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Many acts of faith: Faithful gather to honor Father Kapaun

Managing editor

Hundreds of the faithful traveled to Pilsen Nov. 11, for the sixth annual Catholic archdiocesan pilgrimage in honor of Father Emil Kapaun.

Kapaun was a U.S. Army chaplain during the Korean War. He died a hero in a prison war camp, and was a spiritual inspiration to prisoners and guards.

Because of his actions, a case is being made by the Wichita Catholic Diocese to have Kapaun canonized.

Many of those who attended Mass and the placing of a wreath at the Father Kapaun memorial Nov. 11, were there because they believe that Chaplain Kapaun was a special man.

There was 12-year-old Kyle Sutton from Topeka. His grandmother, Meg Grochowsky, had a vision of Father Kapaun before Kyle was born that Father Kapaun would be Kyle’s patron saint.

Kyle has had health problems since birth. He wanted the opportunity to shake the hand of Father Kapaun’s brother and sister-in-law, Eugene and Helen Kapaun of Bel Aire who attended Mass and ceremonies.

“Father Kapaun has helped me through hard times,” Kyle said to Eugene Kapaun.

People lined up to shake the Kapauns’ hands, wanting to be as close as possible to Father Kapaun’s family.

And then there were Drs. Sergio and Beatrice Canete of Las Vegas. They were at the veterans administration hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and heard about the pilgrimage.

“We asked people, ‘Where is Pilsen?’ Nobody could tell us,” Beatrice Canete said with a smile.

They did find their way to the rural Marion County community.

Canete served for 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel. She and her husband were drawn to the pilgrimage and pleased that they had come.

When it was their turn to visit with the Kapauns, they shook their hands, thanked them for being there, and expressed how important it is for Father Kapaun to be canonized.

Some wanted the Kapauns’ mailing address so they could write to the elderly couple. Others just wanted to thank them for coming to the event.

So, what was Father Kapaun like as a child? Was he destined to be a saint?

“No, not necessarily,” Eugene Kapaun said with a smile.

Emil Kapaun was like any other child — he had his good days and his bad days, Eugene Kapaun said.

“We’re excited that this is finally happening,” Helen Kapaun said. “We’ve been expecting it (sainthood) for many years.”

About Father Kapaun

Born April 20, 1916, to Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen, Kapaun graduated from Conception College in Conception, Mo., in June 1936 and ordained at Kendrick Theological Seminary, St. Louis, in June 1940.

He returned to Pilsen after ordination and assisted the parish priest until he was appointed parish pastor in December 1943.

Kapaun volunteered with the Army and was sent to India in April 1945. He was promoted to captain in 1946 and returned to the U.S.

He was appointed pastor of a church in Timken. Kapaun re-enlisted in the Army in 1948.

In July 1950, Kapaun’s unit was stationed in South Korea and he was captured by Chinese Communist forces in November 1950.

While captured, the priest administered to the dead and dying, performed baptisms, heard confessions, and celebrated Mass.

Despite personal physical suffering, Kapaun continued to attend to the sick and wounded. He died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951.

For the past six Veterans Days, Holy Family Parish — St. John Nepomucene Church, Pilsen — has been the site for the Catholic Archdiocese of military services to host these pilgrimages in Kapaun’s honor.

For the past several years, a case has been developing to name the heroic priest a saint.

The Roman Catholic Church’s process leading to canonization involves three major steps.

First is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues. After which the church gives him the title of “venerable.”

The second step is beatification, when he would be called “blessed.”

The third step is canonization or declaration of sainthood.

At various steps in the canonization process, evidence of miracles is presented to church authorities. In general, two miracles need to be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint.

Church authorities have interviewed individuals regarding possible miracles in Kapaun’s case.

Last modified Nov. 18, 2009

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