US Army chaplain on road to sainthood

rare photo shows Fr Emil celebrating Mass on a battlefield

rare photo shows Fr Emil celebrating Mass on a battlefield

The cause of an American army chaplain who died in a North Korean prison camp in 1951, has come a step closer as the Vatican has begun to investigate a number of possible miracles. 

Fr Emil Kapaun, a priest from Wichita, Kansas, was born in 1916.  His family was of Bohemian extraction. He volunteered for Army chaplain duty in the Korean War.

He was assigned to the US Army's Eighth Cavalry regiment, which was surrounded and overrun by the Chinese army in North Korea in October and November 1950. He stayed behind with the wounded when the Army retreated. He constantly administered to the dead and dying while performing baptisms, hearing Confessions, offering Holy Communion and celebrating Mass from an improvised altar set up on the front end of an army jeep.

Fr Kapaun often lost his Mass Kit, jeep and trailer to enemy fire. He told how he was thoroughly convinced that the prayers of many others were what had saved him so many times. He was captured in November, 1950 and then risked death by preventing Chinese executions of wounded Americans too injured to walk. Several soldiers say the Chinese prison camp guards deliberately starved him to death to stop the religious services he conducted in defiance of camp rules.

He died in a POW camp on May 23, 1951 aged 35, and was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.

American soldiers came out of prisoner-of-war camps in 1953 with incredible stories about Kapaun's heroism and faith. They said that in the fierce winter of 1950 and 1951, when 1,200 out of 3,000 American prisoners starved to death or died of illness in Camp 5 along the Yalu River, Kapaun kept hundreds alive by stealing food and by force of will.

On 29 June 2008, the Opening Ceremony for the Cause for Sainthood for Fr Emil Kapaun took place at St John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, Kansas.

Last Friday, June 26, Dr Andrea Ambrosi, the Roman Postulator for Father Kapaun's cause for canonization arrived in Wichita in order to interview doctors about some alleged miraculous events. Among these, are the claims of 20-year-old Chase Kear who survived a severe head injury last year in part, because he and his family say, they  petitioned Fr Emil Kapaun to intercede for them.

Kear, a member of the Hutchinson Community College track team, fell on his head during pole vaulting practice in October, 2008 but, it is said, was miraculously healed despite being near death.

The Rev John Hotze, the judicial vicar for the Diocese of Wichita, who is assisting the investigation said he "had never seen doctors who made such a compelling case for miracles occurring."

Share this story