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‘Can any good come out of Pilsen?’army chaplain asks

Staff writer

A Roman Catholic chaplain was addressing a group of Protestant chaplains and their associates gathered in the sanctuary at St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen on Thursday when he asked a provocative question.

“The question is, ‘Can anything good come out of Pilsen?’” Major Anthony Kazarnowicz said, noting that he had researched Pilsen online and discovered its population has always been less than 100 and thus has never been incorporated.

The same question was raised in the Bible about Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. The answer was, “Come and see.”

“That’s why you are here,” he told the visitors.

They had heard about Chaplain Emil Kapaun, who gave his life in a prisoner-of-war camp in North Korea, and had come to learn more about his life.

Kazarnowicz said growing up at Pilsen prepared Kapaun for his time in a prisoner-of-war camp.

“It was how he was raised,” he said. “There were no conveniences, long work days, constant repairs, helping neighbors, and a life centered around family. Those things are what Kapaun learned growing up in this community.”

Father John Hotze of Wichita and Father Kapaun’s nephews, Raymond and David Kapaun, also attended.

Raymond Kapaun said he and his brother were born after Father Kapaun’s death, but they learned what he was like growing up and what he did as a chaplain.

“The family always knew he was going to be a priest,” he said.

The brothers were raised not to talk about their uncle’s life with others. Kapaun’s parents, Eugene and Bessie, wanted to avoid notoriety, Raymond said.

“Our grandmother never gave up hope that he might be alive,” he said. “He was so alive in her heart that she couldn’t give him up.”

Father Hotze said Father Kapaun had his first connection with the military when he served as auxiliary chaplain at Herington Air Field. The airfield served as a staging area for squadrons headed overseas. It was in operation from February 1943 through September 1945.

“Kapaun always had a desire to be a missionary, and he loved the men he served at the base,” Hotze said.

He added that Chaplain Kapaun was free in his service to the soldiers in captivity, but the guards were forced into their roles against their wills.

Visitors toured the Father Kapaun Museum and had a question-and-answer session with Hotze and the Kapauns.

Army Chaplain Chris Weinrich said he learned about Kapaun in military training classes and had read books about him, but visiting his hometown was an incredible experience.

“Chaplain Kapaun was an amazing man,” he said. “To want to serve in World War II and Korea is remarkable.”

He plans a return visit with his wife.

William Townsend, one of two directors of religious education at Fort Riley, organized the trip.

He said 22,000 people live on the base: 15,000 military personnel and 7,000 civilians and contractors.

Father Kazarnowicz said there are six chapels and 42 chaplains, including two Catholic priests and one rabbi. One chapel is named after Father Kapaun.

The newest chapel, Victory Chapel, was built for officers and their families. It offers one Roman Catholic and one Protestant service each week.

Weddings, funerals, and various memorial services also are conducted in the chapels.

Chaplain Emil Kapaun was 35 years old when he died in May 1951. His 102nd birthday anniversary was Friday.

Last modified April 25, 2018

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