One Kansas Kid to Another...
... written by Sr. Mary Magdalene, OP
I first met Fr. Emil Kapaun in May of 2008. I had just arrived in Pilsen, KS for training week of Totus Tuus. The sky was purple and black, worse than I’ve ever seen it before or after. Big billowing clouds flying across the sky. Staring up, you could almost see the tornados forming. By 4PM it was so dark you could hardly see in front of you. I had visions of us dying out there in the middle of nowhere and weeks passing before anyone even noticed. Noting the seriousness of the situation, they gathered us all up in the parish center and told us to pray.
Thus my relationship with him was first established as peace ensued and we were all spared. As his cause was opened for canonization that year, he became the patron for all the teams. The more I learned about him, the more fascinated I was by this man’s life.
Father Kapaun, was born in Pilsen, Kansas on April 20, 1916 (Holy Thursday). He was the first Pilsen native ordained as a Priest for the Diocese of Wichita on June 9, 1940 and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944. He served in Massachusetts, Georgia, Burma, India, and California.
Separated from the service in 1946, he obtained his Master’s Degree from Catholic University of America, and re-entered the Army in 1948. This time he was sent to Texas and then Japan. In July of 1950 Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. Tirelessly ministering to his men, he racked up miles on his jeep, averaging 2000 miles a month.
Without regard for race, color or creed, Father Kapaun spent himself in heroic service to his fellow prisoners. So dangerously did he minister that even his smoking pipe was shot out of his mouth by a sniper’s bullet.
He took the time to write personal letters to the family of service men, assuring them the fallen soldiers had died in the presence of a priest with the consolation of the last rites.
On November 2 of that same year he was taken as a prisoner of war in North Korea. Check out this awesome video:
It tells the story of his capture. (Although I believe he says his name wrong, it's still really well done. I think it's "cape-n" not "ka-pon", yet both seem to be surfacing.) He would pray to St. Dismas (the good thief), then sneak out to steal food for the starving men. Using scrap metal, he would boil water to wash clothing, tend the wounded, bathe the ill, and purify the water.
To this there is testimony of men of all faiths. Ignoring his own ill health, he nursed the sick and wounded, until a blood clot in his leg prevented his daily rounds. Moved to a “hospital”, but denied medical assistance, his death soon followed on May 23, 1951. As a tribute to Fr. Emil Kapaun, POW Major Gerald Fink, a Jewish fighter pilot, carved a crucifix to be displayed in the camp. The crucifix is currently at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School in Wichita.
As I learned more about his personality and life story, I find compelling how many witnesses say in the later months of his life, he began to look like Jesus (whatever that may mean). So, as he was being more deeply transformed by charity to be Christ-like in action, some sort of physical manifestation took place.
Fr. Emil Kapaun is the most decorated chaplain in US Military history. He has received the Medal of Honor, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, United Nations Korea Medal, and Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Now what is the connection between this Kansan Army Chaplain and this Dominican Nun?
I never thought my life would be intertwined with a man who died 64 years ago today. Of course, as nuns we pray for the men and women serving in the military, all military chaplains, the intercession of the saints, the salvation of souls, we pray for peace, we pray for priests, and even the priests of the Diocese of Wichita being ordained today. But you're still probably asking, "Why did she write this?" Reading this story you may quickly realize we have a grand total of 2 things in common: We both love God and we’re both from Kansas. Yet, there's more to it than that.
I decided to write this because St. Thomas Aquinas tells us,
“It is God's will that inferior beings should be helped by all those that are above them, wherefore we ought to pray not only to the higher but also to the lower saints; else we should have to implore the mercy of God alone. Nevertheless it happens sometime that prayers addressed to a saint of lower degree are more efficacious, either because he is implored with greater devotion, or because God wishes to make known his sanctity.” (S Th II II, q.83, art. 11)
Although Fr. Kapaun is not an official “saint” but a “Servant of God” (declared by St. Pope John Paul II in 1993), maybe “God wishes to make known his sanctity” through our prayers. Here is the official prayer:
Lord Jesus, in the midst of the folly of war,
your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun spent himself
in total service to you on the battlefields and
in the prison camps of Korea, until his
death at the hands of his captors.
We now ask you, Lord Jesus, if it be your will,
to make known to all the world the holiness
of Chaplain Kapaun and the glory of his
complete sacrifice for you by signs of
miracles and peace.
In your name, Lord, we ask, for you are the
source of peace, the strength of our
service to others, and our final hope.
If you are interested in further reading about the Life of Chaplain Kapaun,
Fr. Arthur Tonne's book is available as public domain, here.