A Vatican investigator is headed to a southwest Kansas town to look into whether the recovery of an area man was a bona fide miracle.

Andrea Ambrosi will arrive in Wichita on Friday and then travel to Colwich. He is coming from Rome to investigate on behalf of the Catholic Church whether 20-year-old Chase Kear survived a severe head injury last year in part because his friends and family successfully prayed to Father Emil Kapaun.

Kapaun, a U.S. Army chaplain who died in the Korean War, grew up in Pilsen.

The Rev. John Hotze, the judicial vicar for the Wichita diocese, said Ambrosi, a lawyer by training, will thoroughly “and skeptically” investigate Kear’s case.

The church requires miracles before elevating them to sainthood.

Hotze has spent eight years investigating the proposed sainthood of Kapaun. The church has considered making Kapaun a saint for much longer, ever since soldiers came out of prisoner-of-war camps in 1953 with tales of Kapaun’s heroism and faith.

The local diocese has continued receiving reports of miracles involving Kapaun, Hotze said.

While in the area, Ambrosi will consult with physicians in at least three cases, including Kear’s, Hotze said.

Kapaun would be only the third American-born person to be canonized as a saint. The church requires that at least one and possibly two miracles be proven on Kapaun’s behalf, depending on whether Kapaun died a martyr. The church also is trying to determine that.

Ambrosi will speak with Kear’s neurosurgeon, Raymond Grundmeyer, who told The Wichita Eagle in an e-mail that he believes Kear’s survival was miraculous. Even if Ambrosi agrees, the church will still have to evaluate the case. But for the many hoping the church canonized Kapaun, it will represent another step forward.

“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind in our family that Father Kapaun helped save our son,” said Paula Kear, Kear’s mother. “We were told at least three or four times in those first two days that Chase wasn’t going to make it.”

Kear, a member of the Hutchinson Community College track team, fell on his head during pole vaulting practice in October. He was airlifted to a Wichita hospital.

His family began frantically praying as the helicopter landed. Within an hour, his sister, Linda Wapelhorst, asked a priest at the hospital to perform the Catholic sacrament of anointing the sick, which used to be called last rites.

She also called the Sacred Heart Church in Colwich and asked that people there pray to Kapaun for her brother’s recovery.

Grundmeyer and others told the family Kear’s prospects were not good as his skull was cracked from ear to ear and his brain was swelling. They said an operation to remove part of his skull or an infection that might follow likely would kill him. His family and dozens of others said they regularly prayed to Father Kapaun.

Only a few weeks later, Kear walked out of a rehabilitation hospital, a result his family and some physicians said had to be a miracle.

“Chase survived in part because hundreds of people prayed to Father Emil Kapaun to intercede on his behalf,” Paula Kear said.