John F. Fink, St. Anthony Messenger

January 6, 2022

“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.”

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