Comic book about Fr. Kapaun will educate youth about cause

Father William Donnelly, left, holds a printing proof of the cover of the comic book. With him is Father John Hotze a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who is overseeing the cause for canonization of Fr. Kapaun.

By Christopher M. Riggs
It isn’t a miracle that Father William Donnelly recently completed a comic book about the life of Father Emil Kapaun, but the comic book is certainly the culmination of a series of serendipitous events.
Father Donnelly, a Maryknoll priest based in Chicago, wrote and illustrated a comic book “Maryknoll Heroes and Heroines” in 1995 about Maryknoll missionaries who gave their lives while proclaiming the Gospel.
He had just returned after serving in Guatemala for about 24 years – during a civil war which resulted in the deaths of 200,000 – when Fr. Donnelly found out that one of his brother priests, Father William Woods, was killed while assisting the sick and elderly in Guatemala. He said his brother priest’s death inspired him to write and illustrate a comic book “about some of our bishops, priests, sisters, and brothers who have been killed in the missions in the last 50 years.”
On the cover of the Maryknoll comic book is Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest who was killed in the Vietnam War. Fr. Capodanno, whose name is on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., was ministering to some men on Sept. 4, 1967, when the battalion was attacked. Father Copodanno’s right hand was wounded by gunfire and hours later a mortar shell injured his right arm while he was giving absolution to the dying.
Like Father Kapaun, Father Copodanno, 38, was urged to fall back away from the battle but refused to leave his men. When he saw a Marine unable to move after being shot in the leg, he ran out to help. “Fr. Capodanno positioned himself between the badly wounded Marine and those firing the weapon,” Father Donnelly writes in the comic book. “Suddenly it opened up again and the priest was hit many times…” Both men were killed.
Father Copodanno was given the Congressional Medal of Honor on Jan. 7, 1969.
Father Donnelly now serves his order by promoting Maryknoll missionary efforts throughout the Midwest.
While talking to Father Paul A. Halladay, a Catholic chaplain at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fr. Donnelly told him about the Maryknoll comic book. Fr. Halladay suggested that he bring some Maryknoll sisters and 1,000 comic books with him on his visit to Fort Leonard Wood.
When the chaplain saw the comic book he suggested that Fr. Donnelly write and illustrate one about Chaplain Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who died in 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.
“I thought about it that night. I’m kind of busy but the next morning I said I’ll do it,” Fr. Donnelly said. Fr. Halladay gave the Maryknoll priest a book about Fr. Kapaun’s life and when he got back to Chicago, he started working.
While working on the project Fr. Donnelly realized he needed a photograph of Fr. Kapaun so he contacted Father John Hotze, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who is overseeing the cause of canonization for Fr. Kapaun. After hearing about the project, Fr. Hotze complied and asked to see a copy of the comic book when it was complete.
“I just worked every free minute that I had because I was about to go on a sabbatical,” he said. “The day before I left I sent Fr. Halladay a copy and I sent Fr. Hotze a copy. I called them later on and asked how they like it.”
Not only did Fr. Hotze like it, he wanted to print copies, as did Chaplain Halladay. Father Donnelly’s drawings along with photographs of Father Kapaun were used to produce the book with the assistance of the Communications Department of the Diocese of Wichita.
“I hope the little comic book inspires people in the diocese there to know Fr. Kapaun – especially the kids,” he said. “We live in a secular, consumer society. A life like Fr. Kapaun’s, who just gave his all to Jesus and everybody he met, can be a light for all of us.”
Fr. Donnelly, who had plans to become a commercial artist, was himself serving in the Army when he began thinking about the priesthood.
“One day while reading a Maryknoll Magazine I decided that’s for me,” he said, adding that he hopes others will be inspired by his comic books.

Want a copy?
Copies of “The Story of Fr. Emil Kapaun” are available from the Fr. Kapaun Guild suggested donation is $1.50 per copy. Call Ann Maley at 440-1717 to order copies.