When Capuchin Franciscan Fr. Solanus Casey was ordained a priest by Archbishop Sebastian Messmer in Milwaukee’s St. Francis of Assisi Church on July 24, 1904, no one imagined the simple man from Oak Grove, Wis., would one day be honored as “Blessed” by the Universal Church.
In reality, there were many who were surprised that this quiet and unassuming son of Irish immigrants was being ordained a priest at all. Earlier in his life, Fr. Solanus (whose baptismal name was Bernard Francis) had been a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, studying at the former St. Francis de Sales Minor Seminary. Unable to master the German and Latin languages in which the classes were taught, he was dismissed from the seminary and told to think about joining a religious order if he wanted to be a priest. Fr. Solanus eventually made his way to the Capuchin Franciscans, and entered the community in 1897.
After completing his novitiate, the young friar returned to Milwaukee and studied at the Capuchin’s St. Francis Monastery, located at the parish of St. Francis of Assisi (4th and Brown). Following his ordination, Fr. Solanus was assigned to parishes in New York and, eventually, to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, where he spent the remainder of his life, serving as a porter for his religious community, welcoming guests and the poor, praying for those who came seeking prayers and support.
Fr. Solanus died in Detroit’s St. John’s Hospital on July 31, 1957. The cause for his beatification was opened in 1976 after numerous miracles were attributed to the friar’s intercession. On May 4, Pope Francis officially approved a miracle attributed to Fr. Solanus, clearing the way for his beatification which will take place later this year.
“There were about 70 of us in the community,” said Capuchin Fr. Martin Pable, who lived with Fr. Solanus for two years in Huntington, Indiana, “and he just blended in with everyone else. But we knew he was special. He spent many hours in prayer, and he received a large volume of mail every day; there was a friar assigned to help him answer the mail and the many phone calls that came to him. He also had charge of the bee-hives. He wore no protective clothing, yet never got stung. He called the bees ‘God’s wonderful creatures.’”
Reflecting on the life and example of Fr. Solanus, Capuchin Br. Steven Kropp, who currently serves as the vocations director for the Midwest Province of the Capuchin Franciscans, said that “Solanus will join the ranks of the small number of American saints, and the even smaller number of saints born in the United States and brings his own particular example of simplicity of life, holiness, and compassion. The whole communion of ‘our’ saints and blesseds speaks to us in different ways,” Br. Steven continued, “Solanus showed how God speaks and acts through humility and simplicity to relieve the suffering of his people and touch them with his mercy and love.”
While dozens of members of Fr. Solanus’ Capuchin Franciscan Order have been canonized and beatified, including St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Doctor of the Church, and the celebrated St. “Padre Pio” of Pietrelcina, there are only 19 men and women of the United States honored as saints and another four who have been beatified. Br. Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981, will be beatified on September 23, bringing the number to five.
“Solanus was a man who wanted, in the very simple but powerful ways of his life, to be a beacon of God’s mercy, peace, hope and love in the world. Who doesn’t need some of that!” Br. Steven said. “Solanus represents our Capuchin values in such a powerful way: love for the poor and suffering. He is a powerful example and strong witness to us who are already professed as Capuchin friars, and is a great beacon to others who are searching for their calling in life.”
As a way to help those who want to come to know Fr. Solanus better, Br. Steven recalled the words a Capuchin friar shared at Fr. Solanus’ funeral: “His was a life of service and love for people like me and you. He had a divine love for people. He loved people for what he could do for them — and for God, through them.”
“Solanus was a man who understood the frailty of our fallen human nature, believed in the good and salvation of God,” concluded Br. Steven, “and trusted that God’s will would be done, despite us, and through us.”
To learn more about Fr. Solanus Casey and the beatification, visit: solanuscenter.org.