Saturday, June 27, 2009

"The Center of God's Will"

Injured in Iraq on the 12th anniversary of his ordination and fallen at home last week, a full cathedral of 1,200 mourned Fr Tim Vakoc yesterday in St Paul as the first military chaplain to die from war wounds since Vietnam was laid to rest:
During the homily, Father Stan Mader shared some lighthearted memories and serious thoughts about his friend and fellow seminarian — both were ordained in 1992.

He described Father Vakoc as a “collector of gadgets and electronics,” who stored his stuff at Father Mader’s rectory for a while.

“He was the most unmilitary and unpriestlike man I met in the seminary,” he said. But Father Vakoc was drawn to adventure and travel and service to the soldiers.

“Tim went to Iraq, not for war, but to provide the possibility of peace” to those he served, Father Mader said.

When Father Vakoc was injured, Father Mader said the priest died to many things, but rose to a new life and a ministry of prayer, of intercession, of listening for caregivers.

But now, Father Mader said, it was “time to let Tim go” from the bed that had been described as his altar of sacrifice.

“The greatest place for him to be is at the center of God’s will, and that is where he is now,” Father Mader said.

Father Vakoc’s older brother, Jeff Vakoc, hopes his brother is remembered as a priest who gave his life serving Christians and the troops.

“He firmly believed in what he was doing as an active duty chaplain in the army,” he said....

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.”
In comments to the Twin Cities' Star-Tribune, Auxiliary Bishop-elect Lee Piché said he was "struck by how Vakoc managed to affect so many people and retain his priestly devotion [despite] his injuries."

Just a few weeks ago, concelebrating Mass with Vakoc at his nursing home, finding the chaplain vested in his stole "was a very powerful sign of him still wanting to be a priest," Piché said.

"Even though he was incapacitated physically, he was still at heart a priest."

The longtime seminary professor will be ordained to the episcopacy on Monday. Meanwhile, the week's most prominent passing was mourned in Minneapolis with a marathon of the "King of Pop's" greatest hits... played on carillon bells.

PHOTO: Jim Gehrz/Minneapolis Star-Tribune