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Korean War chaplain Fr. Kapaun to be interred in Kansas cathedral


Col. Raymond Skeehan | Public Domain

John Burger - published on 04/14/21 - updated on 05/31/21

Interment will be temporary, depending on outcome of canonization process.

Fr. Emil Kapaun, the Korean War Army chaplain who is being considered for sainthood, will lie in rest in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, Kansas.

Last month, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the Department of Defense identified Fr. Kapaun’s remains. 

Fr. Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun, announced over the weekend that the remains will be temporarily interred in the cathedral. 

“After engaging in discussions with the diocese, the Kapaun family decided that interring the remains of Fr. Kapaun in a crypt inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception would not only provide a safe and secure location for them, but would also allow opportunities for Catholics and many others inspired by Fr. Kapaun’s life to be able to visit and venerate this priest, whose cause for sainthood progresses,” the Diocese of Wichita said on its website.

Fr. Kapaun grew up on a farm in Kansas, the son of Czech immigrants. He was ordained in 1940 and served as a pastor at the parish where he grew up until 1944, when his bishop gave him permission to become an Army chaplain. He first served in the Burma Theater during World War II, then in 1949 he was sent to Japan.

During the Battle of Unsan of the Korean War, Kapaun was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Cavalry Regiment when his unit faced a much larger Chinese division. During the battle, he put himself at great risk in order to provide comfort and reassurance to soldiers, dragging wounded men to safety, or shielding them in shallow ditches. Refusing several chances to escape, he was taken as a prisoner of war on Nov. 2, 1950.

Kapaun and the wounded men with him joined hundreds of other American prisoners on a forced march to a POW camp near Pyoktong.

Servant of God

The following Easter, Fr. Kapaun led a sunrise service for the POWs. But, spending himself for his men under harsh conditions, the priest’s health grew worse and worse, and he was left to die of malnutrition and pneumonia. 

In 1993, though his remains still had not been identified, Fr. Kapaun was named a “Servant of God,” permitting his cause for canonization to begin. The diocese said this week that the placement in the Cathedral of his remains will be temporary “in the event that the Church recognize him as a saint in the future, in which case a dedicated shrine or chapel might be erected to hold his remains and commemorate his life.”

The diocese said it is working with the family, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting agency, and the Congregation for Saints in Rome “to decide on a time frame for Fr. Kapaun’s return.”

An annual 60-mile pilgrimage honoring Kapaun, organized by the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, is scheduled for June 3-6 this year, according to the Wichita Eagle.

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