The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita will address the leadership of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome on Monday to make the case for Father Emil Kapaun’s sainthood.
It is the most significant moment yet in the push to have Kapaun declared a saint. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints evaluates evidence in sainthood investigations and makes recommendations to the pope.
The Wichita diocese began a concerted effort in 2001 to document the heroism and holiness of Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain and priest who grew up on a farm outside Pilsen in Marion County.
Kapaun, who died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951, recently was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield. Fellow prisoners of war said Kapaun was a source of inspiration and faith during their captivity.
The Vatican years ago appointed a “postulator” – a manager of the logistics of such investigations. That man, Andrea Ambrosi, an Italian lawyer with decades of experience in sainthood investigations, will likely be with Bishop Carl Kemme at the Monday meeting, Kemme said.
The Vatican declared Kapaun a “servant of God” in 1993, the first step toward sainthood. Proving miracles attributed to Kapaun’s intercession is part of the process, and the diocese has documented several.
In 2010, the diocese sent enough documented evidence to the Vatican “to fill the back of a small truck,” Kemme said.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints could make recommendations to have Kapaun named “Venerable,” the next step on the journey to sainthood. They also could skip that step and send Kapaun to the next, “Beatification,” or even to full canonization.
Kemme left for Italy last Monday with a group of 97 Catholics from the diocese on a regularly scheduled pilgrimage to holy sites in Italy.
Steps to sainthood in the Catholic Church
Servant of God
The title given to a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation. Father Kapaun was named a Servant of God in 1993.
For the beatification of a Servant of God, a miracle attributed to his intercession, verified after his death, is necessary. Martyrs – those who died for their faith – can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. Supporters of Father Kapaun maintain he died a martyr in a North Korean prison camp.
The formal process by which the Catholic Church declares a person to be a saint. Another miracle, having occurred after his beatification, is needed.
Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Father Emil Kapaun timeline
April 20, 1916: Emil Joseph Kapaun is born in Pilsen
June 9, 1940: Ordained a priest at what is now Newman University
June 20: Celebrates his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen
1943: Appointed auxiliary chaplain at the Army Air Base in Herington
November 1943: Named pastor of St. John Nepomucene parish
August 1944: Enters the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps
March 1945-May 1946: Serves in India and Burma
Jan. 3, 1946: Earns promotion to captain
July 1946: Leaves the chaplain service
October 1946: Does graduate work at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
1948: Rejoins the Army’s chaplain service
December 1949: Makes final visit home to Pilsen
June 25, 1950: War breaks out when North Korea invades South Korea
June 27: United Nations Security Council approves military aid to South Korea
June 30: U.S. troops enter war
Mid-July: Kapaun and the 8th Cavalry Regiment ordered to Korea from Japan
Aug. 2: Kapaun earns Bronze Star for heroism in action
Oct. 1: Gen. Douglas MacArthur drives North Koreans out of South Korea; American troops pursue North Korean army across the 38th parallel north, the dividing line between the two Koreas
Oct. 24: American forces approach the Yalu River on the Chinese border
Nov. 1: People's Republic of China enters the Korean War on the side of North Korea
Nov. 2: Kapaun captured near Unsan, North Korea
May 23, 1951: Kapaun, 35, dies in a prison camp in Pyoktong, North Korea
July 10: Truce talks start
Aug. 18: Kapaun posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Unsan
Nov. 27: Cease-fire line established at 38th parallel north
July 27, 1953: War ends with signing of armistice at Panmunjon. The 38th parallel north is established as boundary between North and South Korea.
1993: Kapaun named Servant of God by the Catholic Church, the first step toward possible sainthood
June 2009: Vatican investigator Andrea Ambrosi comes to Wichita to investigate alleged miracles attributed to Kapaun
Oct. 1: Kapaun recommended for the Medal of Honor
July 2011: Ambrosi takes custody of more than 8,000 documents from the Wichita Diocese dealing with the investigation into Kapaun’s sainthood
April 11, 2013: Kapaun awarded Medal of Honor posthumously for actions in Battle of Unsan by President Barack Obama
September 2013: Ambrosi returns to Wichita to continue investigation of alleged Kapaun miracles
Nov. 9, 2015: Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme meets with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, to discuss the case for Kapaun’s sainthood
Sources: Wichita Eagle archives, http://frkapaun.org, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
What is the Congregation for the Causes of Saints?
A department of the Roman Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church, it was established in 1588 as the Congregation of Rites. Reorganized and renamed in 1969 and again in 1983, it makes recommendations to the pope on beatifications and canonizations. Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme will meet with the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Monday at the Vatican.
Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Other American-born saints
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)
A wife and mother, Seton founded the American Sisters of Charity. She was canonized by Pope Paul VI on Sept. 14, 1975. Born into a wealthy Protestant family in New York, Seton converted to Roman Catholicism after her husband’s death in 1805. Her conversion caused a split in her family, so she moved with her five children to Maryland, where she formed the American Sisters of Charity. She later opened the first free Roman Catholic school there, a forerunner of America’s system of parochial education. Her order also helped found hospitals and orphanages. Her feast day is Jan. 4.
St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955)
Drexel was founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She was canonized Oct. 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II. Drexel was born into a wealthy Philadelphia banking family. She became interested in helping American Indians before she became a nun. She received her religious training from the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, then founded her own order in 1891 to serve the needs of American Indians and African-Americans. She used her multimillion-dollar inheritance to eventually open 12 American Indian schools and more than 100 rural and inner-city schools. She also founded Xavier University in New Orleans. Her feast day is March 3.
Source: Wichita Eagle archives
Coverage from Rome
Eagle reporter Roy Wenzl and photographer Travis Heying are in Rome, covering Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme as he speaks about Father Emil Kapaun to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. They also will be reporting on other pilgrims from the Wichita area who are on the trip. Look for stories, photos and video from Rome on Kansas.com. Follow Roy and Travis on Twitter at @RoyWenzl and @travisheying.
‘The Miracle of Father Kapaun’
Want to learn more about Father Emil Kapaun? Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying wrote “The Miracle of Father Kapaun,” a book chronicling the life of Father Kapaun. Beginning with his actions at the Battle of Unsan through his efforts to save others in a North Korean prisoner of war camp, the book also details how miracles attributed to Kapaun more than 50 years later saved the lives of two Wichita teens. The book was honored with a Christopher Award, given to media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”
In addition to the book, Heying produced a 45-minute video of the same name, which includes interviews with men who endured the brutality of the POW camp with Kapaun.
Both the book and the video are available at The Eagle’s front counter from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Eagle is located at 825 E. Douglas. You also can order both online through St. Ignatius Press at ignatius.com.
What is a miracle?
Miracles play an important role in the Catholic Church as part of the path to sainthood. The church defines miracles as scientifically unexplainable events, usually medical in nature. Miracles that occur through intercessory prayer – praying to someone in heaven, like Father Kapaun, to intercede with God to help someone who is sick – are a sign that the person you are praying to is with God. Vatican investigators have made multiple trips to Wichita to investigate alleged miracles attributed to Father Kapaun.