Father Emil Kapaun
April 20, 1916 - May 23, 1951
Patron of Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School - Wichita, KS
Emil Kapaun was born on April 20, 1916 on a farm in Pilsen, Kansas, about 60 miles north of Wichita to Elizabeth (Bessie) and Enos Kapaun. He enjoyed being outdoors, riding his bicycle, playing baseball and spent many hours working on the family farm. He had one younger brother, Eugene, and attended the school and church at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen. For more on the life of Father Emil Kapaun, click HERE.
PARISH PRIEST & ARMY CHAPLAIN
He was ordained a priest on June 9, 1940, and served at his home parish of St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen, until entering the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944. Father Kapaun began his military service as a chaplain to troops in India and Burma in the final years of World War II.
After the war, Father Kapaun was sent to study education at Catholic University in Washington, DC, and then returned to the Diocese of Wichita to serve as a parish priest. Two years later, Father Kapaun sought permission to re-enter the Chaplain Corps. Bishop Mark K. Carroll agreed, and Father Kapaun was sent to Japan in 1949.
A month after North Korea invaded South Korea in June of 1950, Father Kapaun and the First Cavalry Division were ordered to the Korean War to help repel the invasion. Father Kapaun became well-known for risking his life ministering to the soldiers on the front lines.
PRISONER OF WAR
In November, when 250,000 Chinese troops entered the war from the north, his unit was the first to be overrun. During the Battle of Unsan, Father Kapaun rescued about 30 wounded soldiers and ministered to countless others. He elected to stay behind with the wounded rather than flee to safety with the rest of the unit. He was captured on November 2, 1950, and forced to march over 60 miles to Prisoner of War Camp #5. Along the way to the camp, he saved another soldier from execution and encouraged the wounded soldiers to carry others who could not walk on their own.
During the seven months that Father Kapaun was in captivity, he spent himself totally for the benefit of his fellow prisoners, without regard to race, color or creed. Men of all faiths who were imprisoned with him still testify to this day about the acts of courage and heroism that he displayed while in the camp.
Father Kapaun sought to meet the physical needs of the soldiers by stealing food and medicine from the guards for the men to share, while giving up much of his own meager daily ration of millet or cracked corn. He provided spiritual comfort to the men; he nursed the sick back to health and treated the wounds of the soldiers imprisoned with him.
When he developed pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg that prevented his daily rounds, his captors seized the opportunity to have him relocated to the “hospital,” a facility that was essentially a death house. Men who were taken to the hospital were deprived of food and medicine and left to die. While being carried to the death house, Father Kapaun blessed his persecutors and asked their forgiveness. Then, alone, Father Kapaun passed away on May 23, 1951.
HIS LEGACY CONTINUED
His example, however, encouraged the men to continue fighting. Many say that they only survived because of Father Kapaun’s physical and spiritual assistance, and when the soldiers were released nearly two and a half years later, they started telling the world about what their beloved “padre” had done for them.
Major Gerald Fink, a Marine pilot and a Jewish prisoner of war captured after Father Kapaun's death, was inspired by the stories he heard of Father Kapaun from his fellow prisoners of war. To preserve his honor, Major Fink set out to carve a crucifix modeled after descriptions of Father Kapaun. After weeks of picking firewood and creating tools from the steel arches of old GI boots, he spent months carving the wood. The prisoners hung the "Christ in Barbed Wire" in their hut and prayed before it every night. Upon the prisoners' release, they carried the crucifix to safety with them.
Also while in the prison camp, 10 of Father Kapaun’s closest friends started planning a memorial fund in his honor.
FOUNDING OF CHAPLAIN KAPAUN MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL
After their release, the soldiers gave the money they had raised to Bishop Carroll, which became the seed money for a school named in his honor. Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School opened in 1956 in east Wichita.
Many of the POWs were present for the inauguration of the first all-boy Catholic high school in Wichita, shown here with Bishop Carroll (center), including Major Gerald Fink, Captain Ralph Nardella, Colonel Eugene Fields and Captain William McClain.
“This school is a fitting tribute to this great man. If those who enter the school can only learn to reflect on the qualities that made Father Kapaun great, they cannot help but build a better America. The school itself is only a vehicle - it is the end product that will count, what comes out of the school.” -LIEUTENANT RALPH NARDELLA
KAPAUN MT. CARMEL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL
In 1971, Mount Carmel Academy and Chaplain Kapaun Memorial merged into the school that continues to operate todayKapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School, and were renamed. The school served 671 students in 1971, and today the enrollment is approximately 900 students.
Kapaun Mt. Carmel is, "dedicated to the education and formation of the total person in the image of Jesus Christ." Today, the high school is intent on carrying on Father Kapaun’s legacy, and hope to form many men and women to follow his lead.
The crucifix carved in the prisoner of war camp, along with dozens of other artifacts, are housed at Kapaun Mt. Carmel, and are available for viewing. For more information on Father Kapaun's life, and on the artifacts housed at KMC, click HERE.
MEDAL OF HONOR
On April 11, 2013, Father Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by the President of the United States, the highest honor awarded to soldiers of our nation’s armed forces. Father Emil Kapaun's nephew, Ray Kapaun, received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama. Ray, along with his brother David, later presented the Medal of Honor to the students at Kapaun Mt. Carmel in a special ceremony following an All-School Mass. The Medal of Honor permanently resides at the Father Kapaun Museum in Pilsen. To watch the Medal of Honor ceremony, click HERE.
IN HOPES OF SAINTHOOD
The Cause for the Canonization of Father Emil Kapaun was officially launched in the Diocese of Wichita in June of 2008. In 1993, Father Kapaun was named a Servant of God, signifying that his cause for sainthood could begin.
In November of 2015, after years of investigating the life and works of Father Kapaun, the "Positio," or formal story of Father Kapaun’s life, was sent to the Congregation for Saints in Rome for their review by Bishop Michael Jackels.
For more information on the process of Father Kapaun's canonization, click HERE.
Each school day, students at Kapaun Mt. Carmel pray for the continued progress of Father Kapaun's sainthood through the "Chaplain Emil Kapaun, Servant of God, Prayer."
To download the Prayer for the Beatification and Canonization of Father Kapaun, as well as the Prayer for the Intercession of Father Kapaun, click HERE.