Much-loved army chaplain dies

 Mgr Kevin Vasey OBE QHC VG, principal Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Army has died. He was just 53. Mgr Vasey had been Principal Catholic Chaplain from 1997, having served as a chaplain since 1976. He was a commanding presence in his physical size, craftsmanship with words, and leadership of his chaplains. In 1988, the then Fr Vasey went to Army Headquarters in Northern Ireland as Senior Chaplain, where he was awarded an operational OBE for his work establishing links in the nationalist community which, with the later work of many others, paid future dividends in the peace process. In rather uncharacteristic modesty, he would often declaim the award by attributing it to escorting the wife of the GOC (General Officer Commanding) to the opera. He was further honoured by the Queen in 1999, when he was appointed an Honorary Chaplain, the first time that this honour had been given to a Catholic priest in the British army. Kevin Vasey was born in Hartlepool in 1949, the third child of a fireman. He was educated at St Mary's College, Middlesbrough, and St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw, nr Durham, where he studied for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1973 for the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, and worked as an assistant priest at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne, until 1979. He was always proud of his roots, and conscious both of the debt he owed to the strong Catholic traditions in the North, and of the fine military chaplains produced by his seminary and his diocese. In 1976 he was appointed chaplain to 210 (N) General Hospital RAMC (V), and transferred to the regular army in 1979. His service in the Royal Army Chaplains Department took him to Germany, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland as well as the UK, where his great capacity for friendship and ability to care for people won him many admirers and friends across the ranks and across the religious divide. In 1985, he became Catholic Chaplain to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and Staff Chaplain to the MOD Chaplains while that organisation lived at Bagshot Park. For many years afterwards, Fr Vasey continued to conduct marriages and baptisms for officers he had known as cadets. Following his time in Northern Ireland, Fr Vasey was given a series of senior appointments at HQ 1 (Br) Corps, and as Senior Chaplain in Germany, before returning to Aldershot in 1995 as Senior Chaplain HQ 4th Division. In 1996, Fr Vasey was nominated as Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain (Army), and made a Vicar General of the Diocese of HM Forces. In the same year, Pope John Paul II appointed him Prelate of the Papal Household with the title of Monsignor. He was a large man with a large heart, and many chaplains and soldiers, high and low, have reason to be grateful for his kindness, wisdom, and hospitality. He entertained generously, and thought nothing of waiting up until the small hours to welcome one of his chaplains returning from operations. His leadership was often inspired, and he clearly saw the need to build strong ecumenical relationships with colleagues, while maintaining the integrity of his own Church. He expected much of his chaplains, and passed on the praise in equal measure to the brickbats. A real craftsman with words, he could turn an occasion to the good by use of judicious phraseology. He could equally be acerbic if riled, famously telling a senior officer's wife, who commented that he was overweight, that her husband was over-promoted, but he would not be so rude as to tell him to his face. Unusually for his vocation, he did not see fault in clerical ambition in its right place, but sadly often worried about faults in himself that worried no-one else. Despite his many honours, his most precious prize was his priesthood with all its struggles, and it came as no surprise that he chose to be buried in his home town of Hartlepool, ever faithful to his beginnings. Commenting on the death of Mgr Kevin Vasey, Bishop Francis Walmsley, Bishop of HM Forces, said: "Mgr Vasey was very much a larger than life figure, with a larger than life personality. He was one of the best-loved Army Chaplains in my time as Bishop. His Catholic people loved him, and will all be devastated by the news of his death. He was an excellent priest - a very pastoral man who devoted his entire life to the service of the Catholics in the Armed Forces, and their families. Bishop Ambrose Griffiths, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, said: "Mgr Kevin Vasey spent almost all his time as a priest as a chaplain to the Army. His high standards and his great capacity for friendship made him a most effective chaplain. He was promoted to Senior Chaplain and then to Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Army, and he was both greatly respected and loved by the other chaplains. He was honoured by the Queen who appointed him an Honorary Chaplain, the first time that this honour has been given to a Roman Catholic priest in the British Army. His death is a sad blow both to the Army and still more to his diocese, to which he would have been returning in the near future. source: Catholic Media Service

Share this story