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Home at last: Kapaun hearse pauses to visit parents' graves

Staff writer

Father Emil J. Kapaun’s hearse made a final stop Monday at the graves of Bessie and Enos Kapaun for an overdue reunion with his parents.

Friends and family remember how his mother prayed for her son’s return. After 72 years, he came home this weekend.

“All I can think of is Bessie and what that would have meant to her,” longtime Kapaun museum volunteer Harriet Bina said. “She waited so long.”

Bina was invited to ride in Kapaun’s hearse Monday as it wound its way through Pilsen Cemetery down a path flanked by fluttering American Flags.

Many of Kapaun’s relatives are buried there as are hundreds who prayed for him and people he inspired, like Kapaun Museum founder Rosemary Neuwirth.

Ray Kapaun, Emil Kapaun’s nephew, touched Bessie’s headstone, stifling tears as he paid his respects.

He wants Pilsen to know he and his family are grateful.

“They’ve kept Father Kapaun’s story alive when nobody was listening,” he said. “We want them to know that we know how much they love and care about Father Emil — and we love and care about them as well.”

Bina said she overused the word “amazing” when describing her feelings this weekend.

“I like to tell everyone now that it was blessed to have Father home, even if it was just for two days,” she said. “Ray Kapaun promised me he would return one day. And I am going to hold him to it.”

Home at last

Hundreds wearing blue “Home at Last” T-shirts gathered Saturday near St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church as a motorcade bearing Kapaun’s remains arrived.

The unincorporated town, which has been preparing to welcome its native son home for more than a year, greeted his hearse with a moment of silence as a church bell tolled.

A military honor guard carried Kapaun’s casket into the church and placed it near the altar. Father Brian Bebak then invited visitors to come forward and pay their respects.

Several who touched Kapaun’s casket this weekend had a personal tie to the Pilsen priest, who received the Medal of Honor and is a possible candidate for sainthood.

Jane Makovec, 99, remembers Kapaun as a parish priest. He co-celebrated Mass at her wedding.

Makovec said she has prayed to him for so long she can’t remember when she started.

“Seeing the casket moved me immensely,” Makovec said. “It was like welcoming an old friend home, and then saying goodbye to him.”

Paul Roach and Mike Dowe were prisoners of war with Kapaun in North Korea.

Ray Kapaun invited the men, who were put off at the thought of visiting a crowded arena in Wichita, to Pilsen to honor their comrade.

“They don’t want to go to the services in Wichita because there are just so many people that are going to be there…they just didn’t want to risk it,” he said.

Kapaun welcomed Roach at the church Sunday and stood beside him as he paid his respects. A visit by Dowe is planned later.

A case for sainthood

Simon Makovec, one of seven chosen to serve as pallbearer for Kapaun’s casket Monday, has no doubt Father Emil Kapaun protected him every day he was deployed in Iraq.

He learned to pray the Kapaun prayer as a child growing up near Pilsen.

He enlisted in the Army National Guard as a high school senior and was deployed to Iraq.

Makovec, who ran security convoys just south of Baghdad, was injured in one of two mortar and rocket attacks that killed a sergeant in his unit and wounded a dozen others.

“It could have been much worse,” said Makovec. “Another IED landed near us, but didn’t detonate.”

Makovec prayed to Father Kapaun every day before going on patrol.

The incident wasn’t deemed a miracle by investigators but Makovec still thinks he owes his life to Kapaun’s intercession.

“Without a doubt, I know he is the reason I am here today,” he said.

Chase Kear, who also says he owes his life to Kapaun, was disappointed he couldn’t visit Pilsen, but was invited to pray over Kapaun’s casket Monday in Wichita.

Kear will marry his childhood sweetheart Stephanie Dalton Saturday in Colwich on the 13th anniversary of an accident that nearly ended his life.

His recovery from a fall during a practice pole vault is so improbable it has been investigated by the Vatican.

Kear, 19 at the time, was in his second year at Hutchinson Community College on a track scholarship when he fell 14 feet during a practice pole vault, missed a mat, and landed on his head.

Doctors at Ascension Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita induced a coma to curb swelling of his brain, then removed 10% of it after discovering damage to Kear’s frontal lobe.

Doctors told his family to prepare for the worst.

They added Kear to a request line at Sacred Heart Church in Colwich and asked people to pray to Father Kapaun to intercede on Kear’s behalf.

After 17 days in intensive care and 15 on life support, Kear began to recover. He walked out of the hospital on his own after a month.

Kapaun’s return to Kansas has been humbling and uplifting in ways Kear finds hard to describe.

“I wanted to scream for joy from the top of the church,” he said. “At the same time, I wanted to pray over his casket in silence, which bought me more peace and comfort than I have ever experienced in my life.”

He and his bride-to-be will attend Kapaun’s funeral at 10:30 a.m. today at Hartman Area.

“I thank God for giving me the greatest wedding present ever in bringing Father Kapaun home and allowing me to thank him in person,” he said.

In the meantime, Kear vows to pray for the advancement of Father Kapaun’s case.

“I hope that the cause continues and one day he will be canonized,” he said.

Last modified Sept. 29, 2021

 

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