by Marie Elena Giossi
A porter, priest and mystic, known for his confidence in God and renowned for his gifts of intercession and prophesy, was the subject of a documentary and lecture presentation at the Immaculate Conception Pastoral Center, Douglaston, Friday, Nov. 4.
The Tablet Forum on Venerable Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap., was the seventh event in a free film-and-lecture series on notable 20th century religious figures, sponsored biannually by The Tablet.
Tablet Editor Ed Wilkinson opened the evening program, welcoming more than 200 attendees to the second-floor auditorium. Upon their arrival, guests received prayer cards containing third-class relics of the saint-hopeful, prayer cards for his canonization and materials on his life and works. Books and videos were available for purchase.
Father Solanus’ reputation for humility and holiness drew seminarian Adan Ruiz to the forum.
“All I know is that Father Solanus was a doorman. He was known for his holiness,” said Ruiz, a parishioner from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria. Having had a positive experience at the last Tablet Forum on Archbishop Fulton Sheen, he said, “I’m back to check this one out.”
“I love Solanus Casey,” shared Karen Flynn from Our Lady of Mercy, Forest Hills. “He was so simple, a simple doorkeeper.” Though she read about his life years ago, she wanted to refresh her memory and learn more about this Capuchin Franciscan, who served for nine months in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn.
A fondness for the Capuchins and the Sept. 20 Tablet article announcing the forum subject sparked Jerry Casey’s interest in the event. The Brooklynite from Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Kensington, who claims no relation to the priest, attended with his wife, Judy, and sister-in-law, Eileen O’Neill. What he found most impressive about Father Solanus was his obedience to his monastic vows.
“The man always followed whatever he was told. He was obedient to everything,” he said.
Also present were Father Gerard Mulvey, O.F.M. Cap., moderator; Ed Hawkins, president; and several members of the Father Solanus Guild of New York, Queen of All Saints Circle, based at the Capuchin Franciscan-run St. John the Baptist parish, Manhattan.
Priest, Porter, Prophet
Just after 7 p.m., Father Frank Mann, who helps organize The Tablet Forum, introduced the documentary, “Solanus Casey: Priest, Porter, Prophet,” on Father Solanus’ life and life-transforming works. Following a brief intermission, Brother Richard Merling, O.F.M. Cap., director of the Father Solanus Guild, St. Bonaventure Monastery, Detroit, shared anecdotes and personal memories of Father Solanus.
The 70-minute film, produced by The Mercy Foundation, follows the earthly existence of Bernard Francis Casey, from his birth into a Wisconsin Catholic farming family, through his 53-year priesthood and death, to the canonical exhumation of his nearly incorrupt corpse 30 years later.
Ordained a simplex priest, unable to preach at Masses or hear confessions, Father Solanus was assigned as a sacristan and porter at Capuchin-run parishes in Wisconsin, Indiana and New York, which included an assignment at St. Michael’s Friary, East New York.
Teaching the virtue of total confidence in God through his humble service, Father Solanus was transformed into a powerful instrument of divine grace and healing, guiding the faithful to open the doors of their hearts and leading them into God’s kingdom.
His unshakable faith in God’s goodness was presented through historical photographs, audio recordings, and interviews with friends and fellow religious, including Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., along with recipients of his intercessory healing and prophetic gifts.
Father Groeschel recalled finding him transfixed before the Blessed Sacrament, and Father Michael Crosby, O.F.M. Cap., who wrote the positio for his canonization cause, said quite simply, “He spoke God.”
When Father Casey’s superiors asked him to record his healings, he filled seven books recounting cures from various maladies, including meningitis, cancer and polio. While he was able to assure healing to some, he prepared others for impending death.
A quarter century after his death, the Archdiocese of Detroit opened his canonization cause and Pope John Paul II declared him venerable in 1995. Miracles obtained through his intercession are needed for his beatification.
Maria Isaac from Blessed Sacrament parish, Jackson Heights, believes Father Solanus’ intercession prevented her from having breast surgery earlier this year. When suspicious calcifications were detected by a mammogram, Isaac, who has had previous surgeries for noncancerous tumors, was slated to endure yet another surgery.
“My sister gave me a prayer to Father Solanus. I started praying to him and only to him.” When she went for the pre-operative procedure, she was given another mammogram, and then another. The calcifications had grown so small that surgery was no longer needed.
“At that moment, he (Father Solanus) came to my mind and I knew it was him because he was the only one I prayed to for help,” she said.
Attendees heard stories regarding healings performed during Father Solanus’ lifetime as well as humorous anecdotes about his poor violin playing skills from Brother Richard Merling, who had a personal connection to the late Capuchin. Not only was his great uncle married to Father Solanus’ oldest sister, but he also had a chance to meet the holy man eight months before his death. At that meeting, Father Solanus blessed him with a relic of the True Cross.
Following Brother Richard’s talk, Father James Cunningham, pastor, Holy Name Church, Park Slope, and longtime Father Solanus devotee, asked how the faithful could promote his cause. “Pray the (canonization) prayer and spread the word,” Brother Richard said.
Before closing the event, Father Mann invited guests to join The Tablet for a filmed presentation of maestro Karl Jenkins’ masterpiece, “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,” Dec. 2 at the Immaculate Conception Center. He also announced that C.S. Lewis will be the subject of the next Tablet Forum, in April, 2012.