The Story of the Newest of American Saints

The Miraculous Case of Chase Kear, and Father Emil Kapaun: perhaps about to be the newest of the American saints:

You wouldn't know that this may be a story about the newest of American saints....

During the Korean War, an Army Chaplain, Father Emil Kapaun re-enlisted. He was from Wichita, Kansas, and assigned to the Eighth Cavalry, 35th Brigade. They landed in South Korea during a big invasion and constantly moved northward. For several weeks at a time, he wouldn't be able to sleep. He was administering to the dead and dying, and performing baptisms, and I'm sure not thinking about American saints. He was hearing confessions and administering the Mass and Holy Communion from an alter set up on an army jeep. Enemy fire was constant. In September of 1950, shortly before his capture, he was awarded the Bronze Star.

In November of 1950, his unit was overrun by the Chinese in North Korea. During the battle, Fr. Kapaun rescued wounded soldiers from execution. He went out repeatedly under heavy mortar fire and shelling to carry or pull into holes the wounded and dying. His feet became badly frozen, but that didn't stop him from caring for his soldiers.

He was taken a prisoner of war. Even then, he continued to tend to the starving and sick among his fellow prisoners. Although none of this was considered a miracle, he stole food for the soldiers, defied guards’ attempts to indoctrinate soldiers and made pots out of roofing tin so they could boil snow for water; water for drinking and for washing their lice infested clothing. All this time, he maintained his practice of faith, prayer, and the rosary, living and exemplary life.

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He suffered from a blood clot in his leg which went untreated. He continually weakened until after a sunrise Easter Service, he was taken to the hospital. He died in May, 1951 of pneumonia, two years before the end of the war. Soldiers returning from the POW camps told stories of Kapaun’s heroism and faith. Some claimed he deserved to be named the newest of American saints, and to receive the Medal of Honor. He received a citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, and may soon be named the newest of American saints.

There are five steps to canonization, or being declared a saint, whether an American saint or not, in the Catholic Church. First, a local bishop must initiate the process by collecting evidence from the person’s life and writings that they are especially virtuous. This evidence is sent to the Vatican where a panel of theologians and cardinals in the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate the life. If they believe it is warranted, they propose to the pope that he proclaim the candidate “venerable.” At that point, the local bishop among others who knew the candidate, begin looking for evidence of a miracle. The exception is that martyrs who die defending their faith can be beatified without a miracle. Once a second miracle is attributed to the candidate, full sainthood will be confirmed by the pope.

The story of Father Kapaun has been celebrated in Wichita and local parishes have prayed to him for years. The diocese has presented his case to the Vatican for Canonization and the process called beatification has been moving forward. He would be only the third of American saints to be canonized.

This is where Chase Kear comes in. In October 2008, Chase Kear, a Colwich man, was seriously injured in a pole-vaulting accident. The doctors explained that he cracked his skull from ear to ear. They had little hope for him to survive both the operation (to remove skull fragments) and any infection that would likely occur afterwards. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Raymond Grundmeyer considers Chase’s survival a miracle.

The family organized communal prayers to Fr. Kapaun right away and credit Chase’s complete recovery a few weeks later, to Fr. Kapaun. (For help with prayer and meditation.)

On June 21st, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced that they would investigate an alleged miracle in Kansas. Andrea Ambrosi will arrive on Friday from the Vatican. He is a lawyer by training and is coming to investigate. Witnesses will be called and data will be collected. This will be an elaborate process. Testimony will be compared as in a court of law.

This collection will go back to the Vatican, and questions will be compiled. There will be a “Devil’s Advocate” who will compile questions, and Fr. Kapaun’s defenders will argue their case. Eventually, when there are no more questions, Fr. Kapaun will be canonized as a saint. Traditionally, no one is canonized until 50 years have lapsed after their death. Fr. Kapaun has already jumped that hurtle. The pope will have the discretion of assigning him to a group as their patron saint. I suspect from what we know about Fr. Kapaun, he would appropriately be made a patron saint of soldiers or of POW’s. (For our main veterans page see All are American saints)