On the ground floor of St. John Nepomucene, Paulette Holub and other members of the altar society dressed in aprons presented tables filled with kolaches, rohlicky and houska – standard fare for a Czech community such as Pilsen.
Upstairs, Father Philip Creider has set up a completely different type of table, that of communion.
“Good morning, Pilsen,” Creider said, greeting worshipers at a Veterans Day mass he celebrated on Friday.
He then began to piece together the type of communion table that military chaplains like himself – and Father Emil Kapaun – use in the field. Makeshift materials – a Crown Royal bag, for example – nothing fancy but a lot of faith.
“What I learned was that by using ordinary stuff, it brought God to them and they to God,” he said of the men and women he served during 20 years in the navy and marines.
A chaplain, he says, is “God’s totem pole” in war.
Faith supported Kapaun, who died in 1951 in North Korea.
“Father Kapaun had it a thousand times harder than me,” Creider said.
“I had a few months of war. He was years old. I was not a prisoner of war. He was a prisoner of war.
Faith still sustains many of those in the military today, Creider said.
Kapaun “brought hope to everyone, and aren’t we all supposed to? Today is your day,” Creider said, gesturing to those seated on the benches.
Guitar in hand, Ray Kapaun, the chaplain’s nephew, performed a song called “I’ll Always Be a Pilsen Boy”, which was also true for his uncle.
The play is essentially a love song to Pilsen and Marion County.
Whenever Kapaun was on leave, it was to Pilsen that he returned, said Harriet Bina, curator of the Chaplain Kapaun Museum.
“This is the church he came to when he was a baby,” Bina said. “This is the church where he was an altar boy and where he started to pray.
People often ask Bina if she thinks Kapaun’s remains – discovered and returned in the spring of 2021 – should be buried in Pilsen instead of Wichita.
“It was at home,” she said. “Instead, he went and became famous, so his remains are in Wichita.”
Those on the benches – from young children to Kapaun’s contemporaries – laughed. Downstairs, the women of the altar society were also laughing – joking among themselves while preparing
the kind of sustenance that eluded Kapaun and his fellow POWs of the Korean War.
The company started cooking rohlicky on Wednesday. On Thursday, they focused on kolaches and pulled pork.
On Friday morning, they turned to cheesy potatoes, green beans and corn.
“They” included Altar Society President Terry Klenda, Sharon Bina, Jane George, Norma Horenick, LaVada Holub, Karen Konarik, Barbara Kroupa, Marissa Makovec, Rosalie Rudolph and Kathleen Svitak.