Fr. Emil Kapaun: Servant of God and Country

Fr. Emil Kapaun: Servant of God and Country May 25, 2023

Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God
Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God, is a hero in every sense of the word. This Memorial Day, I’d like to reflect a little bit on the life of Fr. Emil and how we can emulate him in his service of God, country, and others.

I won’t go too much into Father’s biography because you can get some great longform bios of his life and service elsewhere (links at the bottom).

In short, this man was a simple boy raised in rural Kansas. He became a priest and Army Chaplain. After serving in WWII and the Korean War, he was captured and eventually allowed to die in a POW camp. In the midst of all of the suffering around him, he inspired men, saved their lives, and brought them closer to God.

Servant of God

Emil Kapaun served God with his entire life: as a priest, through prayer, and as a missionary.

From a young age, Emil felt called to serve God. Accounts from his journals as a kid even show his desire to “pray hard“.

This prayer life allowed Emil to hear his call to serve God even further as a priest. With encouragement and financial support from his local parish priest, he was able to go to seminary and get ordained.

Faithfully, Fr. Emil served the Wichita diocese and was obedient to his bishop even during difficult assignments.

One assignment he did grow to love was his service to the local Army base, leading him to ask permission to enlist himself as an Army chaplain. There were many Catholic soldiers who needed access to the sacraments. There were also many non-Catholic soldiers who would be inspired and moved by the witness of Fr. Kapaun.

He was a true father to the soldiers around him, and a missionary who taught them about God’s peace in the midst of war.

This life of virtue allows Fr. Emil to be formally called a Servant of God in the Church. Now, with the miraculous return of his body to Kansas, he is hopefully on the way to being a canonized Saint!

Servant of Country

Fr. Emil Kapaun was not only a priest devoted to the Church, but also a U.S. Army chaplain devoted to his country.

He served in Burma and India in WWII. Later, he would serve in Japan, and be among the soldiers in North Korea during the Korean War.

It was in Korea that his bravery would earn him the Medal of Honor.

President Obama described some of Father Kapaun’s heroism in his speech on April 11, 2013:

“Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away, he saw another American — wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless.  An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot.  And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside.  And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried that wounded American away.

This is the valor we honor today — an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all, a love for his brothers so pure that he was willing to die so that they might live.”

– President Barack Obama, April 11, 2013 (watch or read the speech)

Father was known to ignore dangerous enemy fire in order to carry the wounded, saving U.S. soldiers, and encouraging them to continue their fight, even during imprisonment as a prisoner of war.

Servant for Others

 “ No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

Fr. Emil served God and his country through his service to others. He didn’t save men from death and tell them about Jesus because God or his country wanted him to. He did it because he sincerely loved every person, even his captors whom he paused and asked for forgiveness from on his way into the “hospital” where he would be left to die.

Anything anyone needed, he tried to provide it: a smile, a joke, a back to be carried on. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, everyone knew that Fr. Emil Kapaun was there for them.

He even cared for the dead by volunteering to bury them and sending letters of comfort home to their families.

President Obama summed it up well:

That faith — that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home — was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine.  Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

President Barack Obama, April 11, 2013

Remember and Emulate

This Memorial Day, how can we remember and honor the legacy of Fr. Emil? We can strive to be joyful in our sufferings, and think of God and others in our country.

Let’s serve God through prayer and sharing Him with others, serve our country by striving to make it a better place to live, and do both of these things by serving those around us.

Not only is it Memorial Day weekend, but this week, May 23rd, was the 72nd anniversary of Fr. Emil Kapaun’s death.  Fr. Emil Kapaun, Servant of God, Pray for us!

Learn about and Remember Fr. Emil Kapaun

Here are some great resources to learn more about Fr. Emil: – a great summary of his life, and his biography, A Shepherd in Combat Boots

Fr. Emil’s last recorded homily – Father talks about peace right before he is sent into Korea. I like to imagine that my grandfather heard this broadcast as a Marine in Japan around this time.

Look up his name in any Podcast app and listen to any of the amazing stories of his life!

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