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The Official Account of a Virtuous American Life
This true story of an American saint, excerpted from the official 1300-page canonization document, is both a moving spiritual biography and an inside look at the canonization process.
Reviews and endorsements
"This volume makes public the simple yet awesome facts of a man whose relationship with God was so profound that his prayers could help heal people."
—The New York Times
"Fr. Solanus Casey, OFMCap., a very holy, Franciscan with a reputation for having worked hundreds of miraculous cures, died in Detroit. Michigan, in 1957. He was well known in Detroit and New York, the two places where he spent most of his life. The first time I heard about him was about thirty years ago in the 1970s. I recall that someone told me about the holy friar who spent most of his life as a porter; he was a priest who was not allowed to hear confessions or preach in a parish church because of his low grades in the study of theology. He was called a saerdos simplex or 'simple priest,' which meant that he could offer Mass each day and offer counseling to those who came to him. And they came to him by the thousands.
There is something very attractive about the life of this humble priest. He practiced the theological and moral virtues to a heroic degree so much so that he is almost a mirror-reflection of Jesus Christ himself.
The book by Michael Crosby is basically a summary of the various testimonies that were given before a commission established by the archdiocese of Detroit to investigate the holiness of Solanus Casey. The first part gives an account of the life of Fr. Casey, who came from a large Irish family of ten boys and six girls: the second part of the book tells us how Fr. Solanus practiced the various virtues—most of them to a heroic degree. He was born to pious Irish immigrants in Wisconsin in 1870; as the result of a special grace he went to Detroit in 1896 and joined the Capuchins, a decision he never regretted.
Since, like St. John Vianney, he had trouble with his studies, his superiors decided to ordain him but to restrict him to saying Mass. Because of the limitations set on the exercise of his priesthood, he spent most of his life doing the work of a lay brother.
Because of his virtuous life, which was accompanied with hundreds of miraculous cures, his cause for beatification has been introduced and accepted by Pope John Paul II. So we can now refer to him as Venerable Solanus Casey.
Every saint manifests the infinite perfection of God in his own particular way. Solanus Casey was outstanding for his faith and trust in God. He was a man of unshakable, unperturbable faith. And like St. Ignatius Loyola, who was a favorite saint for him, Solanus found God in all things. Related to this was his sense of gratitude to God for his many gifts. He used to counsel the people who came to him to thank God not only for what they had already received, but also to thank him for the future and for the death God has planned for them.
What did this humble priest do? What he did for over forty years was to answer the door and to take care of the needs of the people who came to the friars for help—either spiritual or material. Fr. Solanus was always there from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. He became widely known for his good advice, his encouragement, his promise of prayers, and eventually for the many cures worked by God through him and his intercession. Every day in Detroit there were lines of people waiting to talk to Fr. Solanus Casey. Whatever good he did he attributed to God alone, never to himself. His brother friars attest to the fact that Solanus Casey was a very humble man who gave all the credit to God.
In addition to giving good spiritual advice, Solanus was a model of kindness and helpfulness to all who came to him. He was never in a hurry, never impatient with the many requests for his time. In the practice of faith, hope, charity, patience and humility Fr. Solanus is an excellent model for all of us, whether priests, religious or lay persons.
I was given the grace to meet and speak with Mother Teresa of Calcutta on several occasions; I also preached to the Sisters three or four times while she was present. I think she was the holiest person I have ever met. While reading this life of Fr. Solanus . . . I see many similarities between the two holy persons one a man and the other . . . [a] woman. They both incarnated in their persons an extraordinary imitation of Jesus Christ that radiated from their persons.
This book by Fr. Crosby presents a good picture of that holy friar. [sic.] Solanus Casey. Let us hope that it will contribute to his becoming better known and to his eventual beatification and canonization. At the end of the book the author quotes the well-known Fr. Benedict Groeschel . . . who has come in contact with many holy persons. Of Fr. Solanus, Groeschel says. 'I could easily say without any hesitation that he was the greatest human being I have ever known' (p. 267)."
—Kenneth Baker, S.J., Homiletic & Pastoral Review
"Michael Crosby’s book on the American Capuchin friar Solanus Casey (1870-1957) gives those interested in saints and the saint-making process an inside look at the kind of dossier compiled for the canonization process.
Solanus Casey is a textbook example of the traditional candidate for beatification and canonization. A model Franciscan religious whose academic deficiencies were such that he was ordained to the priesthood but was not given faculties for solemn preaching or hearing confessions—a so-called sacerdos simplex—Casey exercised his ministry as a doorkeeper at various religious houses in Detroit. He never requested that his status be changed even though he was obviously average in intelligence, and his deficiencies were largely because of the bad academic training he got in a seminary where the texts were in Latin and the lectures in German. He had an extraordinary reputation for his spiritual counseling, the power of his prayer, his generosity to the poor, and his work as a healer. Thousands attended his funeral and, after his death, his reputation grew as many people invoked his aid in their prayers.
As these pages make clear, Casey derived his spirituality from the traditional sources set forth for every consecrated religious in his day: the Mass, the Office, devotional practices of the rosary, and visits to the Blessed Sacrament. The only peculiar side to his spiritual life was his lifelong devotion to the four-volume The Mystical City of God by the seventeenth-century Poor Clare, Mary of Agreda—a work which for a time rested on the Index. How Casey came across this strange work and why he read it all his life 'on his knees' and encouraged others to read it is not clear although, in that period, there was a rather wide-spread taste for other rococo spiritual writers like Grignion de Montfort. There is no evidence in Casey’s writings—consisting of his spiritual notebooks and his many letters—that he was in any way heterodox.
How the process of Solanus Casey fares (and every indication is that he was a person of great prayer and extraordinary self-giving) is not for us to say. What is interesting in this volume is the rhetorical tone that is adopted to make its case."
—Lawrence S. Cunningham, Commonweal
"Solanus Casey was declared a Venerable in 1995, making him the first male born in the U.S. to be elevated to this position. This work is the true story of a real-life American saint, excerpted from the official 1300-page canonization document. Casey, 1870-1957, became a Capuchin and served in humble positions as he lived out his religious life in service to others, especially the poor."
—Theology Book Review
"Recently I completed the manuscript for a book on American saints. While doing the research, I suddenly realized that no man born in the United States has yet been canonized or beatified. (Katharine Drexel, canonized on October 1, 2000, is the only such woman. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born before the United States was a separate country, and all the other saints and blesseds were born elsewhere.)
Capuchin Franciscan Father Solanus Casey is the first male born in the United States to be declared venerable, the step before beatification. Naturally, it is hoped that he will soon be declared blessed.
This book contains virtually everything about Venerable Solanus Casey in two of the three volumes of the official positio (official record) needed by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The third volume, not included here, contains the official testimony of 53 witnesses to Father Solanus's sanctity.
The first part of the book is his biography. The second part details how he practiced the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance), and the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience and humility).
After reading the biographical part (the first 153 pages), the reader will be sufficiently aware of Father Solanus's sanctity that the second part seems superfluous.
Father Solanus died 43 years ago. Therefore, numerous people living today met him and were perhaps cured of an illness through his prayers. I met him during my teen years while he was living for 10 years at St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, my hometown. That was his last assignment, when he was semi-retired but still answering 40 to 50 letters a day. (Since he had severe arthritis by that time, he used a secretary.) He returned to Detroit in 1956, where he died on July 31, 1957, at age 86.
He was born in Prescott, Wisconsin, on November 25, 1870, the sixth of 16 children of Bernard and Ellen Casey, both Irish immigrants when they were children. He was named after his father and, like his father, was called Barney as he grew up.
The Caseys practiced all the Catholic devotionalism that was common at the time, including regular family prayers. As an adult, the rosary was seldom far from his hand and he prayed it often each day.
In 1878 black diphtheria struck the neighborhood and the Casey family. Two of the children died and Barney had such a severe case that it made his voice weak, wispy and high-pitched for the rest of his life.
Barney tried to become a diocesan priest, but his grades were so poor that he was asked to leave the seminary. Then he learned about the Capuchins and was accepted at their novitiate in Milwaukee, where he took the religious name Solanus. His grades there, though, were not much better-mainly because classes were taught in German and Latin. His superiors finally decided to ordain him, but as a simplex priest, without faculties to hear confessions or preach formal sermons.
His first assignment was in Yonkers, New York. He was assigned to be porter, welcoming people when they arrived at the monastery. It wasn't long before word got out that Father Solanus had the gift of healing, a gift that he was quick to deny. 'Only God can heal,' he insisted, but the people were healed through Solanus's intercession. He also had the gift of prophecy, frequently predicting things that would happen in the future.
After 14 years at Yonkers, he continued his ministry as porter in Manhattan for six years and then at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit for 21 years. Thousands of people came to see him and he patiently met with all of them, often skipping his meals to do so. He ate sparingly anyway and seldom found time for sleep.
He also became involved in various social-justice causes, especially during the Depression, and promoted devotion to Mary by endorsing a three-volume work called The Mystical City of God."
—John F. Fink, St. Anthony Messenger
"A half century ago when I was a young seminarian at Orchard Lake, Michigan, already I had heard about the saintly Father Solanus and the power of his prayer and spiritual wisdom. Having served as Archbishop of Detroit for almost a decade now, with each passing day I see more and more fruits of the spiritual legacy of Father Solanus. The biographical history and analysis of his life and virtues will certainly be a source of inspiration and encouragement for members of the Church and the wider public as we begin the Third Millennium of Christianity!"
—Adam Cardinal Maida, archbishop of Detroit
"This book will be of great interest not only to those who are already acquainted with the life of Father Solanus Casey, but also to all those who are seeking to find meaning in their lives and to those who are seeking to live the Christian life more fully. The life of Father Solanus is an extraordinary inspiration for everyone."
—Edmund Cardinal Szoka, president of the pontifical commission for Vatican City State