Blessed Solanus Casey Exalted in Humility
Blessed Solanus is a timely reminder of God’s merciful love, particularly for those most in need.
No one questioned his piety, but they did his ability to serve with full clerical faculties.
And yet because of his humility and radical trust that God had indeed called him to the priesthood, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey faithfully ministered to multitudes and is counted among the Church’s Blesseds.
As a native of the Motor City and one blessed to go to St. Mary of Redford Grade in School in Detroit, I became acquainted with Father Solanus and other holy men and women who were ascending in the Church’s pantheon of sanctity. I learned of Elizabeth Ann Seton, SC, the first native-born American who was canonized in September 1975, as I began eighth grade at St. Mary’s. There was also the remarkable “Leper Priest,” Father Damien de Veuster, SSCC, who made his ministerial mark transforming the lives of those suffering with the then-incurable scourge of leprosy, and who would later be canonized in 2009. And also, the indefatigable Father Casey, who, though only the humble porter at the Capuchin Monastery in Detroit for many years, is now known as “God’s Doorkeeper,” because of his unquenchable zeal to serve those in need.
Blessed Solanus’ humility was tested and cultivated when he was designated a “simplex priest” at his ordination in 1904, because of the young Irish Catholic’s academic struggles in classes mainly taught in German and Latin. In short, because of concerns about his theological acumen, Father Solanus could not celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation nor preach doctrinal sermons.
He would never hear a single confession, but the prediction of his seminary director, Father Anthony Rottensteiner, OFM Cap., proved prophetic: “We shall ordain Frater Solanus, and as a priest, he will be something like the Curé of Ars.” The reference was to St. John Vianney, a priest who also struggled with his seminary studies and yet became one of the most renowned confessors in Church history.
Blessed Solanus couldn’t absolve the faithful of their sins, but, like Vianney, his spiritual counsel was increasingly sought, as the faithful would daily seek his advice and prayers, and sometimes the waiting lines for the porter priest would wend around the block at the Capuchin monastery in Detroit.
People came to discuss problems with family, health and financial matters, and ask prayers for various petitions. My Uncle Jack Sullivan, now in his early 90s, described his mother, my great-aunt Gertrude, as one of Father Solanus “groupies” back in the day. And if one is going to be a groupie, better it be an aficionado of one who exudes holiness, than some misguided rock star devoted to hedonism.
As others, including St. Damien, were beatified and then canonized, I wondered when Father Solanus’ time would come and prayed for years for his cause. What a blessing, then, to be among the thousands at Ford Field Nov. 18, 2017, to participate in his beatification Mass, which for me recalled the joyful liturgy St. John Paul II offered at the packed Pontiac Silverdome during his 1987 U.S. pilgrimage. (The acoustics at Ford Field are markedly better than they ever were at the now-defunct Silverdome, which mercifully awaits its architectural demise.)
Blessed Solanus’ notebooks are filled with extraordinary accounts of those aided after being enrolled in the Seraphic Mass Associations: suicides averted, Catholics reconciled to the Church and a great variety of physical, mental and spiritual healings recorded. One of the most endearing involved a mother who brought in her young daughter who was suffering from diabetes. Blessed Solanus assured the mother her child would recover, but the priest alarmed her when he offered the child a piece of candy, something he would regularly do with visiting children. But the child was not harmed by the candy, and a few days later her mother confirmed that the diabetes had disappeared.
And Blessed Solanus had the gift of reading souls. For example, when a young man with two friends arrived asking prayers for his father, who was “a very faithful Catholic,” Blessed Solanus admonished the young man for his own lapsed faith. When his friends attempted to vouch for the young man’s piety, Blessed Solanus declared—and the penitent young man affirmed—that he had not participated in Mass for five years.
In another case, a young woman intent on being a nun asked Blessed Solanus’ prayers accordingly. “No,” the priest told her, “you will marry a young man, and he will become a policeman, and you will have several children.” Years after Blessed Solanus death, the woman confirmed that she had married a soldier who became a policeman, and that she and her husband had eight children.
In our troubled world today, with so much family breakdown, skepticism and even disbelief and despair, Blessed Solanus is a timely reminder of God’s merciful love, particularly for those most in need. May we all emulate his humble and zealously faithful example, so that, at our own death, we can say like Blessed Solanus did in July 1957, “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.”
Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us.
Postscript: Was Blessed Solanus an incorruptible? Some saints’ bodies, when exhumed, have been found remarkably intact. Perhaps the best known are St. Bernadette Soubirous and St. Catherine Laboure. They are known as “incorruptibles,” saints whose posthumous perseveration is attributed to God’s miraculous intervention (see Acts 2:27). Blessed Solanus’ body was also found extraordinarily well-preserved by Dr.Werner Spitz, a world-renowned pathologist and former Chief Medical Examiner of Wayne County, which includes Detroit. Spitz said he was “really amazed” at the condition of Blessed Solanus’ body, which he added was “unusual.” As a scientist, he credited those who prepared the Capuchin’s body for burial, but he didn’t rule out a miracle. Stay tuned.
This article originally appeared Nov. 25, 2017, at the Register.