Sacred Art in the Service of God: How a Portrait of Father Emil Kapaun Is Stirring Vocations for the Military

‘Art, when it is rooted in truth and beauty, can lift people to God,’ Father Marcel Taillon said.

Father Emil Kapaun, painted by artist Sharon Clossick for Father Marcel Taillon. Father Kapaun, pray for us!
Father Emil Kapaun, painted by artist Sharon Clossick for Father Marcel Taillon. Father Kapaun, pray for us! (photo: Sharon Clossick )

Father Marcel Taillon, vocations director at the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, is settling into his new territory in our nation’s capital. Although many miss him in the halls of St. Thomas More and St. Veronica’s Catholic Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island, he brought something special with him to his new post: a beautiful portrait of Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun. 

The portrait hangs in his office, and Father T (as most who know him affectionately call him) tapped the one and only Sharon Clossick to paint the priest known as the patron for military vocations. And Father Taillon put a great deal of thought into what specific scene might be best to grace his wall, telling the Register: 

“I researched all the photos of him and felt drawn to the image she painted, as I think it showed his inner joy that grounded him during the stressful and difficult times. She captured the depth of his fatherhood for his men. She placed mountains behind him so it would represent Korea.” Father Kapaun, a Kansas natve, died as a POW in Pyoktong, North Korea, in 1951. He was 35 years old. He now rests in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita, as his earthly remains were transferred there in 2021. 

Father Taillon says he is drawn to Father Kapaun and continues to learn from him in his new role as military vocations director. 

 “Father Emil is an inspiration to military chaplains and certainly to the vocations ministry. I wanted to dedicate the vocation ministry to a patron,” Father Taillon said, adding, “I feel akin to Father Emil in his incredible priestly ministry and sustained sacrifice.”

This is not the first painting Clossick has painted for the priest, he explained. 

“Sharon Clossick’s art is found throughout the parish of St. Thomas More in Narragansett, in the shrine, classrooms dedicated to saints, and the cry room at St. Veronica Chapel. She is part of the renaissance of the art and Church intersecting to help teach all about Our Lord.”

Father Marcel Taillon poses with artist Sharon Clossick as she presents the protrait of St. Thomas Imprisoned, now gracing the right side of the altar at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
Father Marcel Taillon poses with artist Sharon Clossick as she presents the protrait St. Thomas More Imprisoned,’ now gracing the right side of the altar at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.

The two have a long history, beginning in 2006, when Clossick discovered her own vocation as an artist, the same year Father Taillon began his assignment at St. Thomas More parish. It was upon returning home from a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, Italy, that Clossick felt a calling.

“I received many graces from this pilgrimage, and it was at that time that I felt called to start creating sacred art. Father Taillon saw my work and asked me to do a number of paintings for the parish,” Clossick told the Register. “This was my first official church commission in 2008. I completed three large paintings. I also painted four smaller paintings of saints to hang on the walls of the CCD rooms at St. Veronica's: Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Maria Goretti, St. Veronica; and a portrait of St. Thomas More.”

Jesus and the Children (St. Veronica, cry room)
‘Jesus and the Children’ graces the walls in St. Veronica's cry room.

But the last painting she worked on for him remains very special to her. 

"Prior to painting Father Kapaun, I researched the story of his life and about the cause for his beatification and canonization. I brought this knowledge to prayer and asked God to help me to create a portrait that would draw others to this amazing priest. I was not equipped to paint Father Emil without first learning about him and his life."

And she hopes the saint’s intercession will be fruitful for military vocations. 

“There is quite a shortage of young men entering the seminary, especially the military. We need the intercession and prayers of this holy Servant of God. I pray that these young men see Father Emil as a witness of courage and faith. He was an honorable chaplain who served the selfless soldiers in Korea and eventually gave his life not only for his country, but for Christ.”

St. Maria Goretti and St. Thomas More portraits both in St. Veronica's CCD room.
St. Maria Goretti and St. Thomas More portraits, both in St. Veronica's CCD room

Just as Father Taillon’s priestly ministry has been buoyed by the inspiration he draws from this beautiful sacred art that Clossick has painted for him, he has witnessed even those with no mind for faith be elevated by her work. 

“Art, when it is rooted in truth and beauty, can lift people to God,” Father Taillon said. “This is why even the most secular people can have their minds and lives lifted to God when they enter a glorious sacred space or see artwork like that of Sharon’s.”

Clossick believes this is the true beauty of sacred art: “This shows me that there is something beyond the mere temporal beauty of the paintings. I believe they perceive a mystery of something they may not fully understand, but nevertheless find a beauty that is present. I hope and pray that the sacred art I create points others to Christ and lifts them beyond to something greater than themselves.”

What is the role of sacred art? For Clossick, is it simple yet profound: 

“Art draws us closer to God and lifts our souls. I love painting sacred art because, for me, it is prayer. As I paint, I ask God that he uses me as a channel for his grace.”

And it is a necessity in a world that struggles to see true beauty at times. Clossick says sacred art is “vital to not only the Catholic Church but to forming a Christian living tradition within our culture,” adding:

“Our society has lost the understanding of true beauty. As Catholics, we know that the source of beauty is Christ himself. Therefore, those who create sacred art have a responsibility to strive to live in God's grace and to grow in holiness.”

The portrait of Father Kapaun is already blessing hearts in Washington, D.C. The painting “hangs in my office and is the first thing anyone sees as they enter,” Father Taillon told the Register. “I had 10 new co-sponsored seminarians who start this fall, mostly soldiers, and I was able to share his story using that portrait.”

ten new co sponsored seminarians for the Archdiocese for Military Services visiting below the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the Sentinels who guard 24 hours a day .  We learned of their training , tradition, weapons training and dedication in the barracks .
Ten new co-sponsored seminarians for the Archdiocese for the Military Services visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the Sentinels who guard 24 hours a day. Father Taillon said they ‘learned of their training, tradition, weapons training and dedication in the barracks.’(Photo: Courtesy photo)

And as we mark this festive week, remembering our true freedom and independence as a sovereign nation under God, Father Taillon asks for prayers not only for those considering military vocations, but for all who gave their lives for our country: “July 4th is not only a day to celebrate but commemorate. We must pray for all our service members and their families, especially those far from our shores and the chaplains that are with them. Father Emil, pray for us!”

Clossick also prays that souls will find inspiration in the military chaplain currently on the road to sainthood. 

“By promoting Father Kapaun’s cause for beatification and canonization, others will begin to pray to him, and by God’s grace, strong men of faith will answer the call of priesthood within the military. I am truly humbled that the painting of Father Kapaun hangs in Father Taillon’s office at the Archdiocese for the Military Services. It is an honor and privilege to know that it is being used to teach these young seminarians about the beauty of sacrificial love. This is truly the work of the Holy Spirit and intercession of Father Emil Kapaun.”

And as we celebrate Independence Day, may we remember the many military chaplains like Father Kapaun, “who chose to serve the soldiers as a military priest. He knew that these soldiers needed to be close to Christ, and he selflessly chose to stay with them in battle, never abandoning them. He lived his faith in a real and active way, imitating the way of Christ.”

The New Adam and New Eve, Oil on Canvas, 18 X 24", Sharon Clossick
‘The New Adam and New Eve,’ oil on canvas, dedicated in memory of Bill Murphy(Photo: Courtesy photo)