Local priest featured in memorial calendar

| Kathryn Elliott | December 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

A priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who served as a U.S. Army Chaplain in Iraq will be featured in the 2012 edition of a “Minnesota Fallen Heroes Remembered” calendar.

Each month of the calendar honors the memory of a Minnesota service member. The calendar’s “May” page features the story and photos of the late Father Timothy Vakoc.

Now in its third year, the calendar was started by Patricia Boyd, a St. Paul resident who began visiting the grave of Tom Burnett Jr. at Fort Snelling National Cemetery following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Burnett was among the heroes who attempted to foil the hijacking of Flight 93 before it crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Boyd’s few moments of prayer turned into hour-long stints when she noticed the nearby graves of military members who had recently died in the service, and she began visiting those, too.

Then Boyd started meeting service members’ mothers while they were visiting their sons’ graves.

“They always were worried about people forgetting their sons — what they did. I knew at that moment I had to do something,” Boyd recounted. The calendars have been a tribute ever since, she said.

“It helps with their heartache to know that other people are thinking about their sons.”

Called to service

Phyllis Vakoc, mother of Father Vakoc, recently received a copy of the calendar. She’s been trying to decide where to place it in her living room at St. Therese of New Hope Residence so she can see it every day.  It’s a “funny feeling” to look at his face — both wonderful and very hard, Phyllis Vakoc said.

“He’s alive when I look at his picture on the cover here — and you know he’s not,” she said.

Father Vakoc was born in Robbinsdale and attended Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park. After college, he felt called to the seminary and the priesthood.

He joined the Army Reserves Chaplain program and eventually was called to active duty.  First, he was stationed in Germany, ministering to the soldiers while sharing life with them.  He was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

While Father Vakoc was returning from a service at a forward operating base, a roadside bomb hit the Humvee he was in, causing massive head trauma. For five years after his injury, Father Vakoc struggled through infections and therapies, inspiring and blessing family, friends and strangers from his hospital bed.

He died unexpectedly in June 2009.

How to orderFor more information about the calendars, call Patricia Boyd at (651) 699-6536 or email her at ed.pat@comcast.net.

The calendars can be ordered through PAYPAL at http://militaryheroesfoundation.org. They are also sold at Bobby and Steve’s AutoWorld, the St. Paul and Eden Prairie Harley Davidson stores and Indian Motorcycle in St. Paul.

For a recent count of Minnesota service members who have given their lives, visit The Military Salute Project web site.

Prayer aid

Linda Louie, a close friend of the Vakoc  family, said she volunteered to sell 150 of the calendars to help raise money for the Bryan McDonough Military Heroes Foundation.

“When you see these pictures, you get a feel for who he really was,” said Louie, a parishioner at Epiphany in Coon Rapids. “If Father Tim was here, we’d laugh and call him a ‘calendar pin-up boy.’ He was the kind of guy you could do that to.”

Louie said the calendars can also be a way to support fallen soldiers and their families in prayer — 365 days a year.

At a time when many Americans are disconnected from thoughts of war, this is a way to “get to know” soldiers who have surrendered their lives.

Fallen soldiers’ families gather to share stories

Luke Spehar performs one of the songs he wrote at an event Dec. 12 at Mancini’s Restaurant in St. Paul honoring families that have lost a loved one during or as a result of military service. Spehar’s brother, Nicholas, a Navy Seal, died in a helicopter crash in August and Luke sang his brother’s favorite song at his funeral at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Families of fallen service members met Monday at Mancini’s restaurant in St. Paul to visit and tell stories about their loved ones. Many of the attendees have been or will be featured in the “Remembered” calendar.

Among those who attended were two brothers of Navy Seal Nicholas Spehar, a St. Paul native who died in an August helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Luke Spehar, a recent University of St. Thomas graduate and musician, performed several songs for the grieving families. He had sung two of his self-composed songs, “Citadel” and “The Champion,” before thousands of people at a West Coast memorial event for the Navy Seals.

“My Lord has pulled me through,” he sang softly. “I know he can pull you, too.”

While he sang, family members gripped each others’ hands and seemed to take solace in the music.

“This is the family you step into with something like this,” Spehar said, before his set began. “There’s no place I’d rather be.”

At the funeral service for Nick Spehar held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Luke sang his song “My Cross,” which held personal meaning for his younger brother. Nick had the song lyrics tattooed up and down his arm, Luke said. He said he wouldn’t be ready to sing it again publicly any time soon.

Luke Spehar performs at local churches and Universities. To contact him or to purchase a CD, visit his web site, http://www.lukespehar.com


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