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!