A Visit With Blessed Solanus Casey
Walk in the footsteps of the holy Capuchin at the St. Felix Catholic Center in In Huntington, Indiana.
In Huntington, Indiana, on 30 superbly landscaped acres, one can walk in the footsteps of Blessed Solanus Casey. This is where Solanus spent the last 10 years of his life as the doorkeeper (porter) at St. Felix Catholic Center.
The Capuchins transferred Solanus to St. Felix Monastery in 1946; here, he has become legendary for his life and service. Everyone loved and admired him. He lived in poverty. His cell was bare, with no mementos and few books. The novices recognized his holiness and loved to hang around him.
The friars would tease him when he serenaded them with his violin in front of the statues in the chapel. And because he was rarely on time for community events, the superior nicknamed him “the late Solanus Casey.”
As the porter, Solanus pursued his healing and counseling ministry. He was the only friar to have a phone in his room because of the volume of calls and visits he would receive. Five busloads of people would arrive every day to receive his prayers and blessing. When Solanus was away from his desk, a special bell would ring from the bell tower twice to tell him he had guests.
He started a healing service on Wednesdays that still takes place today. Many were healed or had problems solved. Once a couple came to him with their child who was paralyzed. He simply told the couple to go to confession. The husband resisted, but the wife persuaded him to go to the sacrament. When they returned, the child could walk. Solanus never took any credit. Any favor people might receive could be attributed to two factors: 1) They had witnessed to their faith and confidence in God by doing some good for their neighbor, the holy souls or supporting the missions; and 2) God alone answers their prayers.
And it was for prayer that Solanus was best known at St. Felix.
He loved the relationship with our Eucharistic Lord in adoration. After a 12-hour day of ministry, he would pray through the night in the chapel before the tabernacle. Often the friars would find him in the morning sleeping on the bare wooden floor. “Don’t worry about me,” he would say. “I sleep on the soft side of the planks.”
He also liked to pray before a life-size crucifix at the top of a set of stairs, creating an impressive traffic jam among stairgoers. (I prayed before the crucifix when I visited St. Felix.)
Solanus was especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He sought her guidance and counsel for his visitors. Once while praying for a guest, he stopped and gazed heavenward when the name of Mary was mentioned, as though he was listening to her. He also had a great devotion to the holy souls. He encouraged everyone to pray for the holy souls because “they hardly ever fail!”
Solanus was plagued by a skin disease throughout his life. In the summer of 1957, he was hospitalized. On the morning of July 31, he sat up and stretched out his arms as if on the cross and said, “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.” And then he fell back and took his last breath. He died at 11am, the same hour he had offered his first Mass. People whose lives Solanus had touched attended his wake and funeral — 20,000 souls. He is buried at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.
Pope Francis declared Solanus Casey “Blessed” on Nov. 18, 2017. His feast day is July 30.
Solanus and Me
On All Souls’ Day 2018, I conducted a retreat at the St. Felix Catholic Center. Solanus has long been one of my favorite blessed ones because of his devotion to the holy souls. I thought I knew him well. But during my time at St. Felix I got to know him even better.
At St. Felix’s, Solanus’ history came alive. My visit there — I like to say my visit with Blessed Solanus — was an incredibly blessed experience. It is a place to be immersed in prayerful simplicity, to get away and be with God. The grounds are gorgeous, and the monastery is in pristine condition. Everything glows and shines. It’s a “jewel.”
As one arrives, a gleaming new bronze statue of Solanus awaits in greeting.
When busloads of people arrived at St. Felix, they met Solanus at the front office, which is still there. I rang the doorbell and was delighted to hear it ring just as it would have summoned the faithful doorkeeper.
The All Souls’ retreatants roomed in the actual cells where the friars lived and prayed. I could feel the presence of Blessed Solanus as I walked the halls of the monastery, reading the classic monastic prayers on the hallways’ ceilings. I had the privilege of staying in the cell right next to his cell, which is exactly the way it was when he lived there. I picked up the receiver on the phone he used to take calls on when visitors came to see him. I sat in the chair he sat in when he worked at his desk. I prayed the Rosary kneeling at his bedside, with his habit draped across the bed. The original light in the cell is kept on 24/7. It burns brightly and can be seen from a distance at night. I remember the absolute sense of peace I enjoyed being where he spent his life.
His cell is preserved exactly the way it was when he lived there.
I had the opportunity to pray in the chapel where Solanus interceded for the sick and suffering. The friars would leave a light on there because they knew he would be praying through the night and end up sleeping on the floor. A miracle occurred after his death — the light would not go out: After the groundskeeper turned it off at night, he would find it burning brightly in the morning.
Pray where Blessed Solanus prayed.
The retreatants ate meals in the dining room where the friars took their meals. And I sat and ate at Solanus’ place.
The beautiful sturdy wooden tables and chairs were built by the friars without nails and are still in use today. Later we prayed the Rosary where Solanus prayed his Rosary every afternoon.
Blessed Solanus would pray his Rosary at this Blessed Mother Grotto every afternoon.
I enjoyed walking through the beautiful grounds of the St. Felix Catholic Center that I knew he had loved. You can still see the 100 trees and shrubs that the first class of novices planted in 1929. I stopped and prayed at the cemetery on the grounds where the friars are buried. The grave of Father Dominic Meyer, who served as a secretary to St. Pio of Petrelcina (Padre Pio) for 14 years, is also located here.
I walked the halls, prayed in my cell, ate in the refectory and made my way to the chapel, as Solanus would every day, while being inspired by this holy Capuchin’s life.
What a special weekend is was celebrating a wonderful “Blessed.”
As Blessed Solanus would say, “Blessed be God in all his designs.”
Susan Tassone is the author of 13 books, including Jesus Speaks to Faustina and You (Sophia Institute Press).
IF YOU GO
To arrange a tour/visit, retreat, conference, school function, youth group or special event, contact Gabriela Mayo, manager/retreat coordinator at: [email protected].
The monastery is accepting tours and retreats. They are equipped and ready, following all the proper protocols required of the state in terms of COVID-19 proticols. Social distancing and masks are required. They have taken every precaution for a safe environment. Learn more at SFCatholicCenter.com.