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Answering the call to remember

Managing editor

When a woman celebrates her 50th wedding anniversary and anticipates her 70th birthday in the coming weeks, she may look forward to slowing down and taking time to smell the roses.

Rose Mary Neuwirth of rural Lincolnville knows some of her work is finished but another chapter in her life is about to begin.

It was Neuwirth who began the quest to honor Father Emil Kapaun, a Catholic priest from Pilsen who was an army chaplain during the Korean War and who ultimately gave his life to help others.

Kapaun’s cause for sainthood will be sent July 1 to Rome for consideration after nearly 10 years of research, interviews, and the gathering of information.

It all began about 12 years ago when Neuwirth was teaching religion classes to children who didn’t know who Kapaun was.

Monsignor Arthur Tonne had retired as pastor of St. John Nepomucene Church in Pilsen and had been the one responsible for teaching children about the sacrifices Kapaun had made.

Neuwirth attended a play about Kapaun in 1999, presented by a sixth-grade class at Resurrection Elementary School in Wichita.

“I came away from that play wondering how we in Pilsen could keep Father Kapaun’s memory alive,” she said.

Neuwirth spoke with some other parishioners and they decided to erect a statue in Kapaun’s honor.

It was an eye-opening experience for parishioners when the bronze statue was dedicated June 3, 2001, on the church grounds, which the first Sunday of June being designated as Father Kapaun Day.

“It started out being something local,” Neuwirth said.

But when more than 1,200 people showed up for the dedication, Neuwirth and the others realized this was becoming a bigger deal than ever imagined.

This Veterans Day will mark the ninth year for the Archdiocese of Military Services Pilgrimage to Pilsen. The first Sunday of June has become the annual pilgrimage from Wichita to Kapaun’s church in Pilsen. Each event has attracted hundreds of people to the tiny community.

“This has been a tremendous learning experience for me,” Neuwirth said.

The farmer’s wife, who understands the importance of keeping the family home operating and providing meals during the busy seasons, credits her husband, Bob, for being able to dedicate so much of her time to the church and Kapaun’s cause.

Tours that were once conducted only by Neuwirth will now be offered by other volunteers. Although the number of tourists has decreased since the price of fuel has increased, Neuwirth still gives a dozen or more tours per year.

“This is becoming too much for one person,” she said.

Neuwirth and her husband have lived in the same location since marrying 50 years ago. She was Rose Mary Schneweis from Odin, a small community in Barton County. She graduated from Odin High School and attended Salt City Business College in Hutchinson, working in Hutchinson for a year.

She attended polka dances at Holyrood. It was at one of those dances that she met Bob.

The couple has three children — Duane of Lost Springs, Diana of Topeka, and Laurie of Herington; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Neuwirth said the Pilsen parishioners deserve credit for always being available to help.

Neuwirth was appointed in 2001 by then-bishop of the Wichita archdiocese Thomas Olmstead to the Father Kapaun Guild, the organization responsible for collecting information for the cause of canonization.

The importance of what Neuwirth and others have accomplished hit home a few years ago when Neuwirth and one of her daughters attended a prisoner-of-war convention in Arizona.

“A woman came up and hugged my daughter and asked if we were the people from Pilsen,” Neuwirth said. “When people visit the church and grounds, they consider them to be sacred because Father Kapaun had been there.”

A lot has happened in the 50 years that Neuwirth has lived in Marion County. She had no idea that answering this calling to memorialize Kapaun would have such a profound effect.

About the cause

Thousands of pages of documents supporting the case for sainthood for Kapaun will be sealed and sent to Rome in a special ceremony at 5 p.m. July 1 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 E. Central St., Wichita.

From there, the information will be reviewed and a determination will be made if indeed the priest from Marion County is deserving of sainthood.

As far as the faithful are concerned, there is no doubt that Kapaun should be canonized.

“Every time a door has been shut, I believe Father Kapaun has opened a window,” Neuwirth said.

Last modified June 8, 2011

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