“Like everybody else, I think it’s great news we’ve been waiting for some time,” said Father John Hotze, a priest from the Diocese of Wichita who heads the Father Kapaun Guild.
“We’re thrilled he’s finally going to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I think most people would agree he’s been deserving that for some time,” Father Hotze said.
The Medal of Honor is the United States’ highest military award for bravery. Having attained the rank of captain, Father Kapuan received the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star for valor, and a Purple Heart during his military service.
Father Kapuan graduated from Conception Seminary College in Conception, Mo., in June 1936 and then attended Kenrick Theological Seminary (now Kenrick-Glennon Seminary) in St. Louis, where he was ordained in June 1940.
Former Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt told the Wichita Eagle that he had received a note from a military officer in the Pentagon about preparations for a White House ceremony to be held April 11. The Pentagon will honor the Kansas priest on April 12.
Father Kapaun was born in Pilsen, Kansas, and grew up on a farm. He was a parish priest before he joined the U.S. Army. He served as a chaplain with the Eighth Cavalry Regiment in North Korea, which was overrun by the Chinese army in late 1950.
The priest courageously rescued wounded soldiers from the battlefield, risking his own life to save them from execution by the Chinese. Later taken as a prisoner of war, he heroically worked to tend to the starving and sick in a camp that would reach subzero temperatures.
The priest’s service to his fellow prisoners has become legendary. Scores of men attributed their survival to his deeds.
He sneaked out at night to steal food from the prison guards to share with those who were starving, the Wichita Eagle reports. He picked lice off of sick prisoners and shaped roofing tin into cooking pots so the prisoners could boil water.
The priest also encouraged the prisoners to endure despite their terrible conditions, and despite the abuse he himself faced from prison guards.
Father Kapaun died in a prison camp hospital on May 23, 1951, two years before the end of the Korean conflict. Prison authorities denied him medical assistance for a blood clot in his leg.
The Catholic Church named the priest a Servant of God in 1993, an early step on the road to sainthood. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is considering two alleged miracles as it investigates whether he should be beatified.
Father Hotze said the military chaplain exemplified hope and charity.
He instilled in fellow prisoners of war the hope “that they would return home and be reunited with their families.”
“His whole life was an act of charity … both as a priest and as a chaplain,” Father Hotze said. “He was willing to give up his life for others.”
President Barack Obama is expected to present the Medal of Honor to Father Kapaun’s sister-in-law, Helen Kapaun, 83, and her children. He called Mrs. Kapaun in December to tell her about the honor.
Only 3,460 military service members have received the award since its introduction during the Civil War.
The Diocese of Wichita has investigated Father Kapuan’s life since 2001 and officially opened the cause for his beatification on June 29, 2008.
Andrea Ambrosi, a lawyer investigating the case for the Vatican, told the Wichita Eagle he thinks Father Kapaun has a good chance to be raised to the altars.
“He showed that there was not just a devil working on the battlefields of the war, but something else,” the Vatican lawyer said.
The investigator said Father Kapaun’s candidacy is unique compared with the hundreds of other cases he has investigated because it is so full of action and detailed. While most cases involve “very holy” priests and nuns who have miracles attributed to them, Father Kapaun’s story involves far more deeds of heroism, sacrifice and action.
The lawyer has investigated two alleged miracles involving prayers for Father Kapaun’s intercession. In 2006, Avery Gerleman, then 12 years-old, was near death for 87 days. She recovered after her parents prayed to Kapaun.
In October 2008, Chase Kear, a college track athlete, inexplicably survived a severe pole vaulting accident. His skull was fractured from ear to ear and caused some bleeding on his brain. Doctors said he would likely either die in surgery or from a post-surgery infection. However, family and friends joined in petitions to Father Kapaun. Kear survived the surgery and left the hospital only a few days after the incident.
Doctors said both recoveries were medically inexplicable.
Father Hotze said the diocese has finished collecting information that will “hopefully, with the grace of God, prove Father Kapaun worthy of beatification and then canonization as a saint of the Catholic Church.”
Father Kapaun, born in Pilsen in the Diocese of Wichita on Holy Thursday, April 20, 1916, was ordained a priest for the diocese on June 9, 1940, and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944.
After his separation from the service in 1946, he re-entered the Army in 1948 and was sent to Japan the following year.
In July 1950, Father Kapaun was ordered to Korea. On Nov. 2 of that year he was taken as a prisoner of war and died six months later.