Priest takes an academic interim

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Following the sudden death of Father Dombrowsky, pastor of St. John Church, Spearville, Kan., Father Kapaun was appointed temporary administrator. He wrote to his bishop on Aug. 5:

“First I wish to thank you for the appointment as administrator pro tem of St. John’s Parish, Spearville.

“Yesterday I received my discharge from the Army (July 25). I am now able to submit my application for the G.I. educational benefit, to attend school this September at Catholic University.

“But in the meantime, I have run up against some difficulties. First of all, Father Goracy tried to get me a place to stay, either at Catholic U. or near it. There is nothing available. Secondly, our Diocese has suffered heavily in the deaths of Fathers Dombrowsky and Mages; and I feel, if I am needed in the Diocese, I should much prefer doing pastoral work. Thirdly, I doubt seriously my present ability to meet with the scholastic demands at Catholic University. My army career of nearly two years left me little opportunity for ‘books’ and naturally to enter abruptly into a strenuous course of study makes one wonder if he can manage to keep up to requirements.

“According to our G.I. Bill of Rights, we can begin our educational studies any time within four years after discharge. Frankly, good Bishop, I would prefer not to go to Catholic University, at least this year. However, I shall be glad to abide by your decision, whatever it may be.”

From Aug. 23 until the end of September, Father assisted in St. Teresa Church, Hutchinson. Accommodations were found for him in Washington; and, shortly after getting settled there, he writes:

Catholic University

October 13, 1946

“Reverend and dear Father Goracy:

“I arrived here on Oct. 1, found Father Arand, and was assigned to Room 105 in St. John’s Hall. Your description of the rooms was correct. However, they are not bad. The meals are good. On Oct. 1, I registered, planned my course, and on Oct. 2, I attended my first classes.

“They permitted me to take only 12 semester hours, majoring in education, minoring in history. I explained that Bishop Winkelmann wished the Vet Chaplains to get a degree in education to qualify as accredited teachers in our diocesan and public high schools. Professor Drobka, my advisor, looked up the qualifications required by the State of Kansas and told me that I needed not only an M.A. but also certain special credits to obtain a State Teacher’s Certificate. I could qualify either in English or history, but in neither did I have the required credits. By minoring in history, I will have sufficient credits to obtain the State Teacher’s Certificate when I have completed the work required for an M.A.”

In answering several questions on his “Personnel Information” record at the university, filled out when he was 30, Father Kapaun, the postgraduate student, gives an insight into some of his personal habits and interests. After mentioning Kenrick Seminary as the school he last attended, he answered the following questions:

In what extra-curricular activities did you participate? Softball, basketball, soccer handball.

What are your hobbies or special interests? Landscaping.

What musical instrument do you play? None.

Have you any special ability in art? No.

Give a brief statement of your vocational experience. I was assistant for 3½ years, administrator for 8 months. U.S. Army Chaplain for 2 years.

How do you expect to finance your education? By G.I. Bill of Rights and Bishop Winkelmann.

Military Record? Yes.

Length of time in service? Aug. 9, 1944, to July 25, 1946.

Decorations — Honors? One battle star.

Because of his busy schedule at the university and the many hours spent in diligent study, his correspondence was less frequent in the months that followed. In the spring when Bishop Carroll was installed as Ordinary succeeding Bishop Winkelmann, Father Kapaun wrote his congratulations to his new superior. His first letter to Bishop Carroll was the beginning of a mutually faithful and understanding correspondence:

May 6, 1947

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop Carroll:

“Please accept my sincerest congratulations on your installation as our Bishop. I am unable to be present at the solemn ceremonies, but I am remembering you in my prayers and in Holy Mass, and I am asking God to bless your work abundantly in the Diocese of Wichita.

“I wish to obtain your kind permission or instructions in regard to myself. I have already arranged with the office here at Catholic University to take the summer course in education and to continue my studies here in September. I plan to complete my course by the following February. I hope this meets with your approval.

“Also, I have a splendid opportunity to take my one-month training in an Army camp to fulfill requirements as a Reserve Officer in the Army. I have made application for the one-month training at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. This is during June and fits in nicely between the end of this scholastic term and the beginning of summer course.

“I do not intend to go to all the expense of traveling to Kansas between the close of summer school and the beginning of the September term, so I have made arrangements to remain at the university and work on my dissertation. We have made our annual retreat at the university during Lent.

“I have planned all of this and submit it for your approval and permission, but I will be very grateful to you if you permit me to continue this training without interruption.”

Bishop Carroll graciously approved these plans. Concerning his future, there was subsequent correspondence.

July 15, 1947

“Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

“During Reserve Training we were told of the critical need of Catholic Chaplains. To the eyes of the non-Catholics, we are neglecting to care for a segment of our vineyard, the soldiers in the Army. I told Msgr. Sherry that I would write you and volunteer to go back into active duty under Category One.

“He told me that I would have no trouble at all in being accepted because our Catholic Chaplain shortage is so very critical. The Military Ordinariate does not want to put any pressure on Bishops and Religious Superiors but prefers to have men who realize the need and come on their own request and with proper permission. Good Bishop, I think I am qualified and would be very happy to do this work in the name of our Diocese.

“I do not want to be requesting something that would be contrary to your wishes; but, if you can possibly spare me, I surely would love to dedicate myself to this work for a few years. Category One presently is service for an ‘indefinite period.’

“I would not want to leave the University before I get my Master’s Degree. I hardly think I can manage to get it before Christmas; but in the meantime, I would make the necessary preparations for entering active duty with your permission.

“If there is any possible way you can permit me to do this work, you will make me very happy. Please give this matter very serious consideration. To me it is something most important.”

Catholic University

Aug. 21, 1947

“Dear Dad and Mother:

“My, I hope you do not feel bad that I did not come to visit you this summer. But I am sure you understand, especially since it is such a long trip and pretty expensive too, and nowadays I am just living off what I saved up while in the Army. God knows how long that will have to last me. Our summer school ended on Aug. 9. From Aug.11 till Aug. 13, we had the Cana Institute here, a series of talks about protecting young boys and girls from the many evils of our day. In this system, the fathers and mothers are instructed in what to do to protect their growing children. That is a tremendous problem, especially in the cities. I hope that some day I will be able to do some good in this line.

“Bishop Carroll gave me permission to remain in Washington this summer to work on my dissertation. To get a master’s degree in education, all are required to write a detailed study of some problem in education. I have chosen the topic: a study of the accrediting of religion in the high schools of the United States. I am covering all 48 states and some possessions like Alaska, American Samoa, etc.

The studious side of Father Kapaun’s nature is betrayed in his thesis, the first attempt to discover how many school districts gave credit for religion. Since religion in education is a daily news topic, his study is very valuable. His serious and scholarly approach to his dissertation can be realized by the fact that part of his notes and voluminous correspondence in this project fill more than half a trunk.

With his development as a scholarly graduate student, one begins to notice a subtle change in his spiritual direction. He is slowly forming a sincere conviction that the Master, whom his arduous soul desired to serve so completely, is calling him to labor in a particular vineyard. As the young priest himself said so frequently during his last few months on earth, “God moves in strange ways.” Strange indeed! His advanced studies, in which he acquitted himself brilliantly, seemed to convince him of the need for greater simplicity in order to expend himself for the salvation of humble souls. He writes to a former teacher:

Catholic University

Dec. 26, 1947

“Dear Sister Euphrasia (his teacher in ninth grade at Pilsen):

“I wish to thank you for the lovely Christmas greeting card. I see you are still using your gift of art to make others happy, as indeed your card made me happy and brought back pleasant memories.

“After attending the university I have begun to realize what a tremendous task it is to be a teacher. Surely God must have a very rich reward for those of you who have dedicated your lives to such a work. I hope and pray that God will never inflict upon me such a task, for it would be calamitous to expect an ungifted person to assume such responsibilities. I am happily convinced that God put me in the class of people who can admire teachers but not hope to imitate them.”

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