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Solanus Casey, Who Served In B’klyn, Will be Beatified

The sainthood cause of Wisconsin-born Father Solanus Casey (1870-1957), pictured above in this undated photo, has advanced to the beatification stage after Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to his intercession. (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Mike Stechschulte

DETROIT (CNS) – Sixty years after his death, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey is on his way to sainthood.

Pope Francis announced May 4 that Detroit’s beloved friar, who earlier had been named venerable, met the requirements for beatification and will be named “blessed” – the second U.S.-born man to achieve such a designation and the first person from Michigan.

Although Father Casey was born in Oak Grove, Wisc., in 1870, he spent most of his adult life and ministry in Detroit, caring for sick, poor and downtrodden people and lending a listening ear and caring heart to the thousands who came to him for counsel, wisdom and aid.

Among the hundreds, if not thousands, of healings attributed to Father Casey during and after his lifetime, Pope Francis recognized the authenticity of a miracle necessary for the friar to be elevated from venerable to blessed after a review by the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes was completed earlier this year.

“The beatification of Father Solanus Casey is an incomparable grace for the church in the Archdiocese of Detroit and for the whole community of Southeast Michigan,” Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in a statement. “He is an inspiration to all us Catholics – and to all – of the power of grace to transform one’s life.”

The miracle needed to raise Father Casey to blessed involved a woman with an incurable genetic skin disease. The woman was visiting friends in Detroit and stopped at Father Casey’s tomb to pray for others’ intentions. After her prayers, she felt the strong urging to ask for the friar’s intercession for herself, too, and received an instant and visible healing.

The miraculous nature of her cure was verified by doctors in her home country, in Detroit and in Rome, all of whom confirmed there was no scientific explanation.

Blessed Coincidence – Or Not

In a blessed coincidence – or perhaps not – Father Casey himself died of a skin disease in 1957.

The beatification, which will take place during a Mass in Detroit later this year, is the final step before sainthood. A declaration of sainthood requires a second miracle attributed to Father Casey.

Capuchin Father Michael Sullivan, provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph in Detroit, said the friars were elated with the news.

“Long before we knew and loved Pope Francis, we had the example of Father Solanus, who lived the Gospel of mercy,” Father Sullivan said. “Known for his compassion and simplicity, he drew many thousands to God. Rather than call attention to himself, he taught people to thank God for his blessings. We are overjoyed at the news that Father Solanus’ holiness is recognized by the Holy Father.”

Not only did Father Casey teach others to thank God, but he often urged them to thank God “ahead of time” for the blessings they were yet to receive – an admonition adopted often by Archbishop Vigneron and others invoking the friar’s memory.

Born Bernard Francis Casey Nov. 25, 1870, Father Casey was the sixth of 16 children to Irish immigrants Bernard James Casey and Ellen Elizabeth Murphy. He enrolled at St. Francis High School Seminary near Milwaukee in 1891, but because of academic limitations, he was advised to consider joining a religious order instead.

After reflecting before a statue of Mary, he felt the urging to “go to Detroit” and heeded this advice, joining the Capuchin order in 1897. He was given the religious name Solanus.

Simplex Priest

Although he continued to struggle academically, Father Casey was at last ordained in 1904 by Milwaukee Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer as a “simplex priest,” meaning he could celebrate Mass but could not preach doctrinal sermons or hear confessions.

After serving for two decades in friaries and churches in New York, including St. Michael’s Friary in the East New York section of Brooklyn, Father Casey was transferred back to Detroit in 1924, where he began working as the porter, or doorkeeper, of St. Bonaventure Monastery.

It was in this role – which eventually became the title of a 1968 biography written by James Patrick Derum, “The Porter of St. Bonaventure’s” – that Father Casey cemented his reputation for holiness and compassion. Charged with greeting those who came to the monastery’s doors, Father Casey conducted well-attended services for the sick and became known for his gentle, wise counsel and genuine concern for those who sought his aid. He helped establish the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929 to feed hungry people during the Great Depression, a work that continues in Detroit today.

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