paul said.

"His greatest gift is that he accepted the cross that God gave him, and for any one of us, it would be a tremendous hardship, but he accepted it," he said. "He obviously had a strong, strong will to live."

Father Vakoc taught others about the value and sacredness of life, Brother Paul added. "We can learn from Father Tim to embrace the crosses that come our way," he said. "They may not be the end of our life - they may be a new beginning."

Members of Franciscan Brothers of Peace spent time with Father Vakoc just a few days before his death, and three of them were present at his bedside when he died.

A changed ministry

The brothers feel as if they have lost a very close friend, Brother Paul said. He recalled Father Vakoc placing his hand on the brothers' heads and blessing them. They asked him to pray for them, too.

"When people saw him, they became grateful for their own lives, no matter what they were experiencing," he said. "His ministry didn't end at the time of his injury; it just changed."

Father Vakoc received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He also received the 2007 Distinguished Alumnus Award from St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and the Combat Action Badge in 2007, which is awarded to soldiers actively engaged in a hostile action by the enemy in a combat zone or imminent danger area.

Jeff is very proud of his brother, he said. "We all wished he had been around more, but he was doing what he considered his calling," he said.

While stationed in Bosnia, Father Vakoc told his sister, "The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be."

Catholic Spirit staff members and the National Catholic Register contributed to this story. Used with permission of the author Maria Wiering and TheCatholicSpirit.com, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

---

CatholicMil.org serves those who serve, offering U.S. Armed Forces personnel spiritual truths of military life in light of the Catholic Faith.



Comments


More U.S.

REVENGE KILLING: Two New York City policemen gunned down in cold blood - revenge believed to be motive Watch

Image of Officers Liu and Ramos were working overtime as part of an anti-terrorism drill in Bedford-Stuyvesant before 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon when they were shot point-blank in the head by lone gunman 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later shot and killed himself.

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

Without apparent rhyme or reason - NYPD Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were gunned down in cold blood as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. "No warning, no provocation - they were quite simply assassinated, targeted for their ... continue reading


The Assassination of Two Police Officers in New York Reveals a City at a Crossroads Watch

Image of One of the officers, Rafael Ramos, was 40 years old, happily married and leaves behind his wife and two sons. The other officer, Wenjin Liu, was 32 years old and married only two months.

By Keith A. Fournier

The flames that fueled this lunacy were fanned by a Mayor who repeatedly and irresponsibly touted a racial narrative which attributed racial bias to the Police as he led this City through recent altercations between some police officers and some citizens. It was ... continue reading


The Pope, the Pets, the Paparazzi and the Propaganda Media

Image of Pope Francis pets a dog

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The passing on of this complete fabrication, as well as the embellishment which accompanied it, were not simply a matter of the secular press failing to comprehend this Pope. In fact, religious news sources, both Catholic and Protestant, jumped in. This all ... continue reading


A journey to the land of the free: Part One -- Beaten and scared young children flee violence and turn to the United States for hope Watch

Image of Many young immigrants have no more fight in them when they decide to cross the border, they're only trying to survive.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Blistered feet and filthy, blood-stained skin is the forlorn image of immigrants preparing to cross the border. With hopeful hearts and anxious minds, immigrants, of all ages, assemble to make the leap into their promise land. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Most ... continue reading


Pope Francis, the real architect behind the U.S.-Cuban thaw Watch

Image of With personal appeals, letters, and hosted meetings, the Vatican and Pope Francis can accurately be called the masterminds behind the recent thaw between the U.S. and Cuba.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba took the world by surprise, but perhaps one man was not as shocked as the rest. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A senior official with the White House reported that Pope Francis made personal appeals to both President ... continue reading


Looking forward to your tax refund this year? Don't hold your breath. The IRS suffers after extreme budget cuts. Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Heavily stricken with budget cuts and new tax-related laws, the IRS considers implementing its own temporary shutdown. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Congress has recently cut the IRS budget by $346 million. The IRS' budget has been cut a total of $1 billion since ... continue reading


OBAMACARE DOES NOT WORK! Vermont gives up free healthcare plan as too expensive Watch

Image of Vermont's governor announced that a planned universal healthcare program for the state has been cancelled because the massive tax hikes would devastate the state's economy.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Peter Shumlin, the governor of Vermont, announced that he was canceling his longtime dream to create a single-payer health care system for his state. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The announcement came on December 17, citing problems with paying for the Green ... continue reading


The disgusting new fact of American life: More than 46 million Americans on food stamps for 37 straight month Watch

Image of Obama has been in office for about 70 months, and 37 of those months have seen the most amount of Americans on food stamps, ever!

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It is self-evident that President Obama continues to undermine the abilities of the lower class, enforcing government-reliance on those who can least afford it. The number of Americans on food stamps under Obama has continued along its record breaking path, as, ... continue reading


Faith in the United States' race relations hits a strikingly low point after no indictment verdicts Watch

Image of 57 percent of American's say race relations in the United States are bad, according to the latest NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Those are the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, a man who fought long and hard for a better today. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A land where discrimination no longer prevails is a reality that seems no ... continue reading


Why is he so upset? Because of the secret Republican time bomb in the government funding bill Watch

Image of The federal government has funding through the 2015 fiscal year, but Republicans will have many opportunities to fight the president's programs in that time.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Senate has approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed to fund nearly the whole of the federal government through the 2015 fiscal year, ending weeks of drama in Congress and relieving doubts that the government might be shut down again while Democrats and ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Samuel 1:24-28
24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, ... Read More

Psalm, First Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8
1 Hannah then prayed as follows: My heart exults in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Chaeromon
December 22: Bishop of Nilopolis, in Egypt. When the persecution was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter