Father John J. Mink, pastor of St. Ann’s Parish in Wilmington, recently retired after 27 years of military service in the Delaware National Guard. The first 14 were in the Army National Guard and the last 13 in the Air National Guard at the New Castle County airport, a mere three minutes from his assignment at the time as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Wilmington Manor.
The close proximity allowed him to respond to deployments and crises involving airmen and their families quickly.
“It was a privilege to serve and very rewarding,” Father Mink said. “Many of my own parishioners or their family members were in the Guard, and I was able to support them from the beginning of the Gulf War to the present.”
Father Mink joined the guard at the urging of then state chaplain and now retired chaplain Brig. Gen. Father Daniel Gerres, who was pastor of St. John the Beloved and Father Mink’s seminarian supervisor. He was a persistent recruiter, taking Father Mink throughout the state to view the armories and the duties of a chaplain.
He was sworn in on Nov. 1, 1990, by Father Gerres at the state guard headquarters “between my two All Saints Holy Day Masses” since he was assigned to nearby St. John the Beloved.
Father Mink was deployed overseas during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Father Mink served in Doha, Qatar, at the Al Udeid base, the hub for all coalition forces during the Iraq War.
“It was a 24/7 operation. I was assigned to a chaplain team that included a rabbi as well as a Royal Air Force priest from Scotland and, later, one from England. Being aware that I was less than 100 miles from the Iranian border made a serious impression,” he said.
“I also had the opportunity to celebrate Mass and a First Communion for children of expatriates who worked in Doha at the local parish. I even met a family originally from St. John the Beloved Parish.”
Father Mink was appointed “wing chaplain” or senior air chaplain at the base in 2007. In 2015 he was appointed by now retired Adjutant Gen. Frank Vavala to be the state chaplain, a position once held by his mentor, Father Gerres. Father Mink was reappointed again this past February by the new adjutant general, Major Gen. Carol Timmons.
He was responsible for commanding, training, and supporting the 16-member Joint Army and Air Guard Chaplain Corps, who in turn give support to soldiers, airmen and their families and assist local authorities in the event of a domestic incident.
The priest would have liked to have kept going until his mandatory retirement date next December, but the Air Force had other plans. In 2012, shortly after his transfer to St. Ann’s, Father Mink found that he had a rare, non-hereditary blood disease similar to multiple myeloma, light chain deposition disorder.
The disease ultimately destroyed both kidneys. For almost four years Father Mink has been on dialysis three times a week at St. Francis Hospital.
He celebrates the 6:30 morning Mass at St. Ann’s, then rushes to his 7 a.m. appointment. After the five-hour treatment he arrives back at the parish to greet the students at lunch, conduct parish business and catch a recovery rest, then attends evening parish appointments.
“My parishioners are very supportive, and my students are very caring. If I miss my Tuesday classroom visits they send out the posse!” he joked.
Father Mink is waiting for a transplant. While on dialysis, he continues all of his parish duties, and did both positions in the National Guard while completing over 500 continuous dialysis treatments since November 2013. The Air Force, however, decided that since he could no longer deploy overseas, it was time to retire.
“I was disappointed, but I respect the Air Force’s decision,” he said. “There are obviously some austere assignments for which I could not deploy on dialysis.”
He remembers fondly his time at the U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, ministering to ICU patients from the Iraq war.
“Those injured service members were true heroes, uncomplaining men, thanking others for taking care of them. These twenty-somethings were courageous and inspiring,” he said.
Father Mink was also assigned to support the Dover Air Force Base Port Mortuary, another sobering assignment.
“Seeing grieving families with the most intense pain of losing a son or daughter was indescribable,” he said.
Father Mink will be serving as an official statutory volunteer chaplain, doing many of the family support and chaplain duties he did while in uniform. The Guard honored him on Aug. 5, one week after his official retirement, with an elaborate ceremony that included a promotion to the state rank of full colonel, along with awards and tributes. More than 150 people were in attendance.
He will continue celebrate Mass one Sunday each month on the base, as well as keep counseling hours once a week at the Guard headquarters as a volunteer as his schedule permits.
“I appreciate the support I received from my leadership and my larger Guard family. The priest chaplain has a position of trust in the military and provides a great opportunity for evangelization as well as giving a confidential listening ear to service members of other faiths or no particular faith.”
And while no longer wearing his military uniform except on special occasions, Father Mink remains in service to the Delaware State Police as chaplain with the rank of captain, a position he has held since 1995.
He also shares 15 hours a week with 16 dialysis partners.
“They are heroic, uncomplaining people from 30 to 90 years of age. We have good days and bad days together and try to share as many laughs as possible,” he said.
That experience too provides an opportunity for some evangelization.
“The staff and patients know I pray a morning rosary there so they often ask if their intentions can be included. It’s certainly a different way to do priestly ministry but I have to say it has yielded many blessings,” he said.
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Father Mink noted that 121,678 people in the U.S. are awaiting an organ for transplant, and nearly 101,000 of those are for a kidney. The average wait time is 3.6 years.
For more information on organ donation go to: www.christianacare.org/ kidneytransplant and click on the blue box, “interested in living donation?” Complete an online form to see if you qualify to be a donor or call (302) 623-3866.