On April 26, 2007, The Saint Paul Seminary conferred its 13th Annual Distinguished Alumni Award upon Father Henry Timothy Vakoc in recognition of his extraordinary service as an Army chaplain and his ongoing ministry through what Fr. Vakoc once referred to as "intentional presence."
Ordained in 1992, Fr. Vakoc became an Army chaplain in 1996 and was called up for active duty in Iraq in September 2003. In an e-mail interview the following spring, Fr. Vakoc indicated that his primary goal was to take an intentional presence to our troops.
He wrote, "I live with (soldiers), work with them, eat with them, care for them listen to them, counsel them . . . soldiers know if you are real and genuinely care or not."
On May 29, 2004, the 12th anniversary of his ordination, Fr. Vakoc was seriously injured when the vehicle he was driving was struck by a roadside bomb. However, his ministry of intentional presence continues. Archbishop Harry Flynn presented Fr. Vakoc with the award and offered the following reflections on his remarkable ministry:
"I will always remember that Saturday in 2004. I received the call from
Archbishop O'Brien who told me of your injury, Tim. Immediately, my
mind raced back to an article that I had just read the day before - a
wonderful interview with you. In that interview you said something that
was so profound and so beautiful - you said that your presence as a
Catholic chaplain with our troops in Iraq was going to be an intentional
presence. And that very phrase took hold of my heart, because it is a
phrase that could and should be used every time at Mass . . . intentional
And then when I visited you at Walter Reed Hospital after you had returned
to the United States, I began to understand what that presence was all about. The nurses told me that they would go on breaks and sit in your room, simply to be strengthened by your presence, the presence of a priest who in offering
his all, had offered his all for those whom he was serving.
Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, writing on the mysteries of [suffering], oncludes strongly that it releases love. Tim, that is what your suffering has done - it has released an enormous amount of love among your family, your friends, hospital personnel, the Brothers of St. Francis, these seminarians, among so many, and God has been glorified."