U.S. Army chaplain Fr. Tim Vakoc, who was severely injured five years ago by a roadside bomb in Iraq while returning from saying Mass with troops in Mosul, died on Sunday at the age of 49.
The attack destroyed his eye and caused severe brain damage, according to his CaringBridge website. He was hospitalized for four months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and in October 2004 was transferred in a near coma state to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis.
After many surgeries and infections, he gradually began to recognize friends and family again. He also began to communicate through squeezing his hand or slightly smiling. In the fall of 2006 he spoke for the first time since his injury.
A native of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, Fr. Vakoc served as a parish priest before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996. He also served in Germany and Bosnia, eventually attaining the rank of Major.
Before his injury, in a letter to his sister Fr. Vakoc said “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.”
One of the chaplain’s superior officers, Lt. Col. Dennis Thompson of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion stationed in Mosul, told the National Catholic Register that the priest’s death in the line of service showed that he “never let the dangers of our battlefield prevent him from serving.”
He reported that Fr. Vakoc’s attempts to provide Mass to all the soldiers in the Stryker Brigade were difficult as its soldiers were spread across an area “the size of Connecticut” and in hostile territory. “None of this prevented Father Tim from being there for the soldier,” Lt. Col. Thompson told the National Catholic Register.
Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis John Nienstedt addressed Fr. Vakoc’s death in a statement, saying: “A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America’s fighting men and women.”
According to an announcement on CaringBridge.org, Fr. Vakoc’s funeral Mass will be celebrated on June 26 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.