October 8, 2021

Archdiocesan priest concelebrates funeral Mass of Father Emil Kapaun

By Sean Gallagher

Father Dennis Duvelius was among the thousands who gathered on Sept. 29 to pay tribute to Father Emil Kapaun during a Sept. 29 funeral Mass celebrated in Hartman Arena in Park City, Kan.

The pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington and St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Spencer gained a devotion to Father Kapaun after the U.S. Army chaplain was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013, the highest and most prestigious commendation for the U.S. military.

“I started reading up on him and found his story captivating, particularly since he was a diocesan priest,” Father Duvelius said in an interview with The Criterion from Wichita, Kan., the day after Father Kapaun’s funeral. “He was a remarkable man with great humanity, holiness and generosity.”

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita in 1940, Father Kapaun served as an Army chaplain in World War II and later in the Korean War.

During the Battle of Unsan on Nov. 1-2, 1950, Father Kapaun, under enemy fire, saved the lives of many wounded soldiers. When his unit was ordered to evacuate, he chose to stay behind with the wounded. It was then that he was taken as a prisoner of war.

While living in captivity in inhumane conditions, Father Kapaun kept his fellow soldiers alive by giving away his own food and clothes to them. He also tended to the lives of their souls, keeping faith and hope alive in their hearts and leading them in prayer.

“It’s a great story of hope in utter desolation,” said Father Duvelius. “What he went through is just the worst hell on Earth that I can imagine. And yet, he clung to his faith to the end and gave a great example of faith and hope to his fellow POWs and, by extension, to all of us.”

Against the protests of his fellow soldiers, Chinese soldiers took Father Kapaun away to a nearby building known as a “death house” where he soon died on May 23, 1951. His remains, while unidentified, were brought to Hawaii in 1956. Earlier this year in March, his remains were identified. They were then brought last month to Wichita for a funeral Mass and burial in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“The arena was filled,” said Father Duvelius, who concelebrated the Mass. “It was very moving to walk in and see the crowds of people who came to honor him.”

The Diocese of Wichita opened Father Kapaun’s cause for beatification and canonization in 1993. Father Duvelius has prayed to him and considers him “a powerful intercessor.”

“His story gives me great motivation and courage to face the struggles in my own life,” Father Duvelius said. “[Father Kapaun’s story] is a great message of hope and perseverance in incredible adversity, which gives us hope for living our daily struggles and moving closer to holiness in the midst of them.”

Father Duvelius hopes one day that the Church will declare Father Kapaun a saint.

“I’ll be there, wherever it takes place,” he said. “If I live to see it, I want to be there in person.” †

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