The Rev. Emil Kapaun’s body was in an unmarked grave for years. Now the POW is coming home to Kansas.

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
The Rev. Emil Kapaun's remains will be placed in this 5,400 pound tomb inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after his Mass and procession on Sept. 29. Kapaun, a candidate for Sainthood and recipient of the Medal of Honor , died in a North Korean Prisoner of war camp.

After spending years in an unmarked grave, the Rev. Emil Kapaun's body is coming home.

He is coming home to his family, his diocese and his state. Once more, Kapaun is uniting souls.

Born in 1916 in Pilsen, Emil Kapaun, who is up for canonization, was ordained a priest by Bishop Christian Winkelmann on June 9, 1940, at St. John’s Chapel on the campus of then Sacred Heart College (now Newman University) in Wichita. In 1944, he became a U.S. Army chaplain and served in World War II.  

But it was Kapaun's service in North Korea that he is most remembered for, often risking his life on the battlefield to save others. Eventually, he became a prisoner of war, and once again, acted selflessly to help those around him, bolstering their faith and morale.

"I am inspired by his zeal and his priestliness, his courage and his willingness to do whatever was needed," said Bishop Carl A. Kemme, of the Wichita Diocese. "We think God has brought this about in his providence."

More:Kansas honors veterans with 'Remembering our Fallen' display

Photos of the Rev. Emil Joseph Kapaun are on display at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita.

Recently, Kapaun's remains, which were housed in unmarked military graves in Hawaii, were identified. This week, Kemme and others from Kansas traveled to Hawaii to bring their fellow priest home. Following a send-off Mass at the Cathedral in Honolulu, Kapaun’s remains will be transported from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu to Wichita, where he will arrive on Sept. 25.

Kapaun's remains will go directly to his home parish of St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen for a private homecoming. From Pilsen, he will be brought back to Wichita, to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where his remains will stay until the rosary, vigil, Mass, procession and burial, beginning on Sept. 28. 

"He was born in Kansas, he served this diocese, now he's coming back to us," said Kemme, who will preside over the rituals. "Father Kapaun made the supreme sacrifice in laying down his life for others."

More:South Hutchinson Fire Department remembers 20th anniversary of 9/11 with memorial walk

Kemme, also with all the other priests, will wear white robes to denote celebration and resurrection. They will also be adorned with blue, for the Virgin Mary.

Kapaun, the most decorated U.S. Army chaplain, including holding the Medal of Honor, because of the many miracles that are attributed to him is up for sainthood in Rome. 

"He was a heroic witness and servant of mankind," Kemme said. "We continue to look forward to his process of canonization in the future.”

Lessons from the Father

A crew from Simpson Construction finish putting into place the 5,400 pound tomb inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that will serve as the final resting place for the Rev. Emil Kapaun when his remains return to Kansas later this month. Kapaun, a recipient of the Medal of Honor and candidate for Sainthood, died in a North Korean POW camp 70 years ago. His remains were identified earlier this year and will be flown home from Hawaii, where they’re currently located.

Named after Kapaun, Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School in Wichita is always cognizant of Kapaun, his humility and his faithfulness.

The two large common areas of the school house dozens of photographs, letters, medals, a red robe and the cross that a prisoner of war carved in commemoration of Kapaun.

"To have your namesake back — this completes the story," said Chris Bloomer, the principal of Kapaun Mr. Carmel. "It’s a way to honor him and to celebrate his life."

Bloomer said, Kapaun's homecoming puts the revered priest back in the forefront of each student and staff member's mind.

"We understand how important it is that we follow the virtues that he has modeled for us," Bloomer said. "He inspired those around him to deal with adversity and to live on. As long as they have a connection with God, (he said) they will be able to overcome the adversity."

All the seniors from the parochial school will attend the Mass. All other students will be able to line Broadway, watching Kapaun's horse-drawn processional.

More:South Hutch man finds calling in stained glass restoration at Hoefer Custom Stained Glass, including making an image of the Emil Kapaun

Events honoring The Rev. Emil Kapaun

Vigil Service 7 p.m. Sept. 28, Hartman Arena. Tickets needed. Free event.

Mass of Christian Burial at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 29, Hartman Arena. Tickets needed. Free event. The funeral may be livestreamed as well.  

Procession to the Cathedral will take place from 1:30 to 2 p.m., Sept. 29. Following the Mass of Christian Burial at Hartman Arena, Father Kapaun's remains will be transported by horse-drawn carriage from Veterans Memorial Park to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where he will be laid to rest. Taps and a 21-gun salute will be given.

More:Bishop Kemme receives honorary doctorate from Newman University

Participants may line the route beginning at Central Avenue just east of Veterans Memorial Park and proceeding east until Main Street. The final stretch from Main Street to Broadway will be reserved for students from the Diocese of Wichita.

Kapaun's remains will be returned to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which will serve as his final resting place.