Fr. Kapaun Comes Home

.

.

70 years. 70 years of waiting and hoping. 70 years of searching

for a closure no one thought would ever come. 70 years and

now what was once an impossible dream has become a

reality. Fr. Emil J. Kapaun has returned home.

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Who is Father Kapaun?

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Emil J. Kapaun was born April 20th, 1916 in the small town

of Pilsen, KS to Enos and Elizabeth (Bessie) Kapaun. As a

boy Emil’s life was not much different from yours or mine. He

helped on the family farm, he played ball with the boys, he

went hunting, fishing, and he attended school at a little

schoolhouse in Pilsen to which he would walk to.

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In 1930 Emil took up the call from God and entered into the

seminary and was officially ordained a priest on June

9th, 1940. He was the first Pilsen native to be ordained a priest

and celebrated his first mass 11 days after his ordination at

St. John Nepomucene Church, his home parish. 

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A few years later in 1944 Fr. Kapaun entered the US army and

was eventually shipped off to North Korea during the Korean War.

While here he experienced horrors no man should ever have

to endure, but never did he waiver and showed time and time

again what a true hero looks like. Father would pray with men

in foxholes, hold mass on the hood of his jeep, retrieve

wounded soldiers from the battlefield while bullets whizzed by, administer the sacraments

to the dying, and would bury the dead whether they were friend or foe. 

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On November 2nd, 1950 Chaplain Kapaun became a POW

and a few days later, along with other POWs, was forced

to participate in a 60-100 mile death march to the prison

campsite. He remained in the camp for seven months

selflessly devoting himself to the care of the other men

in the camp by visiting their huts for prayer and

conversation, treating the wounded and sick, sneaking out

to steal food for those starving, and even volunteering for

the brutal job of burial duty in those freezing winter months.

To this day the other POWs that were in that camp with him say

it was Father who helped them all hang onto their will to live and

to have what many thought couldn’t be possible in such a

situation, hope. He lifted their spirits and when the end was

near he provided them with last rites and the comfort

of a “happy death” never once concerned about himself

and always focused on others. 

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After months of taking care of his fellow POWs Father fell

ill himself and the Chinese saw this as an opportunity to

rid themselves of a man they feared. They came into the camp

and brought Father to the “hospital” aka the death house. The

POWs began to fight the Chinese, refusing to let them take away

their Chaplain, their brother, their friend. However, he stopped them

and said, in true saintly fashion, 

.

 “Don’t worry about me. I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.” 

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A few days later, on May 23rd, 1951 Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun, 35

years old, died alone in the death house, a true servant of

God, a martyr, a man any of those POWs would have

gladly laid their life down for. 

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Once the war ended and the POWs in that camp (known by them as Kapaun’s Valley)

returned home, the stories of Kapaun’s servitude and heroism spread

and Father Kapaun once again became a huge beacon of faith for many others.

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Father Kapaun Makes It Home

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On Saturday, September 25th, 2021 the small town of

Pilsen, KS prepared to receive the remains of one of

their own. I grew up just a few miles outside of Pilsen

and attended mass with my family every Sunday

at St. John Nepomucene. For as long as I can remember

Fr. Kapaun was a pretty big deal in the community and over the

years I have been able to watch as more and more heard

of his name, his acts, and his miracles making this homecoming a pretty

great thing to be a part of. 

.

To prepare for his homecoming, flags were put up along

the road into Pilsen, his boyhood home was repainted to

match the colors it was when he lived there

(yes the pink trim is accurate!), news teams arrived, and people of

the community began to make their way to the church. 

.

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After Father was brought into the church, Father Bebak, the

current priest at Pilsen, held a short prayer session and

people were invited to come up to the front of church and touch the casket if they

wished. That day I was wearing two very special bracelets, bracelets

that my mom never took off.

.

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One of the bracelets was from her cancer benefit reminding

her to “Fight Like a Bohunk” and the other was a Fr. Kapaun

bracelet. I walked to the front of the church and placed

both of these bracelets on Father Kapaun’s casket…her

bracelets….on the casket of a man that guided her through so much.

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Afterwards I walked over to the cemetery, bracelets in

hand, and kneeling in front of her gravestone placed these

bracelets on it so she could “hold” them as well. At this point

there was nothing I could do to stop them as the tears flowed

like a raging river out of my eyes. I sat there trying to get

out the words to tell her that Father Kapaun made it home.

Eventually though, as I continued to get slammed with wave after

wave of emotion I gave up, realizing that I didn’t need to tell

her…she already knew cause she had been right

there beside me all day long.

.

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Breaking GMA Out of the Nursing Home

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I returned to Pilsen on Sunday for mass and y’all that

church was PACKED! I was lucky my dad got there before

me and was able to save me a seat! The mass was co

celebrated with multiple priests and Bishop Kemme and

it was definitely a mass that I won’t soon forget. 

.

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After church I went and ate lunch with my crew and then my

dad and I made our way over to the nursing home to break

out 99 year old Grandma Jane. My grandma hasn’t left the

nursing home in years, but this homecoming was something

too important for her to miss, especially for one big reason

the local news wanted to interview her about.

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Grandma Jane with my Aunt Marissa, Uncle Gail, and Shawn Loging from KWCH 12 news.
Movie star in action.

So the reason for the big fuss? Grandma grew up with

Fr. Kapaun AND he actually was an assistant priest at her

and my Grandpa Skeeter’s wedding in August 1943. She told

us stories of watching him play ball with the boys and how

her older brother Pete would wait for Father at the end of

their drive to walk to school together. 

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The infamous wedding photo where you can see Father Kapaun on the far left standing next to my Grandma Jane and Grandpa Skeeter. 

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At the end of her interview she talked about how she prays to Father Kapaun every day

for her grandkids and great-grandkids. I’m not crying you’re crying.

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After Grandma’s news interview, we wheeled her

up to the front of the church so she could see touch the

casket and have a quiet moment with Father. We also placed

her wedding picture on top of the casket. 

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From left to right: Grandma Jane, my aunt Marissa Makovec, my cousin Sheila Makovec, and Me

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After Grandma had her moment with the casket, the church

started to fill up with others who were there to pay their

respects so we wheeled her out and brought her down into

the basement to meet Fr. Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun.

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The smiles shared between these two were so so genuine and it was such a heartwarming moment.  

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A Hero Is Laid To Rest

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On Wednesday, September 29th, 2021 thousands

gathered, both online and in person at Hartman Arena, to

attend the funeral of an army hero and future saint. 

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Walking into Hartman they had photos set up of Father. 

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During the funeral I leaned over and told my dad how cool I thought it was that they were able to hold a mass in an arena and not a church similarly to how Father would hold mass on the hood of his jeep.

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The start of the procession. 
There were sooooo many priests in attendance…it was INSANE. I think almost every priest in the diocese was present. 

The funeral, like the rest of the weekend, was a once in a

lifetime experience and was such a powerful event.

When Revered Matthew Pawlikowski read the words written

by Mike Dowe, man who was in the same POW camp with

Father Kapaun I swear I didn’t think I was

going to be able to stop crying. There is no doubt in my mind

that that man, Father Emil J. Kapaun, is a saint and the amount

of love and respect that his fellow POWs hold for him still to this

day is greater than anything I have ever witnessed before. 

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That same day the Governor of Kansas Laura Kelly

deemed September 29th as Fr. Kapaun Day.

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Governor Laura Kelly в Twitter: "Today, I proclaimed September 29, 2021 as Father  Emil Kapaun Day. Father Kapaun was known to care for all prisoners –  regardless of their background or religion,

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I definitely didn’t expect these events to be so

emotional for me, but it is just a testament of how

strongly Father Kapaun has impacted me and my

family. Over the years praying to him provided strength

when there seemed like there was none left. He quelled

our fears and made us brave. He protected us and

brought my cousin Simon home safe from war. He has been

a pillar of faith my family can turn to at any time and now he

has finally made it home. Welcome back Father and, pray for us.

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Father Kapaun Prayers

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Want to know more about Father Kapaun? You can read

more about him here or take the time to visit Pilsen

yourself! See Father’s hometown parish and/or take a walk

through the on site museum.

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Museum Hours: Tuesday and Friday afternoons 1:00 – 4:00 PM
Or by appointment on Weekdays and Saturdays.
Contact Harriet Bina, 620-381-1689, to set up a visit.
Tours normally take 1 ½ – 2 hours.

.

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