Fr. Emil Kapaun

Pope Francis is one step closer to considering the sainthood cause of Father Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain who died in a prison camp during the Korean War. On June 21, consultants of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Causes approved the historical documents which had been submitted last November by the Diocese of Wichita. The panel of six historical consultants found the documents, presented as part of the “positio” or position paper, to be complete and accurate.

The process by which the Catholic Church determines that an individual is truly in heaven has three steps:

  1. Fr. Kapaun could be declared “venerable” (worthy of great respect or reverence) if the positio shows that he lived a life of heroic virtue and sanctity.
  2. Beatification, the second step, is declaration by the pope that a dead person is in a state of bliss, constituting a step toward canonization and permitting public veneration.
  3. Canonization is the declaration that the deceased person was a saint, and that his name should be included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints.

In May 2015, I interviewed Father Kapaun’s friend and fellow prisoner of war, Lieutenant William Funchess, at his home in Clemson, South Carolina. I told the story for the National Catholic Register, and also wrote about our conversation on my own blog. I’m reposting that story here today; you can click through the links to find the longer article at the Register.

Lieut. Bill Funchess, Former POW, Remembers His Friend Fr. Emil Kapaun

Lieut. William Funchess

Lieut. William Funchess

Lieutenant William Funchess leaned forward in his chair, recounting a story he’s told many times before–a story of harsh beatings and cold nights, long marches and cruel guards, and the friendship of one humble priest.

Funchess is older now, but his memories of the three years he spent in the Pyoktong prison camp during the Korean War are clear. He talked with me in his home in Clemson, South Carolina, sharing stories of stealing food and melting snow to supplement the scant rations provided by their Chinese captors.

Twelve prisoners, he told me, would be locked in a primitive, nine-foot square, thatched roof hut. To survive the subzero temperatures, the prisoners would sleep huddled together on the floor.

I chat with Bill Funchess in his Clemson, SC living room

I chat with Bill Funchess in his Clemson, South Carolina living room

I talked with Lieutenant Funchess  for the National Catholic Register (you can read the full article here). In particular, he shared stories of his friendship with Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic chaplain with whom he spent several months in captivity, before Father Kapaun was dragged by guards to the “death house.”

Fr Kapaun Prayerbook

The New Testament used by Lieut. Funchess and Fr. Kapaun in the POW camp. Funchess explained that it had been taken from him several times; but each time, he was able to steal it back from his captors

Lieutenant Funchess was a true hero to the priest, caring for him until he was taken away to die. I explained in the Register:

When the priest was no longer able to walk, Funchess cared for his wounded friend. Seeing his serious condition, Funchess offered him the choicest spot on the cold dirt floor, sleeping against the wall, so that no soldier stumbling through the total darkness of the hut would mistakenly step on the priest’s injured leg at night. Funchess got all the prisoners to move over in order to offer Father Kapaun the safe spot near the wall. Then, with no warm clothing or blanket and no heat, Funchess rested against the priest on the coldest nights, helping to stave off frostbite and further illness. All the while, the duo did a lot of talking.

Bill Funchess shows me the mementos he collected while imprisoned

Bill Funchess shows me the mementos he collected while imprisoned

It’s a heartwarming story, and one that you won’t soon forget. Check out the rest at the National Catholic Register.


Funchess book - list

Lieut. Funchess recorded the names of all the soldiers who died during captivity, so that he could notify their families. Fr. Kapaun’s name appears near the end of the second column. (From William H. Funchess’s book “Korea P.O.W.: A Thousand Days of Torment”. Used with permission.



Cover image:  Fr. Emil Kapaun. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons