Fr. Solanus Casey
Fr. Solanus Casey was born on a farm, in 1870, to an Irish immigrant family of Oak Grove, WI. He was given the name, Bernard Francis, and was the sixth of Bernard and Ellen Casey's sixteen children. They were Catholics of a deep and simple faith, a faith that would animate him all 87 years of his life. At the age of 17 he left the farm to take a series of jobs - lumberjack, hospital orderly, prison guard, street car operator - to help the family back home. One day while driving the street car, he witnessed a brutal murder that led him to re-evaluate what he should do with his life. He decided to make his life a solid, lasting, commitment to minister God's care to this hurting world. He would become a priest.
Although past the age for the minor seminary, because of his very limited education, he entered it. Classes were taught in German and Latin, neither of which he could speak or read, and he was soon advised to leave and join a religious order. In December of 1897, he entered the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin in Detroit. He was given the name Solanus after St. Francis Solanus. Professed into the Order in July of 1898, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1904. However, because he had not performed well enough in his studies, he was not granted the full faculties of ordination. He would be a "simplex priest," one who could preside at Mass, but not preach publicly or hear confessions. He accepted his superiors' decision as God's will and never questioned it.
Following ordination, he was immediately transferred to a busy friary in Yonkers, NY. They hardly knew what to do with a priest whose ministry was so limited. He was assigned to care for the sacristy, train the altar boys and answer the front door. It was that position as porter that defined Fr. Solanus' ministry. His simple trust in God, his certainty that every prayer is answered in God's own way, his gentle listening to each person who came, Catholic, Non-Catholic, Non-Christians, even Atheists, led to his quickly becoming known wherever he was assigned. His heart went out to all. He would listen, pray with them, suggest some "work" they could do for another to "thank God ahead of time." Like Jesus, he saw each person as loved by God and called to share in God’s life.
Fr. Solanus was known for his love of prayer and time spent before the Eucharist. His focus was on Jesus' incarnation, crucifixion and Eucharist - the Franciscan focus on the humility of God! Meditation on Christ's passion produced a willingness to submit, to bear hardships, injustice, to suffer, to yield to God's big plan over our little ones. He credited the Blessed Virgin Mary with having saved his life as a boy and had a special devotion to her. He had great confidence in the endowment of the Church - the sacraments, blessings, sacramentals, devotions - and used them to increase people's trust in God. And when he spoke of Mary or the saints, people said he sounded like he was talking about his family.
Fr. Solanus was perhaps even more known for the endless hours he spent with people, listening, praying, encouraging, and doing what he could. During the years of the depression, it was due to his giving the food of the friars to the hungry poor that the soup kitchen in Detroit began.
Fr. Solanus' presence to God was interwoven with his presence to people. God was never at a distance while people engaged his heart. God as the One who cares, the One who initiatives, the One who's will is always somehow good: he encouraged all who came to him to trust in that care. That trust brought many answers to prayer. As Fr. Solanus' fame spread because of it, he made it very clear that any favor people might receive could be attributed to two factors: 1) They had witnessed to their faith and confidence in God by doing something for others; and 2) God alone had answered their prayers.
Far from naive about evil in the world, his simple theme would be to trust in God and manifest that trust in service to others and in gratitude - the response to evil that he had chosen in his youth. He also had a firm conviction that the next world is better than this one.
His ministry focused on where he was and the needs of the times. He was present to what was going on and to the people living in those situations. WWI, the Depression, WWII, the Cold War! In the midst of a world full of turmoil, evil and fear, he remained a model of solid trust in God and in people. People came to him because he was easy to talk to, non-judgmental, honest, kind, and fair. He drew people by his openness and simplicity. In fact, Fr. Solanus' definition of religion was "the science of our happy relationship with and dependence upon God and neighbor."
The amazing thing about Father Solanus’ reputation for holiness is that it is built entirely on his practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As a simplex priest, he exercised his apostolate solely through kind words, fraternal charity, love of neighbor, and prayer -- with humility, patience and obedience. In the Positio for his cause for sainthood, the qualities listed are:
Respect, courage, trust, humility, silent when rejected, offering no opposition, compassionate, not competitive, living simply, accepting correction, faithful, authentic, love for the Church and desire to see it prosper. Deep gratitude to Christ for his passion and the Eucharist. Happy acceptance of rejection and suffering so that he might share in Christ' passion.
What an incredible example for us to follow!
(Article Contributed by: Patricia Wilkin, OFS)
An exhortation from Fr. Solanus:
"Let us, therefore, not weaken. Let us hope when darkness seems to surround us. Let us thank Him at all times and under whatever circumstances. Thank Him for our creation and our existence. Thank Him for everything-- for His plans in the past, that by our sins and our want of appreciation, have so often frustrated - and that He so often found necessary to change. Let us thank Him for all His plans for the future -- for trials and humiliations as well as great joy and consolations; for sickness and whatever death He may deign to plan; and with the inspired Psalmist let us call all the creatures of the universe to help us praise and adore Him Who is the Divine Beginning and the everlasting Good -- the Alpha and the Omega."
Further Information: Father Solanus Guild