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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Story of Chaplain Kapaun

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 8

 p97  Chapter Seven

Academic Interim

Following the sudden death of Father Dombrowsky, pastor of St. John Church, Spearville, Kansas, Father Kapaun was appointed temporary administrator. He wrote to his Bishop, August 5:

"First I wish to thank you for the appointment as Administrator pro tem of St. John's Parish, Spearville.

"Yesterday I received my discharge from the Army (July 25). I am now able to submit my application for the G. I. Educational benefit, to attend school this September at Catholic University.

"But in the meantime, I have run up against some difficulties. First of all, Father Goracy tried to get me a place to stay, either at Catholic U. or near it. There is nothing available. Secondly, our Diocese has suffered heavily in the deaths of Fathers Dombrowsky and Mages; and I feel, if I am needed in the Diocese, I should much prefer doing pastoral work. Thirdly, I doubt seriously my present ability to meet with the scholastic demands at Catholic University. My army career of nearly two years left me little opportunity for 'books' and naturally to enter abruptly into a strenuous course of study makes one wonder if he can manage to keep up to requirements.

"According to our G. I. Bill of Rights, we can begin our educational studies any time within four years after discharge. Frankly, good Bishop, I would prefer not to go to Catholic University, at least this year. However, I shall be glad to abide by your decision, whatever it may be."

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Before the rectory evergreens at Pilsen, returned from a tour of duty.a

 p99  From August 23 until the end of September, Father assisted in St. Teresa Church, Hutchinson.

Bishop Winkelmann found it impossible to secure a place of residence for Father Kapaun at Washington. He then thought of enrolling him at St. Louis University. In seeking a residence, he wrote to the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church, St. Louis:

"I do not hesitate in the least to recommend Father Kapaun to your household. He is an 'anima candida', a noble priestly gentleman. He will cause you no trouble as far as house discipline is concerned; in fact, he will be an inspiration to your assistants. He is a studious person, and I know that night life, with shows, etc., does not appeal to him."

However, accommodations were found for him in Washington; and, shortly after getting settled there, he writes:

Catholic University
October 13, 1946

"Reverend and dear Father Goracy:

"I arrived here on October 1, found Father Arand, and was assigned to Room 105 in St. John's Hall. Your description of the rooms was correct. However, they are not bad. The meals are good. On October 1, I registered, planned my course, and on October 2, I attended my first classes.

"They permitted me to take only 12 semester hours, majoring in Education, minoring in History. I explained that Bishop Winkelmann wished the Vet Chaplains to get a degree in Education to qualify as accredited teachers in our diocesan and public high schools. Professor Drobka, my advisor, looked up the qualifications required by the State of Kansas and told me that I needed not only an M. A. but also certain special credits to obtain a State Teacher's Certificate. I could qualify either in English or  p100 History, but in neither did I have the required credits. By minoring in History, I will have sufficient credits to obtain the State Teacher's Certificate when I have completed the work required for an M. A.

"In Education we had to take a comprehensive test, in which we would receive credit for past knowledge or experience in what undergraduate studies we had previously. I made six credits in the text out of a possible twelve. I have now 30 credit hours in Education before completion. So that means at least three semesters' work.

"I am beginning to like study again. We have an exam in German on October 25. I have been doing considerable review and studying for it."

[image ALT: missingALT.]

Catholic University, Washington, D. C.
"I wish I knew everything in the libraries around here."

In answering several questions on his "Personnel Information" record at the University, filled out when he was thirty years old, Father Kapaun, the post-graduate  p101 student, gives an insight into some of his personal habits and interests. After mentioning Kenrick Seminary as the school he last attended, he answered the following questions:

In what extra-curricular activities did you participate?

Softball, basketball, soccer, handball.

What are your hobbies or special interests?


What musical instrument do you play? None.

Have you any special ability in art? No.

Give a brief statement of your vocational experience.

I was assistant for 3½ years, administrator for 8 months.

U. S. Army Chaplain for 2 years.

How do you expect to finance your education?

By G. I. Bill of Rights and Bishop Winkelmann.

Military Record? Yes.

Length of time in service?

August 9, 1944, to July 25, 1946.

Decorations — Honors? One battle star.

Because of his busy schedule at the University and the many hours spent in diligent study, his correspondence was less frequent in the months that followed. In the spring when Bishop Carroll was installed as Ordinary succeeding Bishop Winckelmann, Father Kapaun wrote his congratulations to his new superior. His first letter to Bishop Carroll was the beginning of a mutually faithful and understanding correspondence:

May 6, 1947

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop Carroll:

"Please accept my sincerest congratulations on your installation as our Bishop. I am unable to be present at the solemn ceremonies, but I am remembering you in my prayers and in Holy Mass, and I am asking God to bless your work abundantly in the Diocese of Wichita.

 p102  "I wish to obtain your kind permission or instructions in regard to myself. I have already arranged with the office here at Catholic University to take the summer course in Education and to continue my studies here in September. I plan to complete my course by the following February. I hope this meets with your approval.

"Also, I have a splendid opportunity to take my one‑month training in an Army camp to fulfill requirements as a Reserve Officer in the Army. I have made application for the one‑month training at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. This is during June and fits in nicely between the end of this scholastic term and the beginning of summer course.

"I do not intend to go to all the expense of traveling to Kansas between the close of summer school and the beginning of the September term, so I have made arrangements to remain at the University and work on my dissertation. We have made our annual retreat at the University during Lent.

"I have planned all of this and submit it for your approval and permission, but I will be very grateful to you if you permit me to continue this training without interruption."

Bishop Carroll graciously approved these plans.

Concerning his future, there was subsequent correspondence.

July 15, 1947

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"During Reserve Training we were told of the critical need of Catholic Chaplains. To the eyes of the non‑Catholics, we are neglecting to care for a segment of our vineyard, the soldiers in the Army. I told Msgr. Sherry that I would write you and volunteer to go back into active duty under Category One. He told me that I would have  p103 no trouble at all in being accepted because our Catholic Chaplain shortage is so very critical. The Military Ordinariate does not want to put any pressure on Bishops and Religious Superiors but prefers to have men who realize the need and come on their own request and with proper permission. Good Bishop, I think I am qualified and would be very happy to do this work in the name of our Diocese.

"I do not want to be requesting something that would be contrary to your wishes; but, if you can possibly spare me, I surely would love to dedicate myself to this work for a few years. Category One presently is service for an 'indefinite period'.

"I would not want to leave the University before I get my Master's Degree. I hardly think I can manage to get it before Christmas; but in the meantime, I would make the necessary preparations for entering active duty with your permission.

"If there is any possible way you can permit me to do this work, you will make me very happy.

"Please give this matter very serious consideration. To me it is something most important."

Catholic University
August 21, 1947

"Dear Dad and Mother:

"My, I hope you do not feel bad that I did not come to visit you this summer. But I am sure you understand, especially since it is such a long trip and pretty expensive too, and nowadays I am just living off what I saved up while in the Army. God knows how long that will have to last me. Our summer school ended on August 9. From August 11 till August 13, we had the Cana Institute here, a series of talks about protecting young boys and girls from the many evils of our day. In this system, the  p104 fathers and mothers are instructed in what to do to protect their growing children. That is a tremendous problem, especially in the cities. I hope that some day I will be able to do some good in this line.

[image ALT: missingALT.]

"Another priest and I went bicycling last Sunday afternoon." º

"Bishop Carroll gave me permission to remain in Washington this summer to work on my Dissertation. To get a Master's Degree in Education, all are required to write a detailed study of some problem in education. I have chosen the topic: A Study of the Accrediting of Religion in the High Schools of the United States. I am covering all 48 states and some possessions like Alaska, American Samoa, etc. That means much research, then writing the Dissertation, and getting it bound. In the office of the National Catholic Welfare Conference here I can find a lot of information. The last few days I have been working from early in the morning until 1:30 next morning. But yesterday I was very tired so today I am  p105 taking a rest. If I get this project finished and have enough money, I might visit you for a few days in September. Just a pleasant thought. I will promise nothing at this time.

"Glad you liked the pictures. How much do you think I weigh, just looking at those pictures? Well, the scales go down to 175, so I cannot say I am doing much suffering here. That is the most I ever weighed.

"So Eugene has a girl friend. Well, that is really fine. I have been wondering just how long he would try to remain a 'bachelor'. He is 23 years old now and should be deciding. I surely hope he has a wonderful girl and a good Catholic. Maybe some day before too long we will be privileged to celebrate their 'great day,' just as we celebrated mine seven years ago. I bet you had a great time with them at Sunday dinner. I surely wish them happiness. Hope to meet them before they get married. The more I think of it, the more I would like to get out to visit with all of you in Kansas this September.

"I am very glad to hear that you are well and that things are doing nicely in Kansas. Too bad you did not get rain enough for corn, but the way you wrote you should get some feed. I suppose you are busy getting the ground ready to sow again and soon to start making hay, etc."

The studious side of Father Kapaun's nature is betrayed in his thesis, the first attempt to discover how many school districts gave credit for religion. Since religion in education is a daily news topic, his study is very valuable. His serious and scholarly approach to his dissertation can be realized by the fact that part of his notes and voluminous correspondence in this project fill more than half a trunk.

With his development as a scholarly graduate student, one begins to notice a subtle change in his spiritual  p106 direction. He is slowly forming a sincere conviction that the Master, whom his arduous soul desired to serve so completely, is calling him to labor in a particular vineyard. As the young priest himself said so frequently during his last few months on return, "God moves in strange ways." Strange indeed! His advanced studies, in which he acquitted himself brilliantly, seemed to convince him of the need for greater simplicity in order to expend himself for the salvation of humble souls. He writes to a former teacher:

Catholic University
December 26, 1947

"Dear Sister Euphrasia: (his teacher in 9th grade at Pilsen)

"I wish to thank you for the lovely Christmas Greeting Card. I see you are still using your gift of art to make others happy, as indeed your card made me happy and brought back pleasant memories.

"After attending the University I have begun to realize what a tremendous task it is to be a teacher. Surely God must have a very rich reward for those of you who have dedicated your lives to such a work. I hope and pray that God will never inflict upon me such a task, for it would be calamitous to expect an ungifted person to assume such responsibilities. I am happily convinced that God put me in the class of people who can admire teachers but not hope to imitate them.

"Indeed this is a very Happy Christmas. Yesterday the sun was shining brightly — today we have the first snow of the year, and it is surely lovely.

"May God continue to bless you, good Sister, and keep you ever in His loving care."

Toward the conclusion of his studies, he again writes his Bishop:

 p107  Catholic University
January 10, 1948

"Most Reverend and dear Bishop:

"Our comprehensive examinations for the Master's Degree in education will be held in the two last weeks of February. This means that I will not be able to leave the University until the end of February.

"Since my work in the diocese will make it nearly imperative that I have an automobile, I have been looking forward to purchasing one. I have compared prices between Wichita and Washington, D. C., and it seems that I could obtain a better de la here in Washington on a used car. If this meets with your approval, I would purchase an automobile here in Washington, then drive back to Kansas at the end of February."

Thayer's Note:

a Elsewhere online, an uncropped copy of this photo can be found, with the handwritten label "Aug. 1944". That date falls within the first month of Chaplain Kapaun's military service, before any tours of duty anywhere (see p79). I don't know, however, whether the labeled date is accurate, whether the note was made at the time, nor finally whether it was actually meant to be the date the photo was taken rather than just a note of the month in which Chaplain Kapaun started his Army career.

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