Will Kapaun’s remains return home?
Parishioners of Father Emil Kapaun’s parish church are hoping the hero priest’s remains will be buried in his hometown.
The news spread like wildfire in central Kansas last week when the Wichita Diocese announced that the remains of Kapaun, a Pilsen native, had been identified.
Chaplain Kapaun was known in Roman Catholic circles and beyond for the selfless service he gave to fellow prisoners after they were captured in the Korean War and sent to a camp in North Korea.
He was captured on Nov. 2, 1950, and died May 23, 1951, at age 35. He received many service medals including the Medal of Honor in 2013.
“The phone’s been buzzing all day,” museum guide Harriet Bina said Friday. “I’ve been getting calls from all over the country. When I was notified, I was told to keep absolute silence about the news for 15 hours, but one hour later, Senator Jerry Moran had announced it publicly.”
The million-dollar question? Where will Kapaun’s remains be buried?
Harriet Bina, director of the Kapaun Museum at Pilsen, said the Kapaun family would make the decision. They could choose Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, District of Columbia; Wichita, headquarters of the Wichita Diocese; or Pilsen. She is hoping they will choose to return the remains to Pilsen.
“Pilsen is his home,” Bina said. “His mother Bessie’s wish was that he would come home.”
Other parishioners agree.
“I thought the news was wonderful,” Terry Klenda said. “We have been praying for this forever. It was an answer to prayer.”
She said a prison camp worker knew where the chaplain was buried and pointed out the spot to people who were collecting remains, raising hopes the remains would be identified.
Unidentified remains were buried in National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii until they could be exhumed and examined. A U.S. government forensics team identified Kapaun’s remains using DNA technology.
“I’d like for Kapaun’s remains to come back to Pilsen,” Klenda said. “He grew up here, was a priest here, and was a man when he left, so he belongs here. It will complete the cycle.”
Terry and Cindy Vinduska of Marion lived in the Pilsen area for many years. They were excited to hear the news that Kapaun’s remains were identified and would be brought back.
“Naturally, he should be buried in Pilsen,” Cindy said. “He started his ministry here and we would like to have him back.”
“This is the next step,” Terry said. “We didn’t know if it would happen in our lifetime. We can only hope that he will end up back home.”
Bina is hoping that finding Kapaun’s remains will kickstart efforts to build a new museum in Pilsen. The church owns an adjoining lot where it would be located.
“The new building is designed,” she said.
The Pilsen congregation and Wichita Diocese have been promoting Kapaun’s sainthood for many years. He received the title “Servant of God” in 1993, the second of four stages to being named a saint. The Vatican continues investigations into possible canonization.
Kapaun’s parents and a brother are deceased. Two nephews and their families are arranging transportation of the remains to the U.S. They will decide the final resting place.
“If Kapaun is declared a saint, this is where the focus will be,” Klenda said. “This is his home.”