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Kapaun pilgrimage is family affair

Sisters and cousins are multi-year sojourners

News editor

After walking 59 miles in four days, Bernadette Stuhlsatz could see that the trek had taken its toll on her sister, Natalie. She was struggling with sore feet, and her back, afflicted with scoliosis, was hurting. A final mile lay ahead, one to be walked in silent reflection.

“There was a moment where I didn’t have to say anything,” Bernadette said. “I just looked at her, and she grabbed my hand, and we held them for the entire mile to the church. She said when we got done it encouraged her to finish.”

So ended Bernadette’s sixth Father Emil Kapaun pilgrimage from Wichita to Pilsen. The walk has become an annual spiritual event for sisters and cousins of the Stuhlsatz family of Garden Plain.

Sylvia Stuhlsatz has been on seven of the nine Kapaun pilgrimages.

“I went first,” she said.

Reading about it in a newspaper, Sylvia knew immediately it was something she had to do, alone.

“That was the first time I’d ever done anything by myself,” she said. “That was a very extreme year, and I witnessed so many little miracles. I wanted to go again by myself, but I couldn’t keep all this goodness to myself. So I came home and I told my sister and my cousins, and we’ve been coming back ever since.”

Clarissa Stuhlsatz Horsch recently married and lives in Andale, but she was back for her fifth pilgrimage. This year, the times when the group stopped to hear stories about Father Kapaun had new meaning for her.

“I don’t know if I wasn’t paying attention before or if it just didn’t hit home, because this year I can’t believe he did this every day,” Clarissa said. “Every year I understand more and more of what he did. Now I get in the car and I’m like, ‘Thank you, Lord, for the car, and the gas, and my shoes.’”

Father Eric Wheldon has led all nine walks. He has been accompanied by many different priests and chaplains over the years. Walking with them multiple times has helped Clarissa see them not just as priests, but as people.

She related a story from last year’s walk when the group, including Wheldon, went to the Peabody pool.

“I was like, ‘Father can’t swim,’” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Priests don’t really swim, do they?”

At first, she thought she was right.

“He comes over to the diving board and he acts all awkward like he doesn’t know how to do it,” she said. “He comes to the end and stands there and looks at us like he’s scared. All of a sudden he just jumps two times and does a perfect swan dive into the water. He didn’t even make a splash.”

It was a good lesson.

“In church you’re taught to be respectful and quiet and so you never get a chance to interact with priests in a personal aspect,” she said. “Father Wheldon, after this many times of being on it, it’s funny because he reminds me of my father. I can joke with him, but at the same time we’re respectful, but he cracks me up.”

Bethany Stuhlsatz also completed her fifth pilgrimage. The most meaningful aspect of this year’s walk for her came at the campsites, when everyone gathered to pray, sing, and learn about Father Kapaun.

“I thought that was really amazing just to have the entire crazy, loud group of kids and adults and everybody just be quiet, just all praying together out in the middle of nowhere.”

Sylvia said she would take away a conversation she had with a fellow walker to help her in her first year as a kindergarten teacher.

“One of the things he said that keeps him in balance is asking, ‘Did they see Christ in me? If I showed Christ, then I did what I was supposed to do,’” she said. “I’m going to be a first-year teacher, just worried if I can do enough and if I’m going to be able to live up to everything. I need to just stop and think, as long as I show Christ, I’ve done my part.”

Last modified June 8, 2017

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