On her first visit to see the priest, she wept. "He didn't wake up, he didn't move, he didn't do anything," she said. She watched him, nearly lifeless, in his hospital bed. "I felt the Holy Spirit in the room," she said later.
As she prepared to go, a nurse came in and said, "Father Tim, your guest is going to leave." Only then, Louie said, did she see a finger twitch on his left hand.
She began visiting weekly, and became part of his growing inner circle.
So many people wanted to see him that a volunteer began printing weekly calendars, blocking out his time hour by hour.
Brother Conrad and other members of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul were among the regulars. They had spent years caring for their cofounder, Brother Michael Gaworski, after an illness left him brain-damaged and quadriplegic. Now, they took Father Tim to mass at the hospital chapel, and gathered at his bedside Thursday evenings to sing night prayers.
One day, Mary Makowski, a friend of Brother Conrad's, asked if she could go with him. She, too, said she couldn't stop thinking about Father Tim and his tragedy.
During her first visit, "He held my hand, squeezed it with his left hand. And that was it," she said. "Basically, I was hooked." She started visiting every week to talk and pray.
Last spring, Makowski quit her job as a teacher in Deephaven to spend more time at his side. She is hard pressed to explain why, though she is serene that she is doing the right thing. "There is something about his presence," she said. "This is where I needed to be. Perhaps, this is where God wanted me to be."
Celebrating tiny victories
By spring of 2005, Father Tim seemed to be stirring back to life. He could give a thumbs-up and move his toes on request, according to his CaringBridge site. A visitor who came to read scriptures "looked up and saw one tear coming from Father Tim's eye," said an entry on April 7, 2005.
He could sit up in a wheelchair for an hour at a time, rotate his left wrist, stretch his fingers. At first, the doctors said the movements were probably reflexes. But after closer evaluation, they agreed that he was making progress, and they started therapy. "These small, yet significant, victories represent the touch of God's hand," said an entry on his CaringBridge site.
His brother, Jeff Vakoc, watched cautiously. He suspected some people were reading too much into these small achievements.
The bomb, he knew, had damaged multiple lobes of his brother's brain, including those that control speech and higher thinking. Jeff Vakoc was well aware that there could be insurmountable hurdles. "I tend to be a little more jaded and guarded," he explained. "I've got to stay real. That's my job."
In September 2005, Father Tim awakened to a roomful of family and friends. He had just had surgery, and it had gone well. Linda Louie stopped by to drop off cookies for the family, and they invited her into his room.
Someone handed Father Tim a gold case containing two communion wafers and asked what he wanted to do with them.
With his left hand, he pointed toward a longtime friend, Brenda Simmons. And then his hand moved, unsteadily, in Louie's direction and stopped.
Louie protested. Surely he meant one of the family. But his sister, Anita, said: "I think it's you, Linda." Louie approached his bedside and took the wafer from his hand. "I feel so honored," she said.
Said one of the other visitors: "Tim called you into his life for a reason."