With brown eyes, priestly vestments and a shock of wheat at his feet, a lifelike wood statue of Father Emil Kapaun will soon arrive in Wichita.
Carved and painted at a studio in northern Italy, the statue will eventually grace the entryway of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in east Wichita.
If Kapaun is beatified and achieves sainthood, the statue will be permitted to move into the church to stand alongside statues of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese of Liseux, St. John Neumann and St. Martin de Porres.
“All of our saints are here to glorify God; he strengthens each one of them to do their heroic and miraculous deeds,” said the Rev. Matt McGinness, pastor of the church.
“The saints are heroes of the church, and we are to imitate them as they imitated Christ.”
Kapaun is on the path to sainthood as the Vatican investigates miracles attributed to him.
A Kansas farmer’s son from Pilsen, Kapaun entered the priesthood and then joined the Army as a chaplain in World War II. After returning to Kansas, he rejoined the Army.
Kapaun died in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean War in 1951.
The statue of Kapaun will tell some of his story, McGinness said, with the shocks of wheat recalling his Kansas farm days and the helmet at his feet indicating he was in the Army.
Cheri Jones, a parishioner who formerly worked as office manager at St. Thomas Aquinas, said the church has ties to Kapaun. Kapaun performed the marriage of a parishioner and her husband, and when the parish was founded, it initially met in the Father Kapaun Chapel at the former Chaplain Kapaun Memorial High School.
“I’m thoroughly pleased (at) the idea we would have a saint from Kansas,” Jones said. “I think we definitely want to show our elation, our joy, if it comes about.”
The statue was just recently finished and shipped. It took seven months to construct after McGinness approved drawings of it while on sabbatical in Italy.
It’s not the only statue to come out of the family-owned Demetz Art Studio in the small town of Ortisei. The area has a history of woodcarving dating back to the 17th century. Then, farmers spent the isolated winter carving, developing a centuries-old tradition.
The various saints displayed in St. Thomas Aquinas were also crafted by Demetz Art Studio, which has also carved statues of Christ, Our Lady of Fatima, angels and numerous saints.
As Catholics, the workers at the studio believe in their work, said Reto Demetz of Demetz Art Studio.
“For generations my family has been creating Ecclesiastical Art,” Demetz said in an e-mail. “It takes devotion, passion, talent, years of expertise and the highest talented artists and craftsman to make what my family has being doing.”