After remains identified, Wichita Diocese more hopeful than ever for sainthood of Fr. Kapaun

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 10:39 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Now that the remains of Father Emil Kapaun have been identified, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita is more hopeful than ever that the Kansas priest and Medal of Honor recipient will one day be declared a saint. Father Kapaun served as an Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War. He was a prisoner of war in Korea in 1951. During that time, he continued to minister to other soldiers until his death in May of that year.

Eyewitness news spoke with the bishop of the Wichita Diocese about this week’s discovery, nearly 70 years after Father Kapaun’s death. Father Kapaun’s legacy lives on at Kapaun Mount Carmel High School in east Wichita. In their religion classes, students learn about his life and his service. Now, the discover of his remains is something they’ll add to the curriculum.

When you open the doors at Kapaun Mount Carmel, you’re surrounded by history.

“My predecessors named this school after (Father Kapaun) so that his legacy can be passed on,” said Bishop Carl Kemme with the Wichita Catholic Diocese. “So we can inform our young people with his virtues in mind.”

The virtues of Father Kapaun have driving the education of thousands of Wichita high-school students for decades. Finding his remains is something local Catholic leaders always hoped would happen. Even so, the March 4 discovery was a shock.

“We always thought it might be a possibility with DNA testing and modern technology, but it’s something we really hadn’t thought about in recent years,” Bishop Kemme said.

It’s also an important element in his canonization process. The Wichita Diocese hopes Father Kapaun soon will become a saint.

“In our Catholic tradition, the body of who we think may be saints is very important to us. The human person is a union of body and soul, so the body is a temple of the soul,” Kemme explained. “So they’re sacred, the body is sacred. To have that material, concrete remains is really an important development I think.”

The canonization process is a lengthy one. And while Kapaun’s cause has made significant progress, there are still several steps to go.

“He’s about at the step of being declared, we hope, “venerable,” which is a declaration the Pope will give him, hopefully very soon,” Bishop Kemme said. “Then, after that, there’ll be a study of the miracles attributed to his intercession.”

If those are deemed valid, there will be a declaration of beatification. Then, he’ll need another miracle, one attributed to him. Bishop Kemme and the rest of the Wichita Diocese hope that in a few years, they’ll get to call one of their own, “Saint Kapaun.”

Bishop Kemme also said he’s glad that Father Kapaun will be able to get a proper burial after several decades, as it better allows people to pay their respects and honor his legacy.

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