Former army chaplain whose body returns to Kansas for canonization


After spending years in an unmarked grave, the body of Reverend Emil Kapaun returns home.

He returns to his family, his diocese and his state. Once again, Kapaun unites souls.

Born in 1916 in Pilsen, Emil Kapaun, candidate for canonization, was ordained a priest by Bishop Christian Winkelmann on June 9, 1940, at the Saint-Jean chapel on the campus of the former Collège du Sacré-Cœur (now Newman University) in Wichita. In 1944 he became a chaplain in the United States Army and served in World War II.

But it is Kapaun’s service in North Korea that is most remembered, often risking his life on the battlefield to save others. Eventually, he became a prisoner of war and, once again, acted selflessly to help those around him, boosting their faith and morale.

“I am inspired by his zeal and his priesthood, his courage and his willingness to do whatever is necessary, said Bishop Carl A. Kemme, of the Diocese of Wichita. “We believe that God brought about this in his providence.”

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Photos of Reverend Emil Joseph Kapaun are on display at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita.

Recently, Kapaun’s remains, which were kept in anonymous military graves in Hawaii, have been identified. This week, Kemme and others from Kansas traveled to Hawaii to bring home their fellow priest. Following a sending Mass at Honolulu Cathedral, Kapaun’s remains will be transported from the Pacific National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu to Wichita, where he will arrive on September 25.

Kapaun’s remains will go directly to his hometown parish of St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen for a private return. From Pilsen, he will be brought back to Wichita, to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where his remains will remain until the rosary, vigil, mass, procession and burial, from September 28.

“He was born in Kansas, he served this diocese, now he’s coming back to us,” said Kemme, who will preside over the rituals. “Father Kapaun made the supreme sacrifice in giving his life for others.”

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Kemme, also with all the other priests, will wear white robes to indicate the celebration and the resurrection. They will also be adorned in blue, for the Virgin Mary.

Kapaun, the most decorated chaplain of the American army, holder in particular of the Medal of Honor, because of the many miracles which are attributed to him, is a candidate for holiness in Rome.

“He was a heroic witness and a servant of humanity,” Kemme said. “We continue to look forward to his canonization process in the future.”

Lessons from the Father

A team from Simpson Construction completes the placement of the 5,400 pound grave inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that will serve as Reverend Emil Kapaun's final resting place when his remains return to Kansas later this month -this.  Medal of Honor recipient and Holiness candidate Kapaun died in a North Korean POW camp 70 years ago.  His remains were identified earlier this year and will be repatriated from Hawaii, where they are now.

Named after Kapaun, Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita is always aware of Kapaun, his humility and loyalty.

The two large common areas of the school house dozens of photographs, letters, medals, a red dress and the cross that a prisoner of war carved in commemoration of Kapaun.

“Reclaiming your namesake – that ends the story,” said Chris Bloomer, director of Kapaun M. Carmel. “It’s a way to honor him and celebrate his life.”

Bloomer said Kapaun’s return brings the revered priest back to the forefront of the minds of every student and staff member.

“We understand how important it is that we follow the virtues that he modeled for us,” Bloomer said. “He inspired those around him to face adversity and to live. As long as they have a connection with God, (he said) they will be able to overcome adversity.”

All the seniors of the parish school will attend mass. All other students can line up on Broadway, watching the Kapaun horse-drawn procession.

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Events in honor of Reverend Emil Kapaun

Night watch service at 7 p.m. on September 28, Hartman arena. Tickets required. Free event.

Christian Burial Mass at 10:30 a.m., September 29, Hartman Arena. Tickets required. Free event. The funeral can also be broadcast live.

The procession to the cathedral will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on September 29. After the Christian Burial Mass at the Hartman Arena, Father Kapaun’s remains will be transported by horse-drawn carriage from the Veterans Memorial Park to the Cathedral of the Immaculate. Conception, where it will rest. Blows and a salvo of 21 blows will be given.

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Participants can take the route starting at Central Avenue just east of Veterans Memorial Park and continuing east to Main Street. The last stretch of Main Street on Broadway will be reserved for students of the Diocese of Wichita.

Kapaun’s remains will be returned to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which will serve as his final resting place.

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