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Father Kapaun took his added responsibility seriously. That he had won his way into the hearts of the people in his home parish is attested by a petition sent to Bishop Winkelmann, Nov. 7, 1943:
“We the undersigned committee of the St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen humbly petition your Excellency for this favor: We would greatly appreciate and consider it a favor if your Excellency would leave Rev. E. J. Kapaun, our present administrator, as a permanent pastor of our parish unless your Excellency has already made a different assignment. There are peculiar circumstances and needs of our community which require proper handling of our people. We consider this appointment would redound to our parish’s good and to the service of the whole diocese. In the name and wish of our parish membership we have undertaken this step.
“We assure your Excellency of our filial respect and obedience to whatever your decision may be.”
Signed Adolph Holub
Alphonse E. Bosh
A pet desire of the young pastor was to interest everyone in the Bible. To that end he organized a study group. At Christmas of 1943 he gave every boy and girl in the Pilsen school a copy of the New Testament.
A parishioner recollects:
“He was always trying to increase interest in the Church, especially on the part of the younger folks. When he was at Pilsen, I remember he organized a young people’s club, and he was never too busy to fill in when the kids were playing baseball. Emil liked — and wanted to help — all people, regardless of their religious persuasion. This kindness helped make him the hero he was.”
His sermons were to the point, with a ring of sincerity. Frequently he used the expression “for example”; then he would offer some homey, down-to-earth illustration of what he was explaining. He tried to instill in the heart of every parishioner the spark of sanctity that burned in his own.
On the surface everything seemed to be going smoothly, but the heart of the shepherd was heavy. He bares his soul in a letter of June 8, 1944:
“Most Reverend and dear Bishop,
“I am writing to you for the sake of clearing my conscience. When I received my first appointment as assistant in my home parish, I realized the situation would be very delicate. I understood you to remark that you were making me pastor of Pilsen, my home parish. Since then, my conscience has been bothering me because, in regard to the salvation of souls, several things should be considered.
“As assistant, I was determined to do my work solely for Christ. I showed no favoritism to anyone. In fact, I treated my relatives and friends coldly (with no special affection). Some people seemed to be scandalized at that, but I am sure all of them realized I was trying to be a good priest to all. The people told me that they do not want me to go, but I assured them that the Bishop knows what is best and that the will of God is expressed through his decision. The people know that. And if they get a good, holy priest, they will be as attached to him in a short time as they have become attached to me. This part does not worry me, but the following fact does.
“I was raised in this parish. There are people here, relatives and friends, who are superior to me (in age, in school, etc.). Some find it difficult to look up to me as their spiritual superior. They do not say anything, but from the way they act and the way they perform their spiritual obligations, I know they find me a great moral obstacle. If they had a ‘strange’ Bohemian priest, that obstacle would no longer exist.
“The people here at Pilsen must have a priest who can hear confessions in Bohemian. He must also give sermons occasionally in this language of the majority, although most understand English.
“Those who want to keep me here are the good, faithful members. If they received another good priest who works with them in their language, they will be as faithful and zealous under him as they were under good Monsignor Sklenar and me; and the other people, those who find me to be a moral obstacle, will be assured that with a ‘strange’ priest they will not have that trouble. I am sure you realize what I mean.
“It is in consideration of these people who will not complain or say anything but who really need a ‘strange’ Bohemian priest that I am writing this letter. My conscience tells me to do it because their souls are at stake. Some of those people feel that I still remember and hold against them things they did in former years. I could tell them a hundred times that all is forgotten — yet they will not be assured but will hold back and be afraid. That is the human element, and it creates a serious moral obstacle. To remove it, I try to be humble and kind as possible. Your Excellency, I am sure you understand that I am most anxious someone be given them who can be as St. Paul described it, ‘All things to all men.’
“When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God. I was determined to do that cheerfully no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead. This is why I volunteered for the Army and that is why today I would a thousand times rather be working, deprived of all ordinary comforts, being a true ‘Father’ to all my people, than be living in a nice, comfortable place but with my conscience telling me that I am an obstacle to many.
“I had wished to mention this to you a long time ago. But I trust this is not too late and that now my conscience will be at peace in this regard.
“Wishing you God’s blessing and trusting in your kind benevolence toward Pilsen Parish, I remain
Your Excellency’s humble Servant, Rev. Emil Kapaun”
A week later Bishop Winkelmann recommended him for an Army Chaplaincy, and on July 12, 1944, relieved him of the pastorate at Pilsen and the Auxiliary Chaplaincy at Herington. His successor was a classmate and bosom friend, Father John Vesecky, who tells of that time:
“When I was appointed to succeed him at Pilsen, he stayed with us for several weeks until he left for military service. I gave him a key to the rectory, and he came and went as he wished. He was a most generous guest. Never once that I can remember did he ever come without bringing something — food, candy, etc.”
His last communication on his way to Chaplain’s Training School was this postcard from Chicago — dated August 24, 1944:
“Dear Dad and Mother: Our train was one hour and 45 minutes late. Mr. Supena met me. This morning I offered Mass in the Bohemian Church of Blessed Agnes. It seems everyone is Bohemian in this part of Chicago. I will write more later. Emil”