Hays — Around his neck, Chase Kear wears a medal of Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun. Such a devotion isn’t rare in Kansas, but Kear’s connection is deeper than a passing devotion. The senior at Fort Hays State University is one of the alleged miracles attributed to Father Kapaun. On Oct. 2, 2008, Kear was a sophomore at Hutchinson Community College and a pole-vaulting member of the community college’s track team. During practice, he said he was talking trash with his friends, and decided to try to break a pole during practice. “I was being cocky,” Kear said. “I wasn’t being safe. I was being a dumb kid.” He said everything would have been fine if the pole broke, as they all expected it to.
But it didn’t. “It reacted funny, it way over flexed,” he said. “Because the pole reacted funny, I was 12 or 14 feet in the air, flying outwards, not upwards. I saw the back edge of the pit coming and had a split second to decide if I should turn to land on my back or my butt.” He turned, angling to land on his backside, but he bounced, flipped and “hit my head, a couple inches above my right eye,” he said, arching his pointer finger across his forehead, from one temple to the other. “It broke across my hair line.” His survival seems impressive, but that’s not the potential miracle Kear said the Vatican is examining. “It was highly unlikely that I would live, but still possible,” he said. “This … the recovery …. the fact that we’re talking … the extent and speed of the recovery is what the Vatican is investigating.” Kear said surgeons removed 25 percent of his right frontal lobe during the course of surgery. “I had to re-learn how to eat and walk. I had to re-learn everything. I did it from deathbed to front door in one month and 19 days.”
Fifty-one days. From the accident on Oct. 2, 2008 to his homecoming on Nov. 21, 2008. For the first two weeks, Kear was in a coma. “It was maybe 17 or 18 days before I realized it wasn’t a dream,” he said. “You can hear when you’re in a coma. It’s scary. I was hearing all these voices telling me goodbye, to stay strong, fight, what people tell you when they think you’re going to die.” But he didn’t. His younger brothers, Cole and Clay took his cause to social media, creating a prayer page, with the request to pray to Father Kapaun for healing. “It blew up because my brothers put the prayer on Facebook,” Kear said. “There are people in other countries that were praying this prayer.”
Father Kapaun was a priest from the Diocese of Wichita. Pilsen, his hometown, is a few miles from the southern border of the Salina Diocese. He was ordained a priest on June 9, 1940. After a few years of service in the Diocese, he answered the call for chaplains during World War II and entered the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps in 1944. Captured while serving troops in North Korea, Father Kapaun put into a prison camp, where he continued to minister to prisoners of all denominations until he died on May 23, 1951. In 1993, the Archdiocese of the Military received approval from the Vatican to begin exploring the cause for Sainthood for Father Kapaun. After many years of the project being on hold with the military archdiocese, the Diocese of Wichita took over the cause, and on June 29, 2008, the Diocese of Wichita opened the cause for canonization in Pilsen.
Kear underwent two cranial surgeries over the course of 75 days in the fall of 2008, mere months after the cause for canonization was opened in the Wichita Diocese. He was released from the hospital into a rehab facility, where he needed to re-learn even the most basic skills. “I knew I could do these things,” he said. “I knew I could write my name, but I couldn’t do it. That made me mad … really mad … which made me work harder. I jumped right back into life. I wasn’t going to let this hold me back.” He focused, prayed and worked his way through rehab. “My family thought it was a miracle all the way through,” Kear said. “I was just living it. They could see it. I couldn’t see it because I didn’t know at that time how bad everything really was.”
Oct. 2 tends to be a difficult day for Kear. “It’s the one day out of the year that’s really hard for me,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m unhappy, but it’s the day that everything changed.” As a 19-year-old college student, he was studying to become a fire fighter, “but that’s a dream that could no longer be,” Kear said. These days, he’s finishing up his college studies at Fort Hays State University. He is now studying communications with an emphasis in public relations. He also draws and paints. Some of his artwork, including a mixed-media piece depicting Father Kapaun was on display at the Fall Gallery Walk in Hays. “I have natural talent, I guess you could say,” Kear said of art. “It’s always something I’ve enjoyed doing.” One of the first pictures he drew of Father Kapaun is currently hanging in rectory of the priest’s hometown parish, St. John Nepomucene in Pilsen He also contributes a drawing of Father Kapaun to the Kansas Knights of Columbus state convention in Topeka. It is auctioned at and the proceeds are placed in the organization’s natural disaster relief fund.
While Kear said he is often asked about exploring a vocation to the priesthood, he said he takes the opportunity to evangelize in his daily life. “I will share this story with anyone who asks,” he said. “Whether you are religious or not, it’s an inspiring story. Religion or not, it brings people hope.” Since his recovery, he’s done many interviews. Additionally, he speaks with a variety of groups, including nursing organizations, Knights of Columbus groups and parish religious education classes, to name a few. Kear will complete his college studies in December, and said he plans to move back to the Wichita area and explore a career in public relations.
As for regrets? “I don’t regret anything,” he said. “Life throws you curve balls and you swing. Sometimes you connect, sometimes you miss that pitch and wait for the next one to come down. Currently, Scott Carter who is the coordinator for the Father Kapaun Guild, said Father Kapaun is considered a “Servant of God.” The Congregation for Saints is currently examining the positio, which is a statement of the life and virtue of Father Kapaun. The document was delivered to them in November of 2015. After it works through the process, if it is approved, Father Kapaun will then be given the title of “Venerable,” which means “he lived a life of extraordinary virtue,” Carter said. “That’s the base step before they look at miracles.” Once declared “Venerable,” the Vatican will closely examine the alleged miracles attributed to Father Kapaun. “The miracles are the supernatural evidence (Father Kapaun) is up in heaven,” Carter said. Once a miracle is proved, a candidate is “Beatified.” Upon beatification, one more miracle is required before a potential saint can be canonized. Kear said he has complete confidence that Father Kapaun will one day be canonized. “When he’s beatified, I’ll be there,” he said. “When he’s canonized, one way or another, I’ll find a way to be there.”