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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Story of Chaplain Kapaun

by
Arthur Tonne

published by
Didde Publishers
Emporia, KS, 1954

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 7

p86 Chapter Six

Burma and India

March 29, 1945

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"I have been traveling nearly the whole month. On March 4, we left Miami Beach, Florida, via air (ATC). On March 8, at 1:00 P.M., we flew directly over Bethlehem. Imagine the thrill to be up in the clouds where the angels of the Nativity had sung. We could see a part of Jericho and the Jordan emptying upon the deep sea. The grazing land and white rocks looked beautiful from the high skies. I can tell you that we were in Delhi, India. p87I saw the large palace of Shadahan,º also the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

"I am somewhere in Burma. It is very hot here, still hotter in the jungles. A newcomer has plenty to keep him interested. The natives are very kind. Many are Christians."


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Beside his jeep on the hills of Burma

Later he writes:

April 30, 1945

"The work of a Catholic priest out here with the American men is very gratifying, especially when we see the efforts many make to go to Holy Mass and the Sacraments. However, the men also have the opportunity to see actually how the Catholic Missionaries live. The heroism of those missionaries puts us to shame.

"Since I last wrote you, I had the privilege to meet two Catholic Sisters from Italy. When the Japanese came, the Sisters left their school and church and fled to the hills with the native people. They took what things they could from the church — vestments, chalice, etc. — and hid them in a cave. Sisters told us the opening of the cave was so small that no adult could enter, but they lowered a young child into the cave, then piece by piece they lowered with ropes the things they wanted to hide from the Japs. The Japs never found the place, so all those things were saved. The Sisters lived up in the mountains in a cave. For 15 months, they had no Mass and no Sacraments. Their Missionary priest had been taken away by the Japs. During these long 15 months those holy souls, natives and Sisters, prayed together. On Christmas, they got up at Midnight, sang the entire Christmas Mass — Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc. They had everything but Holy Mass. On Good Friday of this year, our American soldiers found these good nuns up in the hills. They brought them down to live in a nearby dwelling, and on Easter Sunday, Father Glavin, our American Chaplain, said Holy Mass for them and the natives. Imagine the joy of those good people to attend p88Holy Mass again and to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Since then I, too, have had the pleasure of working with them. Our soldiers love these Catholic people."

Father Kapaun was prompt and conscientious about his monthly reports. They give an idea of his activities.

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Father Manghesi, Sister Bernadette (Anglo-Indian), Sister Magdalene (Anglo-Indian), Burmese Sister, Mother Ann Mary, Sister Lina, so and so. (That is Father Kapaun's expression of himself). Father and the Sisters are Italian.

A report from India, May, 1945, to Bishop Winkelmann:

"During May I traveled by air and jeep over 2,000 miles to have Mass for the troops at the Forward Areas. That necessitated my absence from my home station on Sundays. However, the local Missionary Fathers of St. Columban have supplied in my absence.

"For Catholic civilian refugees and the Sisters, I said 7 Sunday and weekday Masses; 26 Confessions, 51 Communions. I also baptized 3 children, the records of which are entered in the local Church Register."

p89 During July he traveled 2,500 miles; during October, another 2,000 miles, saying Mass in chapels, mess halls, recreation rooms and theatres.

July 1, 1945

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"Together with my monthly report, I am sending you a few lines of appreciation for the long, most welcome, and interesting letter of May 4. It reached me on May 16. Our Governmental Postal System is doing a grand job with the mail. However, here in the jungles, we have not received any home papers, so I have not seen a single copy of the Advance Register since I left the good old U. S. A. I need not tell you how much I miss it, especially news of the Diocese.

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With Father Manghesi, the Sisters and some of the natives

"Our work with the soldiers is sometimes strenuous, sometimes dangerous, but always worth the effort. My outfits are scattered over a long distance of jungles and mountains. I travel mostly by aeroplane, making a round trip of 500 miles every week to reach my units during p90May. Once my pilot and I escaped a very serious accident by about 30 seconds. I am sure we both would have been killed. After that, my Guardian Angel received a hearty thanks.

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"Just a bum!"

"In my last letter I mentioned something about the Missionary Father and Sisters out here. Our Catholic Soldiers built a church and school for the Sisters. Imagine the gratitude of those good Sisters who had been up in the mountains hiding in a cave for nearly three years. They did not have a priest or Holy Mass for 15 long months. Now the priests are returning again to their Missions. They had been interned by the Japanese and were treated fairly well. However, many of them bear scars of their past experience, and one of them was killed while saying Mass. We soldiers gave the good Sisters $1,000.00 and again we pitched in and gave the Missionary Fathers $1,700.00. The Missionaries hardly knew what p91to say. We took the Sisters to our Mass in the Army Chapel. When they saw it jammed with Catholic soldiers, and the Communion railing filled with about 100 Communicants, the Sisters were so impressed they began to cry. The native Catholics, too, can see that the Catholic Church is very much alive in other countries.

"One day after I had said Mass in the village, the children said to Sister, 'Why, the American Father says Mass just like our own Father.'

"Yes, one cannot help but be impressed that the Catholic Church is one and the same the whole world over; even little children are able to notice that.

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At home with these children

"I wish that the good people in the Wichita Diocese could see face to face the work of the generous Missionary Fathers and Sisters. Our Catholic soldiers who see this will appreciate so much more the struggling missions and p92their faithful priests and Sisters. I think we can appreciate a little more the great work of the society of the Propagation of Faith. When one sees the well-behaved children attending Mass, with their parents kneeling in devout prayer, many of whom are very poor and have only the bare necessities of life, it makes a person think and remember that at home there are many such holy parents and children. Surely one is as precious in the sight of God as the other, whether in Missionary lands or in well-established Dioceses."

On November 1, 1945, he reported:

"In this part of the world, November 1 is not a day of obligation. Our personnel are being shipped out rapidly so that the units here have small numbers of men. Hence, in covering long distances we really reach only a few. However, the few are as precious as the many, and I believe that a priest who would refuse to go out just for a few would be seriously neglecting his duty. My farthest unit was 170 miles from my office."

He wrote to his Bishop, January 3, 1946, when he was promoted to Captain:

"In regard to becoming a Regular army Army Chaplain, I would hesitate to assume such a burden, especially since the type of life itself is filled with so many 'unclerical circumstances' and one is so hampered in trying to lead a normal priestly life. However, someone surely has to take up the burden; and, if you should decide that I ought to do so, I would accept it as the will of God and try to make the best of it. Perhaps it is entirely unpriestly of me to look upon such a difficult life with hesitation, for surely a priest should be anxious to take up any cross for his love of God."

February 1, 1946

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"With the monthly report come a few lines from the p93India Chaplain. Nothing out of the ordinary. Our men are leaving fast; only a very few are being brought in here as replacements, so our attendance at Masses, etc., is expected to drop lower and lower. However, I am told by the Theatre Chaplain that I shall be left here as 'clean up' man, until the end, which is supposed to be in June.

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Two St. Columban missionary Fathers. Chaplain Kapaun smokes his pipe.

"We hear over the radio about your inclement winter. It seems almost incredible here in India, where the flowers are in full bloom and the trees are in full foliage and the days are warm. In January our warmest day was 86 degrees, and the coldest night was about 33 or 34 degrees. My, what a shock that would be for us to be transported suddenly back to the States. By air transportation some soldiers get back home in three days. It hardly seems possible that we are only a few days' journey from home.

p94 "In the army life I find that one's time is so taken up doing just 'insignificant' things that a Chaplain's review of theology, etc., is much neglected. However, the 'insignificant' things are part of our work and offer a good opportunity for patience and perseverance. Our office and time are open to all callers, so that, if we do our work, say Holy Mass, say the Holy Office and Rosary, with a short meditation and a little spiritual reading, the hours of the day will have vanished and one nearly fears to examine the accomplishments.

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In the distance Chaplain Kapaun is hearing confessions before Mass

"We were very fortunate to have Father L. Carroll, Redemptorist from Singapore, give us a 'healthy' Mission. Many men profited from the graces put before them. I profited from it, too, as I needed it as badly as the men did. In November, 1945, I made a Mission at the Cathedral here in Delhi. To make such a Mission is like coming into a quiet and peaceful village after tramping through the p96desert fighting a strong gale which blows sand into a person's eyes."

(p95) 
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Beside my jeep with a Columban Father

March 1, 1946

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"It looks as though we will pull up the last gangplank for our troops in India. I love my work, although it is only for a few men. I had a class of eight students studying Latin. I have only three left now, and soon will have only two. They will go to the Seminary once they become civilians. Hardly did I think when I became an Army Chaplain that I would be taking on some of the work of a Seminary Professor.

"Our contact with the local Missionaries is most edifying and uplifting, especially when one sees what sacrifices they make to do their work. I have been in their Churches and their homes. I have seen the way their people live and the simplicity that is theirs. The good Missionary is everything to these people. He is the humblest among them all, and yet he is held in the greatest esteem. It certainly is a wonderful thing to be a priest of God, no matter where one goes. Working with these poor people seems to give a very close contact with God; for I have yet to meet anyone more grateful for the small amount of help that we Catholic Chaplains have given them. God bless all of them."

Chaplain Kapaun sailed from Calcutta, India, May 3, 1946, and arrived at San Francisco, May 30. On June 4, he was separated from active service. Toward the end of that month he made a private retreat at Conception College, Conception, Missouri.

Bishop Winkelmann told him to take a vacation until August 1. But the generous-hearted priest sacrificed even part of that. He took the place of Father White at Strong City from July 16 until August 1, so that the latter could go on his vacation.


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Page updated: 24 Dec 13