8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

Emil J. Kapaun, Pilsen

Address: Pilsen, Kansas 66861
Phone: 620.924.5282
Website: frkapaun.org/

Emil J. Kapaun, a priest and military chaplain is being considered by the Vatican for sainthood because of his exemplary service and dedication while being held in a Korean prisoner of war camp. 1916-1951.

Update: President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Chaplain Kapaun on 11 April 2013.

Father Emil Kapaun. Photo courtesy Les Broadstreet

Emil Joseph Kapaun was born on April 20, 1916 to Czech immigrants Enos and Elizabeth Kapaun. The family lived on a farm three miles southwest of Pilsen, Kansas. Fr. Kapaun graduated from Pilsen High School in May 1930 and then left for the seminar to study for the  priesthood. On June 9, 1940, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita at St. John's Chapel, in what is now Newman University in Wichita. He celebrated his first Mass at St. John Nepomucene Church in his home town of Pilsen.

Soon after ordination, Father Kapaun began serving as an Auxiliary Chaplain at the Herington (KS) Air Base. He served in the India and Burma Theater during World War II from 1944 to 1946. After re-enlisting in 1948, Kapaun was amid the United Nations forces that went to the aid of South Korea after the invasion of the North Koreans in 1950. In late 1950, Kapaun along with the Eighth Cavalry Regiment found themselves surrounded by the North Korean and Chinese armies. While the regiment attempted to flee to safety, Father Kapaun volunteered to remain behind with the wounded. Kapaun and the wounded soldiers he was trying to protect were captured on November 2, 1950.

Father Kapaun displayed courage in the battlefield by ministering to his men regardless of the circumstances. He went to the men in their time of need, often when his own life was threatened. In the prison camp he cared for the spiritual and physical needs of his fellow captives, often disobeying direct orders from their captives as he provided food, prayers and whatever creature comforts he could for his fellow prisoners. Kapaun is remembered by his fellow prisoners as a man of great humility, bravery and constancy. He was their hero, their admired and beloved "Padre." He was a man of hope, and instilled that hope in others.

Fr. Kapaun, weakened as months passed on, managed to lead Easter sunrise service on Sunday, March 25, 1951.  With frozen feet and suffering from malnutrition and dysentery he developed blood clots in his legs. Seizing the opportunity to be rid of Father Kapaun, his captors took him to the camp hospital, the "death house" to his fellow prisoners. Father Kapaun died on May 23, 1951 and was buried in a mass grave.

On August 18, 1951, Fr. Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Unsan, North Korea. On April 11, 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Chaplain Kapaun.  In addition, the Cause for Canonization was officially opened on June 29, 2008.

Fr. Kapaun on the battlefield. Photo courtesy
Father Kapaun Guild

Source:  Fr. John Hotze and Diana Stanfill

Read Wichita Eagle writer Roy Wenzl's account of Father Kapaun's story.

Father Kapaun repairing his bicycle during the war. Photo courtesy Father Kapaun Guild


PILSEN (Marion Co.)

  • St. John Nepomucene Church, Pilsen. He attended this church as a youth and celebrated his first mass here.
  • Korean War Memorial. Near the church, find this inspirational bronze statue depicting Kapaun aiding a wounded soldier.
  • Father Kapaun Museum, in old rectory next to the church. 620.924.5282.
  • Father Kapaun Memorial, in the cemetery behind the church. At the base of the large cross stands a small memorial stone to Father Kapaun who died in 1951.


  • Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, (Saint Mary's Cathedral), 307 E. Central.Bronze door panel honoring Father Kapaun.
  • Kapaun Mount Carmel Catholic High School, 8506 East Central. Many Kapaun artifacts are on display, including the crucifix carved by fellow prisoners of war.

  • Newman University, St. John's Chapel, Administration Building 3100 West McCormick. Place of Kapaun's ordination, now a Kapaun Mural depicting his life.