Fr. Kapaun’s tomb in place; ready for his remains
The flag-draped casket was empty during a Memorial Mass in Wichita for Father Emil J. Kapaun on July 29, 1953.
The casket at Fr. Kapaun’s funeral Wednesday, Sept. 29, won’t be vacant. He is coming home.
The memorial Mass in 1953 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated a little over two weeks after word of Father Kapaun’s death reached Bishop Mark K. Carroll on July 12, 1953. He was notified that the U.S. Army chaplain died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp on May 23, 1951.
Seventy years after his death, a U.S government forensics team in Hawaii announced on March 4 that it had identified the remains of Fr. Emil Kapaun.
Ray Kapaun, Fr. Kapaun’s nephew, will be traveling to Hawaii on Sept. 20 with his wife and niece, to formally accept Fr. Kapaun’s remains and bring them back to the Diocese of Wichita. Representatives of the Diocese will also be traveling with the family, including Bishop Carl A. Kemme, the Very Rev. Father David Lies, Vicar General, the Rev. Wayne Schmid, a retired Army chaplain and priest of the diocese, and Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild.
Carter said many events have been scheduled with the faithful and military in Hawaii and in Wichita for Fr. Kapaun’s homecoming.
Mass to be celebrated in Honolulu
The Most Rev. Clarence Richard Silva, the bishop of Honolulu, has offered to host a Mass on Thursday, Sept. 23, in the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, as a ceremonial send-off for Fr. Kapaun’s remains. The Mass is scheduled to be live-streamed from the Honolulu cathedral’s website at 11 p.m. Central Standard Time.
“It’s a moment for the Hawaiian people to recognize someone who has been buried in their midst…and a send off of, hopefully, a future saint,” Carter said.
The Wichita diocesan group will also tour the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency facilities where Fr. Kapaun’s remains were identified as well as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located at Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu.
Leaving Hawaii on Sept. 24
U.S. Army Forces Command Chaplain Col. Rajmund Kopec, a Catholic priest, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Christina Roberts, Fr. Kapaun’s niece, will officially escort Fr. Kapaun’s remains on a commercial airline flight leaving Honolulu on Sept. 24. Family and diocesan representatives will also be on the journey that will conclude on Saturday, Sept. 25, when a flight from Dallas lands at Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita.
“The military escort stays with the remains along the way,” Carter said, “which is the military’s way to honor those who have fallen and ensure their security. They are never left alone; they are loved and not forgotten.”
Other family members and diocesan representatives will welcome Fr. Kapaun’s remains at the airport, he said.
“From there, his remains will be going to Pilsen for the weekend where he will truly return home,” Carter said. The visit to St. John Nepomucene Church is primarily for the Holy Family Parish community to pray for and spend time with their native son.
“We’re asking everyone outside of the parish to be respectful of that time and take the opportunity to participate in the events in Wichita,” Carter said.
Vigils and funeral in Wichita
Fr. Kapaun’s remains will be delivered to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, Sept. 27, for a vespers service for the priests of the diocese.
“I think it will be a powerful, touching moment for them to be with their brother priest,” Carter said.
A luncheon will be held Tuesday at the Cathedral for special guests, such as the families of the prisoners of war, military officials, and other friends of the Cause. The U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen. Thomas Solhjem, is scheduled to share some thoughts at the luncheon. Kelly McKeague, the director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, may also attend and speak.
“We’re looking forward to that moment to honor and share Fr. Kapaun’s story,” Carter said.
Public vigil Sept. 28
The funeral vigil for Fr. Kapaun will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, at Hartman Arena in Wichita. The vigil and the funeral are ticketed events. A few tickets may be available at KapaunComesHome.com.
“It will be a beautiful and powerful ceremony with prayer – and music by the Air Force and West Point Catholic Cadet choirs,” Carter said.
A rosary will be prayed at the vigil and Fr. John Hotze, Episcopal Delegate for Fr. Kapaun’s Cause, will preach a homily. Fr. Kapaun’s casket will be on the stage during the event.
Funeral Sept. 29
The Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Kapaun will be celebrated at Hartman Arena at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 29.
“Bishop Carroll celebrated a Memorial Mass in 1953 when they found out that Fr. Kapaun had died in a prisoner of war camp,” Carter said.
“The family was there, the military was there, and it was a great way to honor him and pray for the repose of his soul. But a flag was draped over an empty casket. This time will be different.”
A lot of people believe that Fr. Kapaun’s soul is now in heaven, he said, adding that the diocese is still working with the Vatican for validation regarding his cause for beatification and sainthood.
EWTN is scheduled to broadcast both the vigil and funeral Mass, and both will also be live-streamed on the Diocese of Wichita’s YouTube Channel.
Caisson to the Cathedral
After the funeral Fr. Kapaun’s remains will be driven to a site on Central Avenue near Veterans’ Memorial Park where his casket will be placed on a horse-drawn military caisson.
The procession will slowly move east on Central Avenue about a half-mile to the Cathedral.
“The faithful are invited to line the procession route to pay their final respects as he is taken the Cathedral where he will be interred.”
Fr. Kapaun will receive military honors, a 21-gun salute, and Taps, before his remains are carried into the Cathedral by the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas. Fr. Kapaun served with the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea.
Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kansas, will also take part in the week’s events.
“There will be opportunities to visit him and pray at the Cathedral beginning the day after the funeral,” Carter said. Details are being finalized and will be available at FrKapaun.org.
He said it is unknown how long Fr. Kapaun will be interred at the Cathedral.
“If Father is beatified I think we will talk more earnestly about the possibility of a dedicated shrine, but for now the Cathedral will be a place people can visit and pray with Father Kapaun,” Carter said.
About Fr. Kapaun
Fr. Kapaun was known for risking his life on the battlefield during the Korean War to minister to the troops on the frontlines. He was taken a prisoner of war in November of 1950, enduring brutal captivity where he continued to serve and bolster the morale of fellow prisoners. Fr. Kapaun died in the prison camp on May 23, 1951. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for his heroic actions on the battlefield.
Fr. Kapaun was among over 800 unidentified Korean War soldiers returned to U.S. custody in 1954 and buried in the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
In 1993, Father Emil Kapaun was named a Servant of God, signifying that his cause for sainthood could begin. A thorough investigation into his life was conducted by the Diocese of Wichita and the details presented to the Congregation for Saints in Rome, where his cause awaits review on the path to what we pray will be his eventual beatification and canonization.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is an agency within the United States Department of Defense whose mission is to recover United States military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from designated past conflicts from countries around the world.For more information on Fr. Kapaun’s story and his cause for canonization visit frkapaun.org.