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Family Of Father Kapaun Says Remains Will Be Interred In Wichita Cathedral

Photo Courtesy of Catholic Diocese of Wichita
The remains of Father Emil Kapaun, lost for nearly 70 years before they were identified last month, will be interred at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.

The remains of Father Emil Kapaun, lost for nearly 70 years, will return to Kansas.

Kapaun’s family and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita said Kapaun’s remains will be placed in a crypt inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Broadway and Central in downtown Wichita.

“We wanted to let everyone know that Father will be coming back home to Kansas," Ray Kapaun, Father Kapaun’s nephew, posted on Facebook. "And that he is coming back home to Kansas to stay."

Father Kapaun died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in 1951. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor and is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Ray Kapaun, who accepted the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2013 on his uncle’s behalf, said the family has been in discussions with the diocese since Father Kapaun’s remains were identified last month.

Because Father Kapaun is being considered for sainthood, his remains need to be kept in a location where they will not be disturbed. Kapaun was a priest in the Wichita diocese, and the cathedral is the diocese’s mother church.

“We felt that this would not only provide a secure place, but also provide a safe and suitable place for all to come to visit and venerate his remains,” Ray Kapaun wrote.

He wrote that a timeline for Father Kapaun’s return is uncertain, but doesn’t expect it to happen before the fall. Ray Kapaun said the diocese is working with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, which is investigating Father Kapaun’s case for sainthood.

Father Kapaun was born in 1916 in Pilsen, a small farming community in Marion County. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1940 at what is now Newman University. A mural honoring Kapaun adorns the school’s chapel.

He served as an Army chaplain in World War II before returning to Kansas to serve as a parish priest. He enlisted again and was among the first troops that landed in Korea after war broke out in June 1950.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Unsan on Nov. 1-2, 1950. When American forces pulled back, Kapaun stayed behind to care for the wounded soldiers.

After his capture and imprisonment, Kapaun stole food to help feed his fellow POWs. He tended to the sick and washed the clothes of prisoners too weak to do so. He also provided spiritual comfort during a brutally cold winter that saw nearly half the prisoners die.

He died in May 1951 after falling ill. He was 35.

He was buried in a shallow grave in the camp, and the location of his remains remained a mystery.

In 1956, three years after the Korean War ended, nearly 900 sets of unidentified remains were returned from North Korea. They were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, known as the “Punchbowl.”

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, maintains a laboratory near the Punchbowl where it helps identify remains. In 2019, it began working through more than 650 sets of unidentified remains from Korea.

Last month, defense officials said Kapaun’s remains were identified using dental records and DNA provided by Eugene Kapaun, Father Kapaun’s brother and Ray Kapaun’s father.

Father Kapaun’s actions in the POW camp led the Vatican to name him a Servant of God in 1993, the first step in the long process to sainthood.

If Kapaun were named a saint, his remains likely would be moved to a shrine or chapel honoring his life.

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 a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.