Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
I asked four diocesan bishops who had clergy who once lived in their dioceses whose causes for canonization are in different stages to share their thoughts on them.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, talks about Blessed Solanus Casey (1870-1957), who lived 1946-56 at the St. Felix Catholic Center, a Capuchin friary and novitiate in Huntington, Indiana.
[Blessed Solanus Casey] was a simplex priest, which meant he couldn’t hear confessions or deliver homilies. This doesn’t seem the normal model for priests, yet he has been declared “blessed.”
Blessed Solanus’ two great loves were the sick and the poor. So many came to him with their problems and experienced God’s grace. Like him, we priests should give special attention to the sick and the poor. As Pope Francis tells us, we must go out to the peripheries to help people in these situations.
Blessed Solanus was a very simple priest, humble and a man of deep prayer. Our diocese has been blessed in that he once lived here, and many Catholics today are devoted to him, especially in the Huntington area. I wrote the Vatican requesting that we be allowed to celebrate his feast day as an optional memorial; it’s not easy to get such permission. But we did.
St. Felix Catholic Center is now a retreat center. It had been sold, but was bought again by Catholics and restored, so that it is a beautiful facility. Pilgrims can come and see Blessed Solanus’ room and pray there.
Bishop John Doerfler, Bishop of Marquette, Michigan, talks about Venerable Frederic Baraga (1797-1868), the first Bishop of Marquette declared Venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
When I look at Bishop Baraga, I see an example for our time. He had a great zeal for evangelization and bringing Christ to others. He came from Slovenia to minister to the Native Americans here. We were part of the Diocese of Cincinnati at the time. He later became the first bishop of this diocese when it was established.
He was known as the Snowshoe Priest. We have severe winters here, and you have to make friends with the snow if you live here. Bishop Baraga would travel miles and miles to people in the severest of conditions, whether it be to provide Mass and the sacraments, or anoint the dying. His outreach and care for people was admirable. He is a strong model for us.
Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, and former Bishop of Raleigh, North Carolina, talks about Servant of God Fr. Thomas Price (1860-1919), who was once a priest of Raleigh and founded the organization which would eventually become known as the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.
[Fr. Price] was a true missionary, and a man of bold vision and courage. He was the first native-born North Carolinian to become a priest, and he wanted to share his faith with everyone he met. He had a love for the poor and a vision to purchase the Nazareth property [on which the Raleigh cathedral was built]. At the dedication of the cathedral, we were blessed to have present family members of those who once lived in the orphanage. We are blessed to have the example of Fr. Price.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, talks about Blessed Stanley Rother (1935-1981), once a priest of the archdiocese who was beatified by Pope Francis in 2017.
[Fr. Rother] was a devoted pastor and shepherd. He has a remarkable story. As a young seminarian, because of his inability to master Latin, he was asked to leave the seminary. He was ultimately able to gain the proficiency needed and was ordained a priest.
In 1968, he responded to the call of the missions and went to Guatemala. By the grace of God he became fluent in both Spanish and a Mayan dialect. In fact, he was able to take the Mayan dialect, which had only been a spoken language, and help make it a written language. He was then able to use it to translate Scripture passages and liturgical materials for use by the people.
Civil war broke out in Latin America, however, and his little village got caught up in the unrest. He learned that his name appeared on the death list of militia groups. He was faced with the question: should I stay or should I leave?
His bishop told him to come home because it was unsafe. So he returned at Christmas 1980 and spent a few months in Oklahoma. But, he was unsettled and conflicted about coming home. He believed he had left his people to face danger alone. In 1980, he famously wrote that a shepherd should not run at the first sign of danger. So, he returned. In 1981, he was murdered … or martyred … in his rectory.