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A Kansan's Ongoing Journey Toward Sainthood

Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas

What is a saint? That’s a question Joe Drape asked himself during his research for his book The Saint Makers: Inside the Catholic Church and How a War Hero Inspired a Journey of Faith.

The war hero is from Kansas, and he’s known as either Father Kuh-PAWN or Father KAY-pin. KMUW’s Tom Shine and Beth Golay caught up with Drape virtually in his New York City apartment to talk about the priest’s ongoing journey toward sainthood. Here’s part of their conversation (you can also watch Golay's author talk with Drape at the video player at the end of the page):

Beth Golay: Your book is about the journey to sainthood and you outlined in your book the four-step journey to sainthood that is in place today.

Joe Drape: Well, it's a process that's evolving and has evolved greatly and has continued to evolve. First of all, you can open a cause. That makes you a Servant of God. All right. The second part is your life is examined. Well, first it is gathered comprehensively: documents, writings, testimonies, whatever can be found. And then that is handed over to a postulator and he puts it into some fashion, some narrative, and largely he's the lobbyist arguing over there on the candidate's behalf.

And first it goes to the historical scholars, and then it goes to a theological panel. They make a recommendation for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and that's a 35-member panel that, you know, basically says, yes, let's move them all up. You know, it's the miracle point is where you cut the wheat from the chaff, if you will, right there.

You know, in the beginning, or as recent as the '80s, it was four miracles you needed, and so it was a lot harder to do this. But John Paul II, he intuited that saints could be the church's superheroes, that they could be a sort of a marketing arm of the church, especially in places where there were shortages of priests or, you know, there was not great ways to get the word out.

Tom Shine: Why wouldn't the church want an American saint from the United States, native born and given the fact that so many Catholics have moved away from the church in our country? To me, that would make... Wouldn't that be a good marketing tool to have a guy as relatable as Father Kapaun?

Credit Earl Wilson
Author Joe Drape

Joe Drape: With Father Kapaun, especially, is three negatives in my view. They still blame the American Catholic priesthood for the sex scandal. So that's one strike. Second, he's a soldier, he's a military guy. Nobody likes us in the rest of the world for our foreign interventions. Still, you know, that doesn't really resonate with the rest of them. And then the third is, yes, it's a small population — it's men, it's in the heartland, it's among military — that's his huge contingent.

And you know, I think he's eventually going to go, but it isn't like you can't move him ahead of the millennial computer player. You can't move him in front of Fulton Sheen. I mean, there's too many other more pressing audiences to reward than that one.

Beth Golay: You know, you say you can't move him in front of Fulton Sheen, or Carlo, he's the 15-year-old. The sainthoods of Mother Teresa and John Paul II were fast-tracked. And Pope Francis has altered the rules for some new saints that he has beatified. And, you know, that some journeys can take centuries. What do you say to people, you know, around here, around Kansas, whose kids go to Kapaun, who might have gone to St. John in Pilsen and knew the Kapaun family?

Joe Drape: What Monsignor Sarno will tell you and the Kansans and me and everybody else is just keep praying. And, you know, that seems such like an ineffectual answer, but that is what they're going to lean on. So, yeah, it's an unfair world, even at the divine level. I think they've done a tremendous job on Father Kapaun, and I would have to say any internal American race—I cover horse racing, okay?—so, you know, he's made the homestretch, he's looming, and he's ready to close on some of these guys right now.

Beth Golay is KMUW's Director of Marketing and Digital Content. She is the host of the KMUW podcast Marginalia and co-host with Suzanne Perez of the Books & Whatnot podcast. You can find her on Wichita Transit in conversation with other riders for En Route, a monthly segment on KMUW's weekly news program The Range.
Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.