Blessed Solanus Casey — America’s Modern-Day Miracle Worker

Reports of Father Solanus’ sanctity spread in his own lifetime — along with reports of healings, conversions and resolutions of every kind of problem through his advice, blessing or prayers.

(photo: hand out)

Father Solanus Casey was walking though the Detroit hospital one day when he saw Art Ruledgee, one of the volunteers at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, in the hallway on a gurney. 

“Art, what are you doing here?” Father Solanus stopped to greet him.

He had a tumor, he explained and was on his way to surgery.

“Where is it?” the priest inquired.

Art pointed to his stomach and Father Solanus laid his hand on the area for several seconds.

“Have the doctors give you a last check before they operate,” he said and continued on his way. 

Art asked his doctors to take one more look. They couldn’t find the tumor anymore.

It’s no wonder Father Solanus was the most sought-after priest in Detroit. 

He was born Bernard Francis Casey on a farm in Wisconsin in 1870. He had a deep faith formed in his childhood home and a naturally gentle, people-oriented personality. Though he had an inclination to the priesthood, he left home as a teenager to help support the family and make his way in the world. He landed a job as one of the country’s first streetcar drivers in Milwaukee at the age of 20.

Driving the streetcar one day, he was literally stopped in his tracks. A man had a woman pinned down to the track and was looming over her with a knife. After his shift, Barney (as he was called) spent the night in prayer. He decided to become priest. 

At 21 years of age, he enrolled in the St. Francis High School Seminary in Milwaukee. The seminary was run by German priests who taught in German. Being Irish and never having learned German, Barney naturally struggled. After four years, he was asked to leave, and the rector suggested he enter a religious order instead. He wrote to the Jesuits, Franciscans and Capuchins. He was accepted by all of them.

Now what? He felt no strong call to any to any of them, so he asked his mother and sister to pray a novena with him leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception. At Mass on the last day of the novena, he heard a voice within him clearly say, “Go to Detroit.” That was where the Capuchins, a strict branch of the Franciscans, had their novitiate. Barney wasn’t excited. He didn’t like their bushy beards. 

His reticence about his vocation disappeared the first night at the monastery. He showed up at the monastery late on Christmas Eve of 1896, tired, delayed by three days of snow storms. He went to his guest room and fell asleep until the sound of the bells and singing for Midnight Mass woke him up, and he wandered down to the chapel. He would never forget the joy he felt at that Mass. 

After his first profession of vows, Brother Solanus again struggled in the seminary. He never managed to pull grades higher than “average” or “passing.” His superiors started to question if he had the intelligence required for the priesthood. Also approaching were his final vows, where he would make his lifelong commitment to life as a Capuchin. Would he still want to be a monk even if he weren’t allowed to be ordained a priest?

At his superiors’ request, Brother Solanus signed a statement saying he left his ordination completely up to them. It was an act of profound humility and surrender to the will of God. In the end, his superiors decided he could be ordained — but only as a “simplex” priest. He would not be allowed to give absolution or preach formal homilies. 

No one could have imagined the ministry that awaited him. Despite being a priest, his limited ministry meant he was given jobs usually done by lay brothers. As the doorkeeper, his reputation as a compassionate listener (“the holy priest”) started to spread — along with reports of healings, conversions and resolutions of every kind of problem through his advice, blessing or prayers. 

More and more often, people came to the monastery just to see him, to ask for his counsel or get his blessing. After 20 years in New York, he spent 20 more years as the porter at St. Bonaventure’s Monastery in Detroit. His days listening and consoling, advising and blessing could start at 7 a.m. and last until 10 p.m. Hopeless medical cases, from blindness to gangrene to birth defects to cancer, were cured. People on the brink of mental and spiritual despair found new life. He helped young people discern vocations and he brought those disgusted with religion back to the faith.

As he aged and grew weaker, he retired to the monastery in Huntington, Indiana, though people still sought him out. 

Suffering from a severe skin disease, he was hospitalized in May 1957. His condition worsened. On July 31, at the moment of death, he suddenly opened his eyes, reached his arms up and cried out, “I give my life to Jesus Christ.” 

Less than 20 years later, his beatification cause was opened and the examination into his life of virtue began, culminating in him being declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1995. After consideration of a number of miracles, the case that was submitted to Rome and eventually recognized the cure of Paula Medina Zarate from ichthyosis, a genetic skin condition, during her visit from her native Panama to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit in 2012.

The resulting beatification was held Nov. 18, 2017, at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a crowd of 60,000 in attendance. His cause now seeks a second miracle — an instantaneous, complete and lasting cure of a serious medical condition without the aid of effective medical treatment — in order that he someday be declared a saint.