A new painting of a man who is revered by many in the Wichita and Newman communities will soon be completed and installed in St. John’s Chapel – Father Emil Kapaun, the Catholic priest who served as an Army chaplain during World War II and the Korean War, and died a prisoner in North Korea in 1951.
The 12-foot by 4 1/2-foot painting is the work of artist Wendy Lewis, who painted a mural of St. Maria De Mattias that was installed on the south wall of the chapel in 2005. The painting of Father Kapaun will hang directly opposite.
Father Kapaun has many connections to Newman and Wichita. He was ordained in St. John’s Chapel in 1940, and was the inspiration for Father Ned Blick ’86 to enter the priesthood. Blick is about to complete an 18-month tour of duty in Iraq, where he is assigned to the Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams – the soldiers who defuse roadside bombs – and serves as chaplain to more than a fifth of the country. Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School in Wichita is of course named for Father Kapaun, and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita is now working to have him named a saint. As part of that effort, Newman Assistant Professor of Theology Father Joseph Gile is a member of the Theological Commission that reviews all materials written by Father Kapaun to ensure they are doctrinally sound.
Lewis said the painting is intended to reflect grace, mercy and love, qualities that characterize Father Kapaun and his work. Lewis said she used family and friends as models for the figures in the painting, including her son, Skylar, and Mike Navrat, who grew up with Father Kapaun in Pilsen. To help her portray Father Kapaun’s character, Lewis read several books about him and met with the late priest’s brother Eugene Kapaun, his wife Helen, and nephew Michael, now a soldier in Iraq.
“I wanted to bring as much of their feelings into the painting, too,” Lewis said. “I wanted to get to know his character through their eyes and memories, so I could portray how he helped others. I want people to understand what he went through on the battlefield, and for all of us.”