Sunday, May 21, 2017


This year we shall add another saint to our growing roster of saints born in the USA. He will be beatified in Detroit this year. FATHER SOLANUS CASEY was a  Capuchin Franciscan friar who ministered in Detroit

He was born in Wisconsin in 1870 and spent his life in the service of others, especially the poor. He is the second (Bl. Stanley Rother is the first)  American born male saint.

He contracted diphtheria in 1878 which permanently damaged his voice and left it wispy and slightly impaired.  In 1887 he left the farm to work in a series of jobs in his home state and in Minnesota working as a lumberjack and a hospital orderly as well as working as a guard in the Minnesota state prison and a street car operator in Superior.  

While working at his last job he witnessed a brutal murder which caused him to evaluate his life and his future. When driving in a rowdy section of Superior,  he saw a drunken sailor stab a woman to death. He then acted on a call he felt to the priesthood. But due to his limited formal education he enrolled at Saint Francis High School Seminary - the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee - in January 1891 hoping to become a diocesan priest. Classes there were taught either in German and Latin which he did not know how to speak. He was advised that due to his academic limitations, he should consider joining a religious order if he wanted to become a priest. There he could be ordained a "simplex" priest who could preside at a Mass but would not have the faculties for public preaching or hearing confessions.

Fr. Wm. Hart McNichols

Following this advice he applied to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Detroit into which he was received in 1897. But his moving to Detroit came on December 8, 1896 after reflecting before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he heard her distinct voice telling him to "go to Detroit". He struggled through his studies, but received his ordination to the priesthood on July 24, 1904 from Archbishop Sebastian Messmer at the Saint Francis of Assisi church in Milwaukee. Because he had not performed well enough in his studies he was ordained as a "sacerdos simplex".

He served for two decades in a succession of assignments in friaries in New York. His first assignment was at the Sacred Heart Friary in Yonkers and was later transferred to New York City where he first served at St John's Church next to Penn Station and later at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem.

He was recognized as an inspiring speaker. In August 1924 he was transferred to the St Bonaventure convent in Detroit where he worked until 1945. During this time he served for the most part as the simple porter (doorkeeper). Each Wednesday afternoon he conducted well-attended services for the sick and through these services became known for his great compassion and the amazing results of his consultations with visitors. People considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings received from him.
Lewis Williams

He loved to kneel before the Eucharist in the quiet of the night; Father Benedict Groeschel once recalled visiting the convent on a warm night and was unable to sleep. Taking a walk around 3:00am, he arrived at the chapel where he put on two lights and saw Casey kneeling on the top step of the altar. Father Groeschel observed him for several moments and noted Casey didn't move – the priest simply flicked the lights off to leave Casey to his prayer.

Father Solanus  loved to play the violin for his fellow friars during their time of recreation and often accompanied this with an Irish song. His terrible singing voice was attributed to his speech impediment he had since his childhood. His fellow friars could not refrain from rolling their eyes or cuffing coughs so he would excuse himself politely and sneak down to the chapel to entertain an invisible audience at the tabernacle. The friar often fasted but did eat enough in moderation since for him that was essential. Until his late seventies he was able to join the younger religious in games of tennis and volleyball and even went jogging on occasion.

In 1946 in failing health and suffering from eczema over his entire body,  he was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate of St Felix in Huntington in Indiana where he lived until 1956 when he was hospitalized in Detroit. In 1957 he was rushed to hospital for food poisoning and upon his release was noted by the friars that he was walking much slower and was scratching at his legs only to discover his skin was raw and infected which prompted a return to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed him with erysipelas which was beyond treatment and the doctors were even considering amputation. This idea was dropped soon when the ulcers began to heal.

On July 2, 1957 he was readmitted to hospital for good.  e died from erysipelas on July 31, 1957 at 11:00 am at St John Hospital in Detroit with only his nurse at his side. His last words reportedly were: "I give my soul to Jesus Christ." There was an estimated 20, 000 people who filed past his coffin prior to his funeral and burial in the cemetery of the Detroit convent he had lived in. On July 8, 1987 his remains were exhumed and reinterred inside the Father Solanus Casey Center at the St Bonaventure convent; his remains were found to be incorrupt save for a little decomposition on his elbows.

He was known during his lifetime as a wonderworker known for his great faith and his abilities as a spiritual counselor but also for his great attention to the sick for whom he celebrated special Masses. He was dubbed a wonderworker for his working of miracles during his life which made him a much sought-after individual and came to be a revered and notable figure. He also loved the violin which was a trait he shared with his namesake St Francis Solanus.

About 20 years ago I was in Fond du LacWI and visited the nearby monastery at Mount Calvary, where even then father Solanus was honored as a future saint of the Capucian Order, which also boasts St. Padre Pio.

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