Earlier today in a ceremony at the White House Servant of God, Fr. Emil J. Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor for service “above and beyond” as an Army chaplain in Korea. Fr. Kapaun was a Roman Catholic priest who died serving the men of the United States Army in Korea. The full story of today's ceremony and brief excerpts from the life of Fr. Kapaun can be found HERE and HERE.
We at the seminary are very proud that Fr. Kapaun graduated from Kenrick seminary and was ordained on June 9, 1940. He is the first graduate of the seminary to ever receive the Medal of Honor, is the first graduate of the seminary to achieve the title Servant of God and is very likely to be the first graduate of the seminary to be canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
After ordination, Fr. Kapaun became an auxiliary chaplain at the Army base in Harington, Kansas which lasted for 18 months in 1943-44 and recommended for full chaplaincy on July 12, 1944. He served the remainder of World War II, until May 1946, in Burma and India. Subsequently, Father returned to the United States and returned to college in Washington DC. He was granted a Masters Degree in Education from the Catholic University of America in early 1948. He then returned to Kansas to serve in the Wichita diocese but still felt a calling to the military and after six months as a pastor, Bishop Carroll granted his request to return to the Army as a priest chaplain. He shipped out to Yokohama, Japan in January 1950 and on July 18, 1950 he landed at Po Hang Dong, Korea with the First Cavalry Division of the United States Army.
On November 2, 1950 Fr. Kapaun was captured by the North Korean army and its Chinese allies and became a prisoner of war. He was captured because, although he had a chance to escape, he refused to leave “his men”. During his time in the POW camp, Fr. Kapaun tended to the physical and spiritual needs of the prisoners keeping their morale up, washing their clothes, saying Mass, treating them medically and stealing food for them. His words and works, his mild manner and soft speech gave all the men Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist, faith to persevere through the endless indoctrination sessions and tortures. His caring example gave them the faith to serve one another.
After suffering from a clot in his leg and an infection in his eye, he finally died of malnutrition, starvation and pneumonia in May 1951. It is assumed the Fr. Kapaun’s remains lie in a common unmarked grave close to the hospital of the POW camp in Pyoktong, North Korea near the Yalu River. Fr. Kapaun died at the age of 35, ordained 11 years as a priest.
During his time in the Army Fr. Kapaun received among other awards the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, and as of today The United States Medal of Honor.
It is with great honor that I write this post regarding Father Emil Kapaun. It is awe-inspiring to know that I walk the same halls as he did 73 years ago. So often we think of Saints as persons who achieve the unattainable. We think “we could never do that”. Fr. Kapaun is another example that this thinking is false. We are all called to holiness. We are all called to become saints. Let us thank God that He gives us such beautiful examples of His mercy and goodness as he gave us in the person of Father Emil Kapaun.
If you would like to know the full story of Fr. Kapaun click HERE. Let us follow the example that Fr. Kapaun has given us. Let us pray for the continued progress toward his canonization and look forward to the day when we no longer call him Fr. Kapaun but St. Kapaun.
Here is a prayer given to us by his diocese to pray for his intercession:
Father Emil Kapaun gave glory to God by following his call to the priesthood and thus serving the people of Kansas and those in the military. Father Kapaun, I ask your intercession not only for these needs which I mentioned now… But that I too may follow your example of service to God and my neighbor. For the gifts of courage in battle and perseverance of faith, we give you thanks O Lord.
Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be.
Father Kapaun Guild
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Wichita, Kansas 67202
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