Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Blessed Solanus Casey

Blessed Solanus Casey emoji

How rare and difficult it is to be holy!  How wonderful when we discover someone who really stands out in a crowd of faithful and is so well known for their spiritual strength that we all long to model our lives after them.  Sanctity is so rare, in fact, that America can only boast of 15 saints and blesseds from our country.

On Saturday, November 18th, 2017, Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM, was beatified in Detroit, Michigan.  Well known by many for his gifts of healing and prophesy, this man who was the sixth child in a family of sixteen, born in Prescott, Wisconsin and was not particularly gifted in educational skills, a man who was very humble and obedient, has become the latest American example of sanctity recognized by the Church.

I had first learned of Solanus Casey about 30 years ago.  Fr. Jeff VandenHeuvel, a priest who had been assigned at my hometown parish of Holy Innocents in Manitowoc was so gifted in singing his homilies that he recorded several of them on tape as a fundraiser.  I had purchased his tapes and listened to them over and over again until they completely wore out.  One of his homily stories featured Fr. Solanus Casey whom Fr. Jeff described as the lowliest of the Capuchins who became the greatest of the Capuchins.  Fr. Jeff's story so captivated me that I never forgot it and have been intrigued by Fr. Solanus ever since and have turned to him in prayer on many occasions.

Born on November 25th, 1870, Fr. Solanus' vocational call came while witnessing a brutal murder of a woman in Superior, Wisconsin.  Struggling through the academic rigors of seminary which was taught in German and Latin, Fr. Solanus was ordained a "simplex priest."  He could not hear confessions or preach.  His assignment was to become the porter at St. Bonaventure Friary in Detroit and several places in New York and Indiana.  It was through this humble job that Fr. Solanus began to gain notoriety as an excellent listener and wonder-worker.  People would come and share their trials with Fr. Solanus and, with his encouragement toward prayer, people would leave him healed of burdens and suffering.  For those for whom healing would not be possible, Fr. Solanus would encourage them with a reminder that the "Good God" knows what is best.  

Fr. Solanus was known to spend entire evenings in prayer in the church.  He was so closely connected to God and in tune with his faith that he was an inspiration to his brother priests.  He also loved to play the violin, although it's said that he played very poorly.  Nobody could stand to listen to him play so he took his violin to the church to play in front of the tabernacle for Jesus and at Christmas would offer a gift of music to the Infant Christ.

Above all, Fr. Solanus stressed the need for gratitude in all things.  He would say "Thank God ahead of time."  That way you put him on the spot and he will be more inclined to your desires.

There are thousands of stories of miracles and answered prayers through Fr. Casey's help while he was alive.  He would always be sure to remind everyone that it was God who brought the healing and answered prayers, not him.  When he died on July 31st, 1957, he was said to have sat straight up in bed with his arms out like a cross and said, "I give my soul to Jesus Christ."  Nearly 2000 people came for his funeral.  He truly was the least Capuchin who had become the greatest.

Upon exhuming his body in 1987 to be moved from the cemetery to the Solanus Center, he was found to be incorrupt, an occurrence that is extremely rare among the saints.

I was so blessed to personally attend Fr. Solanus' beatification Mass in Detroit.  Making our way through a crowd of 70,000 in the cold, pouring rain only made the occasion more meaningful and memorable.  The following day we paid a visit to the Casey Center to pray at his tomb.  The experience was deeply moving and more than once I had tears in my eyes as I pondered the grace that I had been given.

One of those teary-eyed moments came when Ms. Paula Medina Zarate, a teacher from Panama whose miraculous healing of her skin disease brought about the beatification, carried in Fr. Solanus' relics to be placed at the altar during Mass.  The following description from the Solanus Center in Detroit offers a great explanation about both the relics and the reliquary in which they were contained.

Relics of Fr. Solanus Casey's arm

A closer view of the relics

"Relics are an important part of our Catholic faith. They provide us with a physical, tangible connection to the Communion of Saints, and help us draw closer to God. A relic of Father Solanus Casey was presented during the Beatification Mass this past Saturday. This relic, a portion of bone removed from the arm of the Blessed Porter who reached out to so many people, was carried to the altar by Ms. Paula Medina Zarate of Panamá. Paula received a miraculous healing of a skin disease after praying for the intercession of Blessed Solanus. Brother Michael Sullivan, our Provincial Minister, and Brother Jozev Timmers, who has ministered in Panamá for many years, escorted Paula to the altar. Cardinal Amato later incensed the relic in a humble act of veneration.

The reliquary, or the vessel in which the relic is housed, was designed by Brother Mark Joseph Costello. It is a simple wooden cross that incorporates into its design a wooden dinner plate, which would have been used to feed both the Friars and the poor alike during the lifetime of Blessed Solanus. This provides yet another link to the Blessed Friar who served the poor and who was instrumental in the foundation of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. This relic will eventually come to reside at the St. Bonaventure Chapel at the Solanus Casey Center, where it can be venerated by the many pilgrims who visit the center."

Please join me in praying for one more miracle so that our Blessed Solanus may soon become Saint Solanus.

O God, I adore You. I give myself to You.
May I be the person You want me to be,
and May Your will be done in my life today.
I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.
If it is Your Will, bless us with the Canonization of
Father Solanus so that others may imitate
and carry on his love for all the poor and
suffering of our world.
As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,
I ask You, according to Your Will,
to hear my prayer for… (your intention)
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Blessed be God in all His Designs.”
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit
May 2017

To learn more about Blessed Solanus including many fascinating stories of healings and other miraculous events of his life, visit Michigan Catholic.

Pictures from my visit to the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit:

Prayer items of Blessed Solanus

His sandals

Habit and Violin

Blessed Solanus' Prayer Intention Book

The covering for his tomb before the beatification.

Blessed Be God!

Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us!

Friday, September 22, 2017

South Dakota Spiritual Wonders

Fr. Jim, Paul, Mary and me at Mount Rushmore

When Fr. Jim Kubicki told us that he would be moving from Milwaukee to South Dakota to work at St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, Paul said, "I've always wanted to go to South Dakota!"  So without giving Fr. Jim much time to settle into his new home, Paul, Mary and I took an adventurous road trip in my ancient yet economical Toyota Echo, to pay him a visit.  Fr. Jim showed us the time of our lives, acting as our personal chauffeur and tour guide on an unforgettable three-day whirlwind experience.

We witnessed an endless expanse of prairies and sky, field after field of sunflowers, more grazing cattle than we could count, and majestic hills and waterfalls.  The natural beauty of this state was something I didn't expect and will forever treasure.

Although we left home for South Dakota very early in the morning, the drive was longer than expected as we made several stops along the way. Finally, after nearly 16 hours, we turned off the interstate onto a long, desolate country road that seemed as though it would never end.  It was a lonely drive as we passed only one or two other cars along the way and the only scenery we passed were fields and fields and fields.  Still, we found that long stretch of road to be somehow very endearing and beautiful in it's endless expanse of plainness.  

We were greatly rewarded at the end of the drive as we arrived at Fr. Jim's house and were warmly welcomed and then quickly whisked away to a guest house across from the Mission offices and main church, St. Charles Borromeo, where we worked together with Fr. Jacob Boddicker, SJ and some of Fr. Jim's friends from Minnesota who were also visiting, to make a delicious dinner that turned out to be my favorite of the trip despite having eaten at some fabulous restaurants in Rapid City.  There's just nothing else that can compare to a meal made with family and friends.  I think it's the love that goes into it that makes it so delicious!

South Dakota sunset as seen from the guest house.
So many of the trees we saw were bent to the north from years of standing in a strong south wind.

The following day our real travels began as Fr. Jim drove us to see the other-worldy Badlands, Magnificent Mount Rushmore, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Needles Highway in Custer State Park where we saw buffalo, fed wild burros and did a little hiking in the majestic Black Hills,  Rapid City, the second largest city in South Dakota which was remarkably clean and beautiful with a statue of a US president on every street corner, Terry Peak, the second highest point in South Dakota, and the historic Wild West town of Deadwood.

The Black Hills

Hiking on the edge!

The Badlands

The Badlands

In spite of seeing so many natural and man-made wonders in the beautiful state of South Dakota, nothing could compare to the spiritual wonders of daily Mass and learning a little bit about Catholicism from a Native American perspective.  I found that Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Kateri Tekakwitha are largely beloved and almost everywhere!  

The first church we visited, on the night we arrived in South Dakota, was by far the most beautiful and my favorite. St. Charles Borromeo, next to the St. Francis Mission Offices,  was one of three churches in South Dakota that was designated as a Holy Door during the Jubilee Year of Mercy and it will possibly be named a basilica.  Although it's hard to see in my photo as night was beginning to fall under a cloudy sky, the outside of the church is painted lavender, a color chosen by the youth group of the parish.  

ST. Charles Borromeo at dusk

St. Charles Borromeo interior

All of the painted trim in the church has a Native American influence.
Pictured in the mural are the North American Jesuits and Our Lady.

Embroidered print of St. Kateri with a Sacred Heart image found in the narthex.

A most beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe found in the small daily chapel.
We spent our second night in South Dakota at the Terra Sancta Retreat Center.  We were literally wrapped in prayer while we slept here as the quilts on the beds were handmade and we found a lovely inscription inside one of them.  In the morning we awoke early so we had time to explore the grounds before Fr. Jim arrived for Mass in the chapel.  Although we were surprised to find a sign on the door warning of mountain lions in the area, we were able to pray the outdoor Stations of the Cross and were not at all bothered by wildlife.

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Jesus falls the first time.

Jesus meets His mother.

The following morning we had a private Mass at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Rapid City with just the four of us.  When we arrived at the church we found a unique holy water font just inside the front door and many Native American touches such as a buffalo hide under the altar and quilts on the wall. Quilts were prominent in many of the churches in South Dakota.

St. Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks
Our Lady of the Black Hills
St. Isaac Jogues
Buffalo hide under the altar.

Blessed Mother Mary

We paid a short visit to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City for a short time of Eucharistic Adoration in Our Lady's Adoration Chapel and a quick tour of the Mother Church of the Diocese.  The Cathedral had also been designated a Holy Door during the Year of Mercy.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Cathedral altar

Brick from the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
A short stop at Wall Drug was required, after all, what trip to South Dakota would be complete without it?  Having been blinded by the bright sun while in the Badlands, Mary and I made a mad dash for sunglasses and we purchased a toy drum for our grandson, Max, but overall found the highly-advertised commercial shopping center to be very underwhelming with one exception, the Traveler's Chapel.  Designed after New Melleray Cistercian Abbey in Iowa, the cool and quiet chapel was a perfect stop for a quick prayer in the midst of so much commercial.  It was a great reminder that God is everywhere, even at Wall Drug!  
Chapel inside Wall Drug Store designed after New Melleray Abbey in Iowa

One of the most fascinating stops of our trip was also one of our very first.  We spent a little time exploring the Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum at St. Francis Mission where we learned about the history of the Native Americans in South Dakota.  The museum was named for Fr. Eugene Buechel, SJ, a German priest who ministered to the Lakota in South Dakota in the early 1900's and began to collect and catalogue many ethnic artifacts and photos which were the origins of the museum. Perhaps the most interesting artifacts displayed were the Winter Counts, documents on which images had been drawn, first on animal hides and later on paper, depicting the major events of each year in the life of the tribe.  The image below is from the public domain and is very similar to what we viewed..

Winter Count (public domain)

We also learned a little about Nicholas Black Elk whose cause for canonization is underway.  Nicholas Black Elk was a medicine man who spent some time traveling Europe with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and was also involved in the battle at Wounded Knee.  After his conversion to Catholicism he spent his time as a catechist and is said to have brought 400 people to Christ.  He used The Two Roads picture depicting the Good Red Road of Jesus and the Black Road of Difficulties to teach the faith.  The picture reminded me a bit of Dante's Divine Comedy.  I could have spent hours studying it.  Upon his death the sky was filled with the lights of the Aurora Borealis, a sign of celebration that this holy man had gone on to his heavenly reward.  

Photo of Lacombe's ladder, 1874
The Two Roads Picture Catechism depicting the Good Red Road of Jesus
and the Black Road of Difficulties used by Nicholas Black Elk

The spiritual wonders of South Dakota will remain with me always, inspiring me with the memory of God's natural wonders and beauties, the kindness of all of the people we met, and the stories of holiness among the Native Americans and religious in this vast state of infinite treasures.  But most of all, the memory of my family and I spending time with Fr. Jim, a good and holy friend, and learning about his work with the Lakota on Rosebud Reservation, a community marked by deep poverty yet striving for holiness, will always bring me joy and inspire me to holiness as well.

Prayer for the Canonization of Nicholas Black Elk
Grandfather! Great Spirit! Behold us, who stand before you, singing our song of thanksgiving for your beloved servant, Nicholas Black Elk. Faithfully he walked the Sacred Red Road and generously witnessed the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ among Native people. Grandfather, we humbly ask you, to hear the prayers we plead through his intercession. We ask Holy Mother Church to recognize his sanctity, by acknowledging his presence among the company of saints and as one to imitate in his zeal for the Gospel. Open our hearts to also recognize the Risen Christ in other cultures and peoples, to the glory and honor of God the Father. Amen.

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Nicholas Black Elk, pray for us!  
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!  
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Patroness for a Priest

"Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him,"Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him."  Jesus said to her, "Mary!"  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher.  Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and then reported what he told her." ~John 20:15-18

A first priestly blessing for my family

This past weekend my family was graced and blessed to attend a beautiful Holy Hour Vigil of Prayer, an Ordination Mass and the First Mass of Fr. John Baumgardner.  The Ordination Mass happened to fall on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.

At the beautiful holy hour vigil held at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, the priest spoke to a full chapel about the Magdalene and how she will be the special patroness for Fr. John.  He said, "As Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him, so we, too, must not cling to Fr. John.  We must let him go in freedom to serve the Lord as he has been called.  Neither his family nor any future parishioners he may come to know should cling, so that he may be open to love all.  And this is hard for a priest, too.  But out of obedience the priest must go where he is sent."

In his homily at the ordination, Archbishop Listecki also spoke of Mary Magdalene.  He said that she possessed two essential characteristics:  faith and love.  Because she had confidence in the person of Jesus she was faithful at the foot of the cross and her love for him opened her eyes upon hearing her name spoken in a loving manner.

Then, the Archbishop addressed the ordinand directly:  "John, I know the same voice called your name.  His invitation, framed in love, was to join the priesthood and become an apostle announcing His life, death and resurrection which is the only hope."  

Holy Father, May Fr. John Baumgardner be blessed with a long and holy priesthood under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene!  May she guide his every step with her faithful love.  May he ever hear the voice of Jesus calling his name and leading him along the path to sanctity as he, himself,  leads so many souls along that same path.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Abandoned St. Ambrose Church in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin

St. Ambrose church and monastery in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin
There's something mysteriously romantic about old, abandoned buildings, and when that building happens to be a Catholic Church, the mystery and romance increase.   So many questions come to mind:  Who put their heart and soul into building it?  How many thousands of faithful worshiped here, their prayers embedded within the walls like the smell of incense? How is it that this holy space is no longer used for worship?  How many hearts were broken when the decision was made to close the church and no longer use it for the honor and glory of God?  How could it be put to use today? These questions and more came to mind when my family and I recently visited St. Nazianz, Wisconsin and were able to venture inside the abandoned St. Ambrose Church on the old Salvatorian Seminary grounds.
Fr. Ambrose Oschwald
St. Nazianz in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin was founded in 1854 by Fr. Ambrose Oschwald, a German immigrant who brought a group of lay faithful with him from Germany.  Together they lived a communal life and thrived in St. Nazianz (named for St. Gregory Nazianzen).  Fr. Oschwald died in 1873 and the community he built fell apart shortly afterward.  

The property was purchased by the Salvatorian Fathers in 1896, fifteen years after the order was founded in Italy.  The Salvatorians built a beautiful seminary that was very successful.  The property was continually built up through the 1920's and 30's to accommodate all of the seminarians who studied there.  Then, in 1968 with enrollment at an all-time low, the seminary was converted to JFK Prep School, named for our only Catholic President.  By 1982 enrollment at the  high school was dwindling and the school closed.  Unfortunately, all of the empty buildings were severely damaged by vandals throughout the years, and stories of ghosts haunting the building served as encouragement for curious youth to explore the property, now in dangerous condition due to the excessive vandalism.

The Seminary Gate

Entrance to the Seminary/JFK Prep
In 2008 the property was purchased by United Ministries which hopes to create a Christian summer camp program for troubled youths.  To raise funds, United Ministries has opened a thrift store in the former gymnasium.

Having grown up in Manitowoc I was familiar with St. Nazianz but had never actually been there and only remembered vague stories about JFK Prep which closed two years before I graduated from high school. Nostalgia for my youthful days in the area of my hometown piqued my curiosity about this Catholic space with such an interesting history and so I was eager to visit.

On the day we arrived we happened to be the only visitors to the property and the only shoppers in the thrift store.  After purchasing a few trinkets we noticed that the doors to St. Ambrose Church were open.  A caretaker on the grounds told us that the church is open every day until 4 pm so those who want to stop inside and pray may do so.  What we found inside the church was heartbreaking to see. A holy worship space that had obviously been stunningly beautiful at one time, and which still retained much of its beauty despite its long history of neglect, was in ruins.  We were fascinated as we marveled at the beauty that still existed here and mourned what was no more.  

The cornerstone of St. Ambrose Church

An open door inviting us inside.
Notice the tree branch growing underneath the statue of St. Ambrose?

The pews were all covered with tarps

Still beautiful even though it's crumbling

The Agony in the Garden

St. Michael the Archangel has a hole in his armor

I have these same pictures in my living room!  They were heirlooms from my parents and used to enthrone my family and home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I was so surprised to find these here!

We happened to visit on the Feast of St. Bonaventure

Leaving the church we wandered to the back of the property and found a very well-maintained cemetery for the Salvatorian Fathers.  Some of the grave markers were dated as recently as last year. Just behind the cemetery we discovered the quaint little Loreto Shrine Chapel, the original church of Fr. Oschwald's community which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and is maintained by the St Nazianz Historical Society.

Part of the cemetery of Salvatorian Priests some buried here as recently as this past year.

Mausoleum burial place of Fr. Ambrose Oschwald

Loreto Chapel
Inside the Loreto Chapel.
Inside the Loreto Chapel

Former Station of the Cross
The only Station of the Cross that was still standing

Close up, so beautiful!

Does that say Boss on the bottom of the statue?  The red sunlight rays are like Divine Mercy.

Today, St. Gregory Parish, not too far from the seminary, is the current church for St. Nazianz' Catholic Community, and a beautiful Orthodox monastery, Holy Resurrection, can also be found in St. Nazianz.

St. Gregory Parish

St. Gregory

St. Gregory

The Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Gregory