He's not exactly sure why, but he proposed to his 21-year-old girlfriend, Teal, and she accepted. By mid-December, the swelling in his head had subsided to the point where he could be fitted with a prosthetic skull plate. "I'm really hard-headed," he jokes.

When Kear emerged from his coma, his father, Paul, tried to set him on a new course in life. But his son couldn't resist all of his old vices. He started attending parties and rejoined his hard-drinking softball team. He was soon sliding headlong into second base and balancing on the balls of his feet atop empty beer cans. At each landscaping gig, friends tested him with frat-boy movie quotes to jog his short-term memory. "I'm kind of a big deal," Kear likes to say, quoting Ron Burgundy in Anchorman.

In the years since he started investigating Emil Kapaun's deeds, Hotze has uncovered dozens of "favors granted," the Catholic term for unproved miracles, but virtually all were impossible to confirm. He talked with a soldier who survived a bomb blast in Baghdad, but there was no way to demonstrate how he'd dodged the deadly shrapnel. And the girl with the inoperable cancer that went into remission? Well, the medical records didn't adequately illustrate her remarkable recovery. And even if they had, doctors are notoriously reluctant to admit when they can't explain what happened. Kear's neurosurgeon, Raymond Grundmeyer, had no such qualms. He acknowledged to the Vatican and the press that the young man's recovery was "miraculous."

For Kear himself, the turning point came in a dream: He remembers floating through a white tunnel to a set of ornate golden gates where he saw his grandfather. "Why am I here?" he asked. "I don't know," the old man said. "Go home." So he did.

These days, the Miracle Man—as folks in the Colwich area like to call him—is watched like a messiah. A year ago, they gave him his own day of honor. In August, they named him grand marshal of the Heritage Festival parade. During SummerFest in nearby Andale, they let him throw candy from a custom-made monster truck, high above the John Deere tractors and antique roadsters. All the while, they scrutinized him for signs of something bigger.

Kear understands this, but he's determined to conduct his second life on his own terms. No longer engaged (Teal dumped him in April), he prizes the week in June that he met with a Vatican investigator more for the opportunity to see the hallowed Country Stampede Music Festival and make out with three different women than for the opportunity to break bread with a member of the Pope's posse. "Before I met Teal, I was kind of a man whore," he says. "It was not that hard to get a girl. Now it's kind of weird, I'm not that guy." He's philosophical about the breakup. "They say there's more fish in the sea, and I love fishing," he quips. Not long ago, he offered this Facebook status update: "Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy . . . Save a Cowboy Ride a Miracle."