© Didde Publishing Co.
Father Kapaun’s many friends were remembered at his First Solemn High Mass celebrated in his home parish on Thursday, June 20, 1940. At 9:30 a.m., a long procession started from the rectory to the church, led by Eugene Kapaun, brother of the celebrant, and two acolytes with torches. Then came fourteen priests, thirty-two flower girls, members of the Knights of St. George and the Catholic Workmen Societies, five pages, two brides of honor, the bride, her veil bearer, four Mass servers, subdeacon, deacon, archpriest, and lastly, the celebrant. The two marching bands of Pilsen escorted the procession to and from the church.
After Mass, the celebrant and his classmates, Father Preisner and Father Vesecky, gave their priestly blessing to the entire congregation.
A banquet was served at noon and in the evening to more than 1,200 guests. In the evening, the parish presented a short program in honor of its first priest.
Ten days later the newly ordained was appointed assistant in his home parish. The aging pastor needed a helper who could speak Bohemian.
The kind, capable, and energetic assistant threw himself into the spiritual, social, and material activities of the parish. He worked particularly with the children and youth. Every recess, when he was not occupied with other duties, he was out on the playground. The little ones adored him. A camera fan caught Father hitting a home run. Notice the Roman collar and rabbi. Father wore it at all times in humble deference to the wishes of Father Sklenar, who was a stickler for his own version of clerical decorum; he still dubs as a “cowboy priest” any Catholic clergyman who appears anywhere without his Roman collar. Father Kapaun even painted the inside of the schoolhouse with his rabbi on!
He did a tremendous amount of manual labor in the yard, mowing around the buildings and in the cemetery, cleaning up rubbish and trimming trees.
One afternoon the energetic assistant was filling in a low spot between the church and the rectory. The wheelbarrow was a creaky affair with a steel-rimmed wheel. Crunching noisily over the stones and sidewalk, it disturbed the siesta of the aged pastor, who was never slow to express his likes and dislikes.
After a few moments of deliberation, Father Emit hurried across the street, asked George Vinduska for an old bicycle tire, cut it the proper length, wired it around the noisy steel rim, and continued his labors — quietly enough to permit the pastor to get his rest.
After one year as assistant, he typed out several interesting pages entitled: PRACTICES AND CUSTOMS AT ST. JOHN NEPOMUCENE PARISH, PILSEN, KANSAS. This compilation combines the ideas of a diary of the Church year with his own personal observations. A few excerpts give some idea of Father Kapaun’s duties.
“May 16: Feast of St. John Nepomucene, Patron Saint of the Parish, was celebrated on that day. Both bands escorted the Fathers from the rectory to the church, in a procession of the Katolicky Delniky (Catholic Workmen),and the Sv. Jiri (St. George) Societies. Between Mass and Benediction, the Litany of St. John is said, led by the celebrant and answered by the choir and people. Benediction. Procession back to the rectory.”
“Dec. 7, 1941, vigil of Immaculate Conception. Japan declared war on the United States. As I listened to the Catholic Evidence Hour from Salina, I was shocked to hear the program interrupted by a special announcement of war hostilities.”
“Dec. 8. Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The people were greatly disturbed over the war. At noon today Congress declared war on Japan. Such a way to honor the Patroness of our country.”
Sept. 12: Grandma Vinduska died. Monsignor tolls the small bell, first in the rolling toll, then a pause, then about seven distinct tolls, a pause, then a rolling toll, pause, distinct tolls, etc., about four or five times.”
“Nov. 2: All Souls Day. I said all three Masses at the side altar, and the pastor had High Mass at 9. No sermon. After blessing of the catafalque, we went to the cemetery. At the cross, Monsignar led the Litany for the Poor Souls in Bohemian.”
In this style, Father Kapaun kept a record of the entire Church year. A few of the customs were carryovers from Bohemia; others were adaptations of oldworld practices.
On June 21, 1941, Father Sklenar celebrated fifty years as a priest and thirty-eight years as pastor of Pilsen. The assistant directed preparations for the grand occasion. Into the GOLDEN JUBILEE BOOKLET of 44 pages, Father Emil put many weeks of research and writing. It is a veritable mine of information about the early days of Pilsen and the parish setup.
At the suggestion of Father Kapaun, Mrs. William Rudolph, a pleasant, friendly woman and a superbly efficient cook, baked several cakes representing the sacred vessels and symbols of Holy Mass — a chalice, a lamb, a sheaf of wheat, a bunch of grapes, and a missal. The Mass book appeared so real that a visiting priest walked up to it as it rested on a table and tried to open it. Father Kapaun was in high glee at the surprise of the padre and commented with a chuckle:
“I just knew some priest would do that!”
The Marion Record-Review carried a full front page acount of the career of Father Sklenar, written by his assistant. Three months later, Sept. 28, 1941, the elderly pastor received the honored title of Monsignor.
Father Kapaun had his first taste of military service when he was appointed auxiliary chaplain at the army air base in Herington, Kansas, sixteen miles north. He performed this service from January 5, 1943, until July 12, 1944, with only a month intermission — in March of 1944 — when his work was temporarily interrupted by an operation.
On April 26, 1943, he gave his first official indication of an attraction to the armed service, in a letter to Bishop Winkelmann:
“I am sending you a copy of the report which I already have sent to the Military Ordinariate.
“So far I am saying Holy Mass at the Base every Sunday. I enjoy the work with the men very much. I visit them in the hospital. They certainly are glad to see a Catholic priest.
“I brought some Catholic magazines to read, among them our Advance Register, and am making arrangements to bring them the Sunday Visitor for their reading room.
“In short, dear Bishop, I love that work.”
Every Sunday about mid-afternoon, Father and Albert Stika, the present postmaster, would start out with Albert driving and Father reading his Breviary. Along the way they picked up servicemen, especially as they approached the Base. The first Mass Father offered at Herington was on April 11, 1943, in a recreation room reeking with tobacco smoke and decorated with cigarette and cigar butts, burnt matches and ashes. A more devotional setting was provided later. After the Mass at 5 p.m., they drove home, eating on the way the lunch provided by the good Sisters at Pilsen. Father also said Mass at the Base on Monday and Tuesday. On every trip he visited the jail and the hospital.
He carried on a faithful correspondence with the boys of the parish who were in service. His letters were lengthy and newsy, spiced with humor and warm with affection. To Gerald Franta, Air Corps, Father wrote Oct. 19, 1942:
“How are you by this time? From what your mother told me and the snapshot of you and your pal, you must be getting along pretty well. We are surely glad to hear that. And I suppose they are keeping you pretty busy. Where would you rather be, in the Air Corps or at home? (Please excuse the typing mistakes.) By typing letters to you boys, I can make a little headway. This is number five tonight. If I wrote all of them in longhand, I soon would have to carry my arm in a sling.”
A letter of November 30, 1942, has this paragraph:
“You mentioned that I should keep the cold winds over here in Kansas. But I surely had my hands full lately. I could not control it all. The wind was coming from Texas, a sort of ‘hot wind’. I guess you fellows began to whoop it up or something, and the hot wind just naturally began to spread around.
“When you get to feeling blue or things don’t go so well, just think of your friends on the ‘home front’ who are praying for you. Every week a holy Mass is said for you and your folks. May God bring you back again healthy and safe and victorious. Write again!
From a soldier of Christ,
Father Emil Kapaun”
March 30, 1943, Father wrote:
“We have fellows scattered all over. The last boys drafted from Pilsen are my brother Eugene and Leonard Lentz. Eugene is in a tank division, presently in the desert of California. He writes that it is a tough place. If the army wants more men, I guess some more Pilseners will have to go. They called recently for 4,000 chaplains. Looks like we young priests will get a chance for some army action.
“During the winter I did you a favor by keeping the cold up here, so now you do me a favor and keep that strong wind in Texas.”
Every energy and talent was devoted to the good of souls. A convert recently remarked:
“I joined the Church mainly because of Father Kapaun. He was so good and kind, and he explained things so clearly.”
Instructing the little ones and joining in their games, long periods in the confessional, endless attendance at meetings, visiting the sick and the aged in addition to his vigorous personal spiritual life occupied the official hours of the young assistant.
Many an additional hour he spent mowing lawns, trimming trees and tidying up the ten-acre parish tract. By private prayer and penance, together with visits and personal appeals, he tried to get some of the wandering sheep back to the fold. Whenever anyone remarked that he had done something special in the way of self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, he answered in his slow drawl:
“Oh, that is nothing. Anybody would have done that.”
He was particularly eager to carry out the wishes of Father Sklenar. After three years of this humble and obedient assistance, he was appointed, Sept. 16, 1943, as administrator of St. John’s, effective when Monsignor resigned. On Nov. 2, the pastor did relinquish the reins and retired to Marion, Kan.