WICHITA, Kan. — The flag-draped casket was empty during a memorial Mass in Wichita for Father Emil J. Kapaun July 29, 1953.
The casket at Father Kapaun’s funeral Mass Sept. 29, won’t be vacant. He is coming home.
The memorial Mass in 1953 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated a little over two weeks after word of Father Kapaun’s death reached Bishop Mark K. Carroll July 12, 1953. He was notified the U.S. Army chaplain had died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp May 23, 1951.
Seventy years after his death, a U.S. government forensics team in Hawaii announced March 4 that it had identified his remains.
Father Kapaun was ordained a priest for the Wichita Diocese June 9, 1940. He was a U.S. Army chaplain in World War II and the Korean War and held the rank of captain. A candidate for sainthood, he has the title “Servant of God.”
U.S. Army Forces Command Chaplain Col. Rajmund Kopec and U.S. Air Force Maj. Christina Roberts, Father Kapaun’s niece, will officially escort Father Kapaun’s remains on a commercial airline flight from Honolulu.
“The military escort stays with the remains along the way,” Scott Carter, coordinator of the Father Kapaun Guild, said, “which is a great way to honor those who have fallen and ensure their security. They are never left alone, they are loved and not forgotten.”
Other family members and diocesan representatives will welcome Father Kapaun’s remains at the airport, he told The Catholic Advance, Wichita’s diocesan newspaper.
“From there, his remains will be going to Pilsen (Father Kapaun’s hometown) for the weekend where he will truly be returning home,” Carter said.
Father Kapaun’s remains will be delivered to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita Sept. 27 for a vespers service for the priests of the diocese.
“I think it will be a powerful, touching moment for them to be with their brother priest,” Carter said.
The funeral vigil for Father Kapaun will be Sept. 28 at Hartman Arena in Wichita.
His funeral Mass will be celebrated at Hartman Arena Sept. 29. EWTN is scheduled to broadcast the Mass.
“Bishop Carroll celebrated a Mass in 1953 when they found out that Father Kapaun had died in a prisoner of war camp. They had heard that he had been captured and they had been praying that he would make it back,” Carter said.
“That was a great way to honor him and pray for the repose of his soul,” he said. “But a flag was draped over an empty casket.”
A lot of people now believe that Father Kapaun’s soul is now in heaven, he said, adding that the diocese is waiting for validation from the Vatican regarding his cause for sainthood.
In general, one miracle attributed to the sainthood candidate’s intercession and verified by Church authorities is needed for beatification; a second such miracle would be needed for canonization.
“There will be opportunities to visit him and pray at the cathedral after these events are over,” Carter said.
“If he is named ‘blessed’ we will probably begin working on a shrine,” Carter said.
More information about Father Kapaun’s life, ministry and sainthood cause can be found at www.frkapaun.org.