Soldiers, chaplains, Bishop Malooly and hundreds of others gathered April 3 at the Chase Center in Wilmington to honor longtime Delaware National Guard state adjutant general Frank Vavala with the Msgr. Thomas Reese Award at the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Wilmington annual tribute dinner.
Vavala joined the Delaware National Guard in 1965, two years after his graduation from Salesianum School, and over the next half century, his rank rose, as did the scope of his public service. By the time he retired in 2017, Vavala had reached the rank of major general and was the state adjutant general for 18 years.
“It is well-deserved and you have been a great servant to the diocese and our state,” Bishop Malooly said during remarks at the dinner.
The bishop said he was impressed upon his arrival to the diocese more than 10 years ago at the large number of people active in the service. He said he attributes that to Vavala.
Among those servants is Father John Mink, pastor at St. Ann’s in Wilmington, who retired last year after 27 years of military service in the Delaware National Guard.
“He embedded the Delaware National Guard into every aspect of our state,” Father Mink said. “It’s refreshing and uncommon to see someone live their Catholic faith publicly and unapologetically.”
Msgr. Reese was a community activist and the longtime director of Catholic Social Services, the forerunner of Catholic Charities.
Vavala expressed humility in receiving the award.
“When I was informed, I thought there was mistake,” he said. “I’m in awe when I look at past winners and the legacy of Monsignor Reese. This award means so much to me. Family, faith and country.
“We’re here not to celebrate me, but the extraordinary works of Catholic Charities. This is all about those who care for those in need.”
Vavala thanked his wife, Jane, and family and his many friends from Elsmere – “the E-town crew” – where his family lived for many years.