The Vatican found enough evidence of a miracle in the survival of Chase Kear of Colwich that it intends to keep studying his survival, with an eye toward declaring it an official miracle, church officials say.
Declaring it a miracle would help determine whether Father Emil Kapaun of Pilsen will be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church.
Andrea Ambrosi, a lawyer and investigator for the Vatican, visited family members and doctors for two Wichita-area families on Friday who believe the survival of their children during nearly lethal medical crises recently should qualify as miracles.
One of them involved Chase Kear, a 20-year-old Colwich athlete severely injured in October.
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The Rev. John Hotze, judicial vicar for the Wichita diocese, is not allowed to say who or what families are being investigated for miracles. But he said there was one other "alleged miracle" in the Wichita area that Ambrosi studied during his time here.
With both families, Hotze said, Ambrosi met with the doctors involved and studied medical reports and X-rays.
"Afterward, the Vatican investigator said that in years of investigating miracles, he had never seen doctors who made such a compelling case for miracles occurring," Hotze said.
Ambrosi came as a skeptical questioner to determine whether thousands of prayers made to Kapaun by Kear's family and friends might have created a miracle. He met with Chase Kear at the family's home in Colwich.
"He had a nice long talk with Chase, and I didn't get the feeling that he thought this was all a lot of malarkey," Chase's mother, Paula, said Monday.
Ambrosi also met with Chase Kear's doctors, including his neurosurgeon, Raymond Grundmeyer, Hotze said.
Kear survived a catastrophic head injury in October 2008 during pole vaulting practice at Hutchinson Community College. His family said they believe his life was saved by his neurosurgeon and other doctors, but also by thousands of prayers to Kapaun.
Grundmeyer, who operated to save Kear's life, said in a brief interview with The Eagle earlier this month that he considers Kear's survival a miracle.
If the miracle is proven, it will significantly advance the chances that the church will declare Kapaun a saint, decades after he died a hero in a North Korean prison camp in 1951. The church requires miracles to elevate a person to sainthood.
Hotze has investigated Kapaun's proposed sainthood for eight years, which is only a fraction of the time the church has been considering whether to elevate Kapaun to sainthood.
American soldiers came out of prisoner-of-war camps in 1953 with incredible stories about Kapaun's heroism and faith. They said that in the fierce winter of 1950 and 1951, when 1,200 out of 3,000 American prisoners starved to death or died of illness in Camp 5 along the Yalu River, Kapaun kept hundreds of survivors alive by stealing food and by force of will.
Across Kansas, his memory is kept alive at Wichita's Kapaun Mount Carmel High School, in his hometown of Pilsen and elsewhere.
Only two American-born people — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Katharine Drexel — have ever been canonized as saints. For sainthood, the church will require at least one and possibly two miracles be proven on Kapaun's behalf, depending on whether he died a martyr, something the church is also trying to determine. Several soldiers say the Chinese prison camp guards deliberately starved Kapaun to death to stop the religious services he conducted in defiance of camp rules.
Kapaun, a priest in the Wichita diocese, was born near Pilsen in 1916 and volunteered for Army chaplain duty in the Korean War.
Kapaun was assigned to the U.S. Army's Eighth Cavalry regiment, which was surrounded and overrun by the Chinese army in North Korea in October and November 1950. He stayed behind with the wounded when the Army retreated. He allowed his own capture, then risked death by preventing Chinese executions of wounded Americans too injured to walk.