Seminary hosts tribute to Medal of Honor-winning alum

Courtesy U.S. Army medic Raymond Skeehan | Catholi
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On the same day President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to famed Korean War chaplain Father Emil Kapaun, the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary community in Shrewsbury honored the life of their notable alumnus, a member of the Class of 1940.

Father Kapaun has been named "Servant of God" by the Church, and his cause for canonization was formally opened in 2008. He died in 1951 while in a Korean prisoner of war camp.

Father David Skillman, vice rector for Cardinal Glennon College, noted that Father Kapaun gave his life in service to others, and "we are excited about the prospect that he could become our first saint-alumnus. It's a beautiful reminder to all of us that we have that universal call to holiness."

Jesuit Father John Horn, rector of Kenrick-Glennon, announced that the new student center at the seminary will be named the Father Kapaun Student Center. A painting of Father Kapaun by artist Cynthia Hitschler commissioned and donated by last year's ordination class will be displayed there and a large plaque will explain the naming.

The April 11 tribute was highlighted by talks by three seminarians from Wichita, the home diocese of Father Kapaun and where the priest served in between stints as a U.S. Army chaplain in World War II and the Korean War. He was captured by the Chinese communists when he refused to leave wounded troops. During his seven months in prison he selflessly served his fellow prisoners, nursing the sick and wounded and giving them hope to survive, and he also prayed for his captors who persecuted him.

Seminarian Curtis Hecker discussed the events of Father Kapaun's life and how his childhood on a farm in the poverty of the Depression built his character. Known as intelligent and dedicated, Father Kapaun "loved his brothers in the military and served them with everything he had," Hecker said.

The seminarian said he was privileged to gather some of the documents the Diocese of Wichita sent to Rome for the canonization cause, a task that made him admire Father Kapaun even more. "The way he spent his entire life in attention to detail and service to others, that's the most inspiring part of who Father Kapaun was . . . it's why I'm proud to be from the Diocese of Wichita and hold this man up as an example."

Another seminarian, Andrew Bina, told of his connection to Father Kapaun — they are both from the tiny town of Pilsen, Kan. "The town reflects the man himself," Bina said, "he wasn't very flashy."

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.orgKenrick-Glennon seminarian Andrew Bina spoke about Servant of God, Father Emil Kapaun, during a tribute to him at the seminary.  Bina is from the same parish in Pilsen, Kan., as Father Kapaun, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Barack Obama. Father Kapaun was a famed Korean War chaplain who studied for the priesthood at Kenrick-Glennon.

What stands out about him was "his desire to be faithful, particularly to the flock he was entrusted," Bina said. His work shows that "small actions done faithfully can bring holiness to each one of us."

Earlier, a third seminarian, Andrew Walsh, focused on the example of forgiveness shown by Father Kapaun. Walsh detailed the miraculous cures of three individuals after others had prayed to Father Kapaun to seek intercession.

At a Mass celebrated in the chapel at Kenrick-Glennon before the program, Father Horn noted that Father Kapaun "brings to us the face of Jesus ... day after day pouring himself out to those in the (prison) camp."

The Army chaplain's life shows that ordinariness — marked by an outpouring of love — can be so inspiring, Father Horn said.

In a statement about the award, the White House noted that Father Kapaun was being honored for extraordinary heroism. In addition to detailing his role during the battle and capture, the statement told of how shortly after his capture, Father Kapaun "bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute a comrade, thus saving a life and inspiring all those present to remain and fight the enemy until captured."

Chaplain Kapaun's nephew, Ray Kapaun, and other family joined the president at the White House to commemorate what the statement called "his example of selfless service and sacrifice." 

Resources on Fr. Kapaun

• Official Father Kapaun website, www.frkapaun.org

• Diocese of Wichita website for Fr. Kapaun's cause for canonization, www.stlouisreview.com/r9H 

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