Legion of Merit by Lt. Gen Hobart Gay to Father Kapaun’s parents.

Two men whose names would grace the Catholic high schools in Wichita

Editor’s note: This was written by Joe Wescott, communications coordinator at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School and first appeared in the fall edition of the school’s Aquila magazine.
By Joe Wescott
Before the rivalry, it was just two men. Before high schools on opposite sides of Wichita were named in their honor, two men used their considerable talents to serve God and his people to the best of their ability. Before the “holy war” was ever fought on the gridiron or the hardwood, it was just two men who shared common vows as well as a deep mutual respect for one another. Before their interconnected lives turned into individual legacies, it was just two men.
One of the two men, Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun of Pilsen, Kansas, is known the world over as a hero of the Korean War and a brilliant example of faith in the darkest of circumstances. The other, Bishop Mark K. Carroll of St. Louis, Missouri, is not as well known but is just as well remembered as a bastion of that same faith and no less a hero to thousands of men and women across the state of Kansas and beyond.
In that week’s special edition of the Catholic Advance, May 12, 1957, was referred to as “The Day So Long Awaited.” The reference rang true for this was the day Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School was formally dedicated and the connection between Chaplain Kapaun and Bishop Carroll was cemented forever. The dedication was attended by archbishops, bishops, abbots, 300 priests, and over 1,000 distinguished guests and spectators. Included in that number was Cardinal Francis Cardinal Spellman, only the third cardinal to ever set foot in the Diocese of Wichita. Cardinal Spellman was an especially appropriate guest as he and Bishop Carroll were the two religious superiors to whom Kapaun reported, with Cardinal Spellman having served as military vicar for the U.S. Armed Forces during the Korean War.
The official program for that day notes that following the formal dedication of the Cornerstone, Chapel, and Administration Building, a Solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated by Bishop Carroll on the Campus of Wichita University with Cardinal Spellman delivering the sermon. Mass was followed by a dinner with speakers including several POWs who knew Chaplain Kapaun, as well as Bishop Carroll and Cardinal Spellman.
Scott Carter, coordinator of the Fr. Kapaun Guild, said it’s unlikely Father Kapaun and Bishop Carroll met in person more than a handful of times, as Father Kapaun spent more than half of his ordained life away from the Diocese of Wichita and Bishop Carroll rarely left it. In all likelihood the origin of their relationship began with a letter of congratulations from Father Kapaun to the newly installed Bishop Carroll on May 6, 1947. Father Kapaun had been unable to attend the installation due to his ongoing studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and so he began his message with warm regards for his new superior:

Bishop Mark K. Carroll at the Fr. Kapaun crucifix dedication held on June 6, 1954.

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop Carroll:
Please accept my sincerest congratulations on your installation as our Bishop. I am remembering you in my prayers and in Holy Mass, and I am asking God to bless your work abundantly.”
He also took the opportunity to lay out his current plans:
“I have a splendid opportunity to take my one-month training in an Army camp to fulfill requirements as a Reserve Officer in the Army.
“I have planned all of this and submit it for your approval and permission, but I will be very grateful to you if you permit me to continue this training without interruption.”
Of course Bishop Carroll allowed the young man to continue his education and satisfy his current obligations. Later that summer, however, it was clear that Father Kapaun, having already been deployed during World War II, was not completely satisfied himself with the time he had already given to his country. He wrote to Bishop Carroll, on July 15, 1947:
“During Reserve Training we were told of the critical need of Catholic Chaplains. To the eyes of the non Catholics, we are neglecting to care for a segment of our vineyard, the soldiers in the Army. I told Msgr. Sherry that I would write you and volunteer to go back into active duty. The Military Ordinariate… prefers to have men who realize the need and come on their own with proper permission. Good Bishop, I think I am qualified and would be very happy to do this work in the name of our Diocese.
“I do not want to be requesting something contrary to your wishes; but, if you can possibly spare me, I surely would love to dedicate myself to this work.
“Please give this matter very serious consideration. To me it is something most important.”
Bishop Carroll’s response to a separate message several years later revealed some of the Bishop’s motivation for allowing the young man to re-enlist. Kapaun, stationed in Japan at the time, received a letter dated April 6, 1950, that said:
“It was for this very reason that I permitted you to go to the Army because I felt then and feel now that these men need more attention than those at home. At home there is always a priest handy somewhere, but if there isn’t a priest with the boys, then their faith is gone completely.”
It was the belief that every man, regardless of religious affiliation, should know God and come to know him better that led both men to work closely with those outside the Catholic ranks. The two men were trailblazers in this regard, forging new territory for the Catholic Church and representing the Wichita diocese admirably by reaching out in ways others had not reached out before. Obviously Father Kapaun went to great lengths to be there for “his boys,” traveling across the globe and fighting alongside chaplains of different faiths. But Bishop Carroll was just as determined in his quest to bring others closer to God. George Neavoll, editor of the Wichita Eagle-Beacon editorial page in 1985 and a man who never actually met Bishop Carroll, wrote upon Bishop Carroll’s death:
“It wouldn’t be unusual, I suppose, for a former Catholic bishop to be revered and loved by Catholics. But Bishop Carroll was revered and loved by everybody whose life he ever touched, by Baptists and Bahais and Jews and those of no particular faith at all. In a mysterious way, he was their bishop too.”
Of course each man was rewarded handsomely for their respective work. Father Kapaun was awarded the Bronze Star and eventually the Medal of Honor for his service. And in 1951, Bishop Carroll received the National Citation from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In so many ways, the way they lived their faith drew all they encountered to a closer relationship with God.
The Summer of 1950 saw Father Kapaun sent to Korea to help with the war effort. In August, the priest sent good news to his bishop:
“In July I said Mass every Sunday except one (when I had no Mass Kit), attendance about 200. I administered Extreme Unction many times. Most of my Catholic soldiers are prepared. I baptized two boys before battle and prepared about six or eight for their First Confessions and Holy Communion. I carry the Holy Oils and the Blessed Sacrament with me at all times.”
He offered another positive report in an October letter:
“During this awful conflict I was impressed with the way most of the soldiers were prepared spiritually. I hope that all who lost their lives have found a merciful Judge.”
In response, Bishop Carroll offered praise and continued prayers for the Chaplain (Oct. 13, 1950):
“The attendance according to your figures was excellent and reveals the piety and faith of our Catholic military. I am delighted to know that you were awarded the bronze medal for heroism and devotion. More than that the Recording Angel has written down in the book of life your courage and your sacrifices for your men.
“Be assured, dear Father, that we will keep you in our prayers and we hope and pray that the war will soon be over in Korea.”
Three weeks later Father Kapaun was captured while assisting a wounded man, and later died in a North Korean prison camp.
Through the years Bishop Carroll would always speak highly of Father Kapaun whenever he could. At Father Kapaun’s Funeral Mass on July 29, 1953, the references and comparisons to Christ were abundant:
“There is an association close and beautiful of the death of a soldier and the death of Christ. In fact, everyone who gives his life for his country finds the rewards of his own death in the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross.”
“Surely our Lord has the fallen soldier in mind when He said ‘Greater love than this no one has than one lay down his life for his friends.’”
As Scott Carter of the Fr. Kapaun Guild points out, Bishop Carroll was one who played a crucially important role in the proliferation of Father Kapaun’s legacy:
“After Father Kapaun’s death, Bishop Carroll assigned Father Arthur Tonne to Father Kapaun’s home parish to write a book about him, and once the book was completed he sent it to all the bishops in the United States.”
In the introduction to Tonne’s book, Bishop Carroll takes the opportunity to again emphasize Father Kapaun’s importance:
“Father Kapaun went all out for God, and forgot himself completely. [He] knew that peace of soul ‘which surpasseth all understanding.’ Somehow God told him that he had walked, steadfastly, to the summit of his priesthood.”
The special edition of the Catholic Advance celebrating the centennial of the Catholicism in Wichita in October of 1969 provides background for the importance of the dedication of Chaplain Memorial High School:
“The dedication of Kapaun High climaxed three years of planning and building the first Catholic boys’ high school in Wichita. Bishop Carroll had seen the need of such a school in his fast-growing city not long after coming to Wichita. But it was the martyrdom of the heroic Father Emil Kapaun in a prison camp not far from the Yalu River in North Korea, on May 6, 1951, that prompted Bishop Carroll to delay no longer. He began the project at once as a memorial to the heroic chaplain.”
In the article “The Day So Long Awaited,” written days before the dedication of Chaplain Kapaun Memorial, Bishop Carroll is quoted as saying, “This is the happiest day of my years in Wichita.” The pride he took in his relationship with Father Kapaun and the achievement of the school itself would continue throughout his tenure as bishop. After his resignation in 1963 he mentioned it as the highlight of his 16 years, “because it memorializes a priest of the diocese who was one of the greatest heroes of the Korean conflict.”
While Bishop Carroll and others spoke for Father Kapaun, and many have spoken for Bishop Carroll, today we speak for both of them. And while we align ourselves with one or the other depending on our address or background, we should remember that these two men would allow no such division. In fact, they were as united as priest and bishop could be. As a diocese, being able to call them ours is an embarrassment of riches. Father Emil Kapaun may one day be a saint. Bishop Mark Carroll was among the first to believe it possible. They were the standard bearers of our faith during their time. May we always follow their lead.