Priestly Saints in the Making
Relatives Share Moving Stories of Holy Lives
“When we got the news of his being killed, the first thing that came in my thoughts was: ‘I wonder if he is a saint?’ He had to be a saint. I think he was a saint since he was born.”
She knows firsthand what it is like to have a saint as part of one’s family.
Holman and other such relatives can put a human face on these “Servants of God” or “Venerables” that can help us understand these future saints better and learn from them for our own faith journeys.
Servant of God
Father Vincent Capodanno
A Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan and Hong Kong, Father Capodanno was known as the “Grunt Padre” when he volunteered as a chaplain with the Marines in Vietnam. He brought spiritual comfort, prayers and aid to the wounded in camps and battlefields until he gave his life in helping them.
Holman, seven years older than her priest-brother, is the last living member of that family, as Father Capodanno was the last of 10 children.
“The whole big family was very close, as was the extended family of aunts and uncles,” Holman said during a phone conversation. “The older were kind to the younger ones. Vincent was nice to be around. He was very tied to my mother, very respectable.”
Holman remembers her brother as really “meticulous. He was so straight in his posture, very religious.”
Only 20 when her husband was drafted in World War II, she moved back home to stay with her mother for the duration.
“Vincent was the first one up and gone to Mass early,” she said. “He knew what he wanted and how things should be, nice and neat. He was like that even when he came home when [studying] at Maryknoll.”
She often saw him “very deep in thought. Even if we were all together, his mind was ‘traveling.’ He was very intelligent.”
She remembers how, when he left for Vietnam, all of the relatives went to Newark Airport with him. “We were so many. It seemed like a 100 to say good-bye to him,” she recalled. “We naturally thought he would be back. The furthest thing from our minds was that he wouldn’t come back. It was sad that he was leaving, not knowing we were not going to see him again.”
The efforts to canonize Father Capodanno didn’t surprise her.
She thought this because “he really was good. I never heard him raise his voice or curse. He was saintly.”
Does she pray for his intercession? Most certainly. But she said with a little chuckle, “With everybody praying to him for different favors, I don’t know how I can get mine in.”
Linda Capodanno Sargent, Father Capodanno’s niece by marriage, has vivid teenage memories of the times he visited the family home from missionary work in Taiwan and on military leave.
She remembers him as “quite an amazing presence. You immediately felt a connection with him, even if you had never met him. He was one of the people in my life about whom you could say: ‘He was a holy person.’”
She remembers how he would sit up at midnight in Vietnam and type letters to everyone. He was very interested in asking questions of her mother and father about the children, like, “How did John do with his confirmation?”
“He had everybody in mind, a down-to-earth person,” Sargent well remembers. She gave those cherished letters to the canonization cause, but she still has a crucifix from Taiwan that he gave to the children in the family, as well as a satin hat from Taiwan he also gave to the family.
Her mother, Kathleen, was “so devoted to Uncle Vincent,” she said. “After he died, she prayed to him every day.” She was quite ill for 10 years and died of emphysema at the age of 80. She was so sick at the end that two doctors couldn’t hear any breath in her and couldn’t understand how she was still living.
“They looked up and said, ‘Somebody up there is watching out for her.’ I believe her devotion to Uncle Vincent and our prayers kept her living beyond what anybody could imagine,” Sargent said. “I do think my mother’s life was a miracle, in a sense.”
To all those she knows who are dealing with illness and challenges, she said, “I always share Uncle Vincent’s cause and give them his card. He has been a real inspiration to a lot of people.”
Servant of God
Father Emil Kapuan
Medal of Honor recipient Father Emil Kapaun (Ka-PON; CatholicDioceseofWichita.org/father-kapaun) grew up on a Kansas farm, became a parish priest, and then went on to serve as an Army captain and chaplain during the Korean War. Voluntarily staying with wounded soldiers, he was captured along with them, by Chinese communists. They were taken to a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp, where he died in 1951 — but not before heroically serving the men there and literally saving more than 1,000 of them.
Proud of their native son, the Diocese of Wichita and Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme declared a “Year of Father Kapaun” from June 7, 2015, to June 9, 2016.
Father Kapaun’s nephew, Ray Kapaun, son of his uncle’s brother, the late Eugene, was born after his uncle died but became very close to him through considerable family stories from his dad and grandmother Bessie (Elizabeth), with whom he spent lots of time.
He learned his uncle was a practical person. “He definitely knew how to work on a farm and in practical ways to make something work. He was good with his hands,” which came in handy when improvising items for the POWs in Korea.
Kapaun heard how his uncle “was always a pious person. At 5 years old he would stack up cardboard boxes and try to say Mass. He pretty much knew his destiny at a very early age.”
His uncle’s heroism as a chaplain and POW wasn’t surprising. Kapaun explained: “After all I heard about him, I can say he saw sacrifice as a blessing. He never looked at it as a struggle or something he couldn’t handle. He looked at it and approached it as a blessing. His concern was always for others. He never put himself first growing up. Everything he did was always for others. There was no me or I — always us and you.”
Ray Kapaun, whose middle name is Emil, “talks” to his uncle more than formally prays for his intercession. “There has always been a closeness to him for me, always like ‘talking’ to an uncle. I’ve never know him as Father Kapaun, but as Father Emil. He’s a phenomenal uncle. The biggest thing [about] talking and praying to Father Emil is realizing the blessings when they happen.” And many do.
Kapaun said the POWs with his uncle “thought he not only should be a saint, but is a saint, as far as they’re concerned. I see that as well.”
Father Michael McGivney
His great-grandnephew, John Walshe, is a family historian and remembers voluminous details about his great-granduncle. Walshe’s great-grandmother, Rose McGivney Finn, was Father McGivney’s younger sister. Walshe’s mentor and granduncle was Father McGivney’s nephew, Msgr. Leo Finn. Near the end of Msgr. Finn’s life, in 1960, Walshe lived in the rectory with him. There, the monsignor told him stories of his holy ancestor.
Speaking of the family, Walshe said, “They were not pretentious at all, even though men and women of standing, and the whole family had an extraordinarily good sense of humor.”
Walshe was quick with an example that became a family anecdote. “There was one story about Father Mike [McGivney] who married his sister and her husband, my great-grandparents. The joke was Father was so close to the sister that they went on the honeymoon together. The reason is this: After the reception, he went back to Torrington, where he was pastor of St. Thomas Church. The next day, [the newlyweds] were on the train, and who comes down the train aisle but Father Mike! They joked that they were so close and fond of each other they went on the honeymoon together!”
Walshe said it was likely Father McGivney was headed to New York to pick up costumes for the parish’s theatrical troupe. He heard the story from a cousin who heard it as a child. The story traveled through the generations.
The priest’s thoughtfulness was a main character trait.
“That shows sainthood,” Walshe believes, “because although his family were people of substance, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus because he saw the poor people [suffering] in New Haven. He was looking to support widows and orphans through the Knights of Columbus. The widows with half a dozen children and no support were the ones he was looking out for. Those were the people he was ministering to.”
Father McGivney’s great-grandniece, Margaret Ransom, also learned much about Father McGivney from her mother, and the bond with her great-granduncle is strong.
“It’s nice to know my background has him in my family tree,” she said. “It’s special, and when we do talk about it with my boys, and trying to teach them the importance of faith, I refer back to Father McGivney as a good role model.”
Ransom aims to emulate Father McGivney as best as she can “and truly try to follow his example of love, service, modesty and humility as much as possible.”
That goal carries into the family. She and husband Robert are trying to raise their two boys “to be good men like Father McGivney, how he cared in strengthening the Church and the family. He was humble and modest, and we try to teach our children to live that way in our daily lives.”
Naturally, the family is praying for his canonization.
Servant of God
Father Patrick Peyton
Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton (FatherPeyton.com) was not only known to millions the world over as “The Rosary Priest” for promoting devotion to the Rosary and family prayer, but he was recognized by millions who were watching his Family Theater Productions on early television.
Millions are familiar with his signature teaching, “The family that prays together stays together.”
Mary Lou Karch, Father Peyton’s second cousin, has many fond memories from his many visits with her family.
“You always got to pray with Father Peyton because in his hand he always held a rosary,” she said. “He had a huge hand. When you took his hand, you knew you were with a holy man, and the spirit of Jesus and Mary entered into your hand. There was a calm and a peace.
“Then he gave you a rosary, and there was no way you didn’t pray it. The first thing in a car [when traveling with him] we would pray the Rosary out loud.”
Father Peyton had an unforgettable way with people.
“He was always interested in the person he was with,” Karch explained. “He treated you like you were the only person in the room. He was always very kind and gentle to everyone.”
When she lived in Miami while working as a Pan Am flight attendant, “Father used to go do his crusades in South America, and he would stay overnight with my brother and me,” she said. “We had lots of good family conversations, lots of laughs. He was kind of funny. He would always say (she imitates his Irish brogue), ‘Ah Mary, I’m telling you, everything is going to be all right.’”
She finds that advice to be true, as she and others seek his intercession. Her monthly Father Peyton prayer group for women has been praying for the cause and for the peace of the world.
“I’m always praying to him for something or somebody, and people tell me they have had miracles or things impossible to happen that happened,” Karch explained. “Over the years I know Father Peyton was looking after my parents as well.”
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.
- canonization causes
- father emil kapaun
- father michael mcgivney
- father patrick peyton
- father vincent capodanno