Father Emil Kapaun, Class of 1940

Kapaun Painting 
The Class of 2012 commissioned this painting of Fr. Kapaun from artist Cynthia Hitschler. The painting was presented to the seminary as a gift upon their graduation.
Biography

Fr. Emil Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas in 1916. He attended Kenrick Seminary from 1936 until 1940. Bishop Christian Winkelmann ordained Fr. Kapaun on June 9, 1940 as a priest of the Diocese of Wichita. After serving in the Pilsen area for a time, Fr. Kapaun joined the army as a military chaplain. In 1950, Fr. Kapaun was ordered to Korea where he was later captured and held in a prison camp near Pyoktong, North Korea. During his seven months in captivity, Fr. Kapaun ministered to his fellow POWs in ordinary and extraordinary ways. Fr. Kapaun developed a blood clot in his leg and died on May 23, 1951 at the prison camp.

Fr. Kapaun was known for his ordinary holiness and remembered for his humility, bravery, constancy, love, and kindness. He serves as an inspiration to the seminarians at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in their vocations.

The Father Emil Kapaun Student Center

Kapaun CenterOn April 11, 2013, Father John Horn, S.J., President-Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary announced that the new recreation center on the seminary campus would be named The Father Emil Kapaun Student Center. During the Faith for the Future Campaign renovations project, this former power plant building was completely retrofitted to create a recreation center for the seminarians. The building contains separate lounges for the Theology and College seminarians, a bookstore, and a large workout facility. The naming of the Kapaun Center recognizes the ordinary yet extraordinary holiness of one of the seminary's most distinguished alumni.

Reflections from the Seminary Community

Father John Horn, S.J., President-Rector

The life of Father Kapaun presents to us the face of Jesus. Having received in Word, having known day after day in faith that the Father has given him everything just like the Father gave Jesus everything. To taste that in faith. Then he did not ration the Spirit. He just poured his life out. Father Kapaun was noted for his ordinariness of just day after day pouring himself out dramatically in the camps visiting those who needed consolation and comfort.

Father David Skillman, Vice Rector for Cardinal Glennon College

Father Kapaun is a beautiful reminder to all of us of our universal reminder to our call to holiness. Ultimately, hopefully, all of us are striving for sanctity. Striving to live heroic lives of virtue as Father Kapaun did. So that one day we may be known as Servants of God.

Andrew Bina, Theology III - Wichita

We always talk about saints and put them up on a pedestal. And we think that sainthood is so far beyond us. But Father Kapaun disproves that. All these little actions and all these little moments of grace built up this man whose cause is in Rome considered for the sainthood. So that's what I take away - small things done faithfully can bring holiness to each one of us.

Curtis Hecker, Theology III - Wichita

While he was in the prison camp, Father Kapaun was known for his service. There were men in the camp with dysentery and could not control their bowels. He would take their soiled clothing, take them down to the river, break a hole in the ice and wash everything by hand in the frozen water - out of love... The way he spent his entire life with attention to detail and service to others is the most inspiring part of who Father Kapaun was and is. It is why I am so proud to be from the Diocese of Wichita and hold this man up as an example.

Deacon Andrew Walsh, Theology IV - Wichita

Father Kapaun was a model priest who served the people of God in Kansas and all across the world in the military, including his Communist captors. He was also a model Christian who forgave the very men who wanted to kill him. He was a model military officer and American and the government today is celebrating this accomplishment in his life. This is not the end of his story. In the last fifty years, people have looked to Father Kapaun as an example and for his intercession.

When Father Kapaun was going to his death, one of his fellow prisionors told him "I'm sorry, Father." Father Kapaun responded "Don't be sorry for me. I am going to be with Jesus Christ and that is what I have worked for all my life. I'm going where I've always wanted to go. And when I get up there, I'll say a prayer for you." This priest who died at the age of 35 in a far distant country promised to intercede for his fellow prisoners. He took this seriously and many other people have looked to Father Kapaun for his intercession.

Medal of Honor

On April 11, 2013, Father Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House.

Article from the St. Louis Review 4/11/2013

On the same day President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to famed Korean War chaplain Father Emil Kapaun, the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary community in Shrewsbury honored the life of their notable alumnus, a member of the Class of 1940.

Father Kapaun has been named "Servant of God" by the Church, and his cause for canonization was formally opened in 2008. He died in 1951 while in a Korean prisoner of war camp.

Father Dennis Skillman, vice rector for Cardinal Glennon College, noted that Father Kapaun gave his life in service to others, and "we are excited about the prospect that he could become our first saint-alumnus. It's a beautiful reminder to all of us that we have that universal call to holiness."

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Official Release from The White House Office of the Press Secretary 3/11/2013

On April 11, President Barack Obama will award Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.

Chaplain Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war from November 1-2, 1950.

When Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades.  When they found themselves surrounded by the enemy, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate.  Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded.  As hand-to-hand combat ensued, he continued to make rounds.  As enemy forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.  Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute a comrade, thus saving a life and inspiring all those present to remain and fight the enemy until captured. 

Chaplain Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun, and family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service and sacrifice.

Cause for Canonization

In 1993, Fr. Kapaun was named Servant of God by the Roman Catholic Church, the first step toward possible canonization. The Vatican is now examining two possible miracles involving Fr. Kapaun. He is also being considered for possible designation as a martyr.

Further Resources