Newman University follows Father Emil Kapaun cause for canonization


As Newman University celebrates the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the community also follows the cause for sainthood of another figure associated with the university, Father Emil Kapaun, the Army chaplain from Pilsen, Kan., who died in 1951 in a North Korean prisoner of war camp.

Kapaun was ordained in St. John’s Chapel at Newman on June 9, 1940. He is also the subject of a 12-foot by 4 ½-foot painting by artist Wendy Lewis that has hung in the chapel since 2009.

In August, a total of more than 220 people learned more about the priest’s life and cause for sainthood through a presentation by Newman University and The Vagabond Players of “The Miracle of Father Kapaun.” The play, a readers theatre presentation, is based on the original eight-part series on the life of Kapaun written for The Wichita Eagle by Roy Wenzl. The original stage script was written by Anne Welsbacher in collaboration with Dr. Richard Welsbacher.

The Miracle of Father Kapaun

The first performance on Friday, Aug. 13, featured a reception following the play with cast members and guests of honor the Kear family of Colwich, Kan. In 2008, college student Chase Kear suffered a severe head injury in a pole vaulting accident. He was not expected to live, but recovered in what his doctors and family describe as a miracle because, as the family claims, they prayed to Kapaun to intercede.

For the Saturday, Aug. 14 performance, the event included a dinner featuring guest speakers Wenzl and Joe Davison, M.D., Chase Kear’s physician. Proceeds from both evenings benefited Newman University Fine Arts and provided support for the university’s theatre program.

Kapaun was given the title “Servant of God” in 1993 by the Catholic Church. Father John Hotze, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Wichita, has spent many years as the postulator of Kapaun’s cause for canonization, gathering information to determine if Kapaun performed a miracle and is worthy of being beatified. Kapaun’s cause for sainthood was officially opened June 29, 2008.

The diocese and the Archdiocese of the Military Services have received and are investigating several reports of miracles involving Kapaun, including accounts by survivors of the POW camp who witnessed Kapaun’s acts of kindness and faith. In June 2009, the Roman Postulator of Kapaun’s cause Dr. Andrea Ambrosi investigated Kear’s case and others.

Kapaun is also being considered by the Vatican for possible designation as a martyr for the faith, which would allow him to be beatified without performing a miracle. As of the time Challenge went to press, a decision has not been made on either consideration.

The U.S. Army and U.S. Congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) have also pursued awarding Kapaun a Medal of Honor. Both the Secretary of the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended him for the nation’s highest military honor. Because of a three-year statute of limitations on receiving the medal, however, an exception must be granted by Congress.

In May, Tiahrt successfully added language to the House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would waive the limitation. As of the time Challenge went to press, Congress had not yet acted.

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