This is a revised edition of Catherine M. Odell’s 1995 biography on Father Solanus Casey. Fr. Solanus was a Capuchin Franciscan who is being considered for sainthood. He reached the level of “venerable” when Pope John Paul II approved the progress of his cause on July 11, 1995, by acknowledging his heroic virtues. He needs but a miracle for beatification and another miracle for canonization. It was reported in the news that his vice postulator (or promoter), Brother Leo Wollenweber, O.F.M., Cap., was heading to Rome to report to the Vatican on three possible miracles attributed to Fr. Solanus. If canonized he may become the first native-born American male saint.
Fr. Solanus was born on November 25, 1870, near Oak Grove, Wisconsin to Irish immigrants Bernard and Ellen Casey. He was their sixth child of sixteen, given the name Bernard in honor of his father and known as Barney. His family farmed and did not have much money, moving a few times during Barney’s childhood to better and larger homes. Barney did not have much time for education since he and his siblings were needed on the farm. When he did attend school, he was usually much older than the others in the class.
Later he had jobs as a logger, hospital orderly, and prison guard; the job he liked the most was as a street car operator. Though still quite young at the time, he was able to both take care of his needs and send some money to the family. It was during this time that Barney discerned that he was possibly being called to the priesthood. At the age of 21, he began attending a high school seminary. This was a difficult time for him - classes were taught in Latin and German, which he had a hard time with. He was encouraged to join a religious order if he wanted to become a priest. He decided to join the Capuchins, who were headquartered at St. Bonaventure’s in Detroit, Michigan.
In January 1897, Barney joined the Capuchins and received the name Francis Solanus, shortened to Solanus. His studies for priesthood were not easy this time, either. The superiors decided that he would be ordained in 1904 as a simplex priest; this meant he did not have faculties (permission) to hear confessions or to preach sermons. He was simply happy to have been ordained a priest. He was sent to Sacred Heart Friary in Yonkers, New York and given the duties of porter. In this job, Fr. Solanus greeted people who visited the friary and also visited people in the area. People began to flock to him for counseling and help, their numbers steadily increasing. He spent long periods of the day with people needing help. The superiors decided to send Fr. Solanus to another friary in Harlem, Our Lady of Sorrows, to be the porter there. Again, many people sought his help and advice. Miracles were being attributed to Fr. Solanus’ prayers, and he was asked to keep a record of these by his superiors. His records show that many were helped in one way or another by his prayers or in other ways.
Fr. Solanus was transferred to Detroit, and again people sought his help and aid, leaving him barely time to take care of life needs and to pray. He was sent to the friary in Huntington, Indiana, which is in the country and isolated - a good place for him to get away from being overwhelmed by people seeking his help. It took a while, but people eventually found out that he was in Indiana and began to come to Indiana from Detroit and other places, sometimes by busloads. When he had to go to Detroit for a medical problem with his skin, the Capuchins tried to keep his presence in Detroit a secret, but eventually people found out.
Fr. Solanus’s skin problems got worse, causing him a great deal of pain even at a touch. He died on July 31, 1957, at the age of 86, and his funeral was attended by hundreds of people. His friends organized a group, The Solanus Casey Guild, with the approval of the Capuchins and began to work on the canonization of Fr. Solanus.
This biography flows very well, featuring many photographs throughout as well as a collection of quotes from Fr. Solanus and a short bibliography. This book is highly recommended to those interested in Fr. Solanus.
Catherine M. Odell is the author of several books: Your One-Stop Guide to Patron Saints (2001), Faustina: Apostle of Divine Mercy (1998), Those Who Saw Her (1995), and she has also co-author a few other books.