November 25, 1870|
Oak Grove, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||July 31, 1957
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||November 18, 2017, Detroit, Michigan by Cardinal Angelo Amato|
|Saint Bonaventure Monastery, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
Blessed Solanus Casey (November 25, 1870 - July 31, 1957) - born Bernard Francis Casey - was an American Roman Catholic priest and a professed member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He was known during his lifetime as a wonderworker, for his great faith, and for his abilities as a spiritual counselor - but especially, for his great attention to the sick, for whom he celebrated special Masses. The friar was much sought-after and came to be revered in Detroit where he resided. He was also a noted lover of the violin, a trait he shared with his eponym, Saint Francis Solanus.
His cause for beatification commenced over a decade after his death, and he received the title of Venerable in mid-1995. As a miraculous healing attributed to him was approved by Pope Francis in mid-2017, he was beatified in Detroit at Ford Field on November 18, 2017.
Bernard Francis Casey (nicknamed "Barney") was born on November 25, 1870 on a farm in the town of Oak Grove, Pierce County, Wisconsin, the sixth of sixteen children born to Bernard James Casey and Ellen Elizabeth Murphy, Irish immigrants. He was baptized on December 18, 1870.
He contracted diphtheria in 1878, which permanently damaged his voice and left it wispy and slightly impaired; two child siblings died from the disease during that year. The family later moved to Hudson. In 1878, he began school at Saint Mary's, but this was cut short in October 1882 when the family relocated again, to Burkhardt in Saint Croix County. In 1887, he left the farm for a series of jobs in his home state and in nearby Minnesota, working as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, a guard in the Minnesota state prison, and a street car operator in Superior. His time as a prison guard saw him befriend a couple of Jesse James' cohorts. At first, he desired married life, but the mother of a girl he had proposed to suddenly sent her off to a boarding school.
While working at his last job, he witnessed a brutal murder which caused him to evaluate his life and his future. While driving his car in a rowdy section of Superior, he saw a drunken sailor stab a woman to death. He then acted on a call he felt to the priesthood. But due to his limited formal education, he enrolled at Saint Francis High School Seminary - the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee - in January 1891, hoping to become a diocesan priest. Classes there were taught in either German or Latin, neither of which he knew how to speak. In due course, he was advised that - due to his academic limitations - he should consider joining a religious order if he wanted to become a priest. There, he could be ordained as a "simplex" priest, who could preside at a Mass but would not have the faculties for public preaching or hearing confessions. He returned home before deciding to make his application.
While reflecting before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he heard her distinct voice telling him to "go to Detroit". He then applied to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in that city, and was received into it on January 14, 1897. He was given the religious name of "Solanus" after Saint Francis Solanus; both men shared a love of the violin. He made his vows on July 21, 1898. He struggled through his studies, but received ordination to the priesthood on July 24, 1904 from Archbishop Sebastian Messmer at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Milwaukee. Because he had not performed well enough in his studies, he was indeed ordained as a "simplex" priest. He celebrated his first Mass on July 31, 1904 in Appleton, with his family present.
He served for two decades in a succession of friaries in New York. His first assignment was at Sacred Heart Friary in Yonkers. He was later transferred to New York City, where he first served at Saint John's Church next to Penn Station and later at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem.
He was recognized as an inspiring speaker. In August 1924, he was transferred to the Saint Bonaventure convent in Detroit, where he worked until 1945. During this time, he mostly served as the simple porter (or receptionist and doorkeeper). Each Wednesday afternoon, he conducted well-attended services for the sick, and through these services, he became known for his great compassion and the amazing results of his consultations with visitors. People considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings. He loved to kneel before the Eucharist in the quiet of the night; Father Benedict Groeschel once recalled visiting the convent on a warm night and being unable to sleep. Around 3:00am, Groeschel took a walk and arrived at the chapel where he put on two lights and saw Casey kneeling on the top step of the altar. Groeschel observed him for several moments and noted that Casey didn't move - Groeschel simply flicked the lights off to leave Casey to his prayer.
Casey was also a violinist and he loved to play Irish songs for his fellow friars during recreation time, but he had a terrible singing voice, attributed to his childhood speech impediment. Other friars could not refrain from rolling their eyes or coughing, so he would excuse himself politely and sneak down to the chapel to entertain an invisible audience at the tabernacle. The friar often fasted, but ate enough. Until his late seventies, he was able to join the younger religious in games of tennis and volleyball, and even went jogging on occasion.
In 1946 - in failing health and suffering from eczema over his entire body, he was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate of Saint Felix in Huntington, Indiana, where he lived until a 1956 hospitalization in Detroit. In 1957, he was rushed to the hospital for food poisoning, and upon his release, friars noted that he was walking much slower and scratching his legs; it turned out that his skin was raw and infected, prompting a return to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed him with erysipelas or psoriasis, which was beyond treatment, and the doctors considered amputation until the ulcers began to heal.
On July 2, 1957, he was readmitted to the hospital for good due to the deterioration of his skin. He was put on oxygen. His sister, Martha, came to visit him when his relatives were notified of the seriousness of his condition; the two prayed the rosary together.
He died from erysipelas at 11:00am on July 31, 1957, at Saint John Hospital in Detroit, with only his nurse at his side. A commemorative plaque was placed outside the door of the room. His last words were reportedly: "I give my soul to Jesus Christ." An estimated 20,000 people filed past his coffin prior to his funeral and burial in the cemetery of his Detroit monastery. On July 8, 1987, his remains were exhumed and reinterred inside the Father Solanus Casey Center at Saint Bonaventure Monastery; his remains were found to be incorrupt save for a little decomposition on the elbows. His remains were clothed in a new habit prior to re-interment in a steel casket at the north transept. A range of miraculous cures have been attributed to his intercession, both during his earthly life and after his death.
His remains were exhumed for the collection of first and second-class relics on August 1, 2017. His remains were placed in a new black casket and reinterred in a glass case instead of the previous wooden sarcophagus.
His beatification cause commenced in Detroit in 1976 with an investigation involving witness interrogatories and the compiling of documentation. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome validated this phase on November 7, 1986; around 1995, it received the Positio dossier from postulation officials. The theological advisors approved the dossier on April 7, 1995, and the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation did so on June 20, 1995. On July 11, 1995, Pope John Paul II, in a private audience with Congregation prefect Alberto Bovone, confirmed that Casey had lived a life of heroic virtue and titled him Venerable.
For the friar to be beatified, a miracle (normally, a healing) must be approved following confirmation that science could not explain it. Numerous cases were investigated, including one validated by the Congregation on April 3, 1998 that was later debunked. The diocese deemed another case miraculous on January 18, 2015. This received Congregation validation on October 12, 2015; approval by a panel of medical experts on September 22, 2016; and approval by theological consulters on January 19, 2017. The Congregation approved of the miracle on May 2, 2017, and Pope Francis did so two days later, meaning that the late friar would be beatified. The beatification took place on November 18, 2017, at Ford Field in Detroit in front of an estimated crowd of 60,000. The mass and beatification rite was led by Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Casey now has the title Blessed and is one step closer to sainthood.
The postulator for Casey's cause is the Capuchin friar Carlo Calloni.