Faith is a funny thing. When you’re a child, it often has no bounds. As you grow older, though, faith can begin to grow cold — almost without our noticing it.
We can grow skeptical, jaded, and even weary of our prayers. Which is why we need a man like Fr. Solanus Casey to remind us of the place of faith and miracles in our lives, even today.
It’s why we decided to trek to Detroit with people from around the country to celebrate the Beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey this past November.
These are big deals in the life of the Church and we wanted to have a celebration that was befitting the “bigness” of this event. We wanted our kids to remember this day as different from the rest, but how to do that?
John really took the bigness of this event to heart. He began by designing grey hoodies in honor of the holy capuchin and his extraordinary life. Then he turned his attention to organizing a huge tailgate at Ford Field — but the 100% chance of freezing cold rain resulted in a need for a change of plans.
This is real life, people, and real life rarely always goes as planned. At the last minute, we had to be willing to change up our Ford Field tailgate and come up with a better plan.
Our friends volunteered their amazing barn for a barn-party tailgate, and it ended up being the better choice, in the end.
It was an amazing way to begin our pilgrimage to Detroit. We bundled up, drank Mimosas and hot cocoa and ate delicious food. Kids were running everywhere — at one point, there may actually have been a child or two hanging from rafters — it was pretty nuts, but so much fun.
Besides, what could be more fitting than a barn party in honor of Fr. Solanus Casey? I think it honored his memory even more than a tailgate at Ford Field would have — it was truly reminiscent of his humble beginnings in Wisconsin.
You see, Fr. Solanus was a simple farm boy — born into a big, Irish Catholic family. He was known as “Barney” for most of his young life.
He first heard the call to priesthood at the age of twelve, at a Christmas Eve Mass, while preparing for his first Holy Communion — but as often happens, the thought got lost in the life of a young man just trying to find his way.
There were many “failures” in the life of Solanus Casey. He asked a woman to marry him, and her family said no. Then he tried to become a priest, but he failed out of the seminary. That failure caused him to give up the thought of being a priest entirely — at least for a short while.
He moved to the city and drove a streetcar. It was on the very tracks of his new job that he encountered a horrific scene that would renew his desire to become a priest. He saw a drunken sailor stabbing an innocent woman to death — Barney ran to help, but it was too late.
She died right there and it lit a determination in Barney that hadn’t been there before. He was convicted that there was good that God wanted him to do in the world. He wondered if perhaps God was calling him to give one more try at becoming a priest, so he started a Novena to Mary.
It was on the last day of that Novena that Solanus’ heard Mary tell him to, “Go to Detroit”. Detroit, a big city very far from his own Wisconsin home — but like Mary, he left in haste for Detroit, only a few weeks before Christmas.
His trip ended on the doorsteps of the St. Bonaventure Friary in Detroit, on Christmas Eve. No doubt, an exhausted Barney Casey would have remembered another Christmas Eve, long before, where he first felt the call to the priesthood. The poetry of that moment would not have been lost on him.
Barney worked hard and barely made it through the Seminary. Wouldn’t you know it, this Irish boy was sent back to the same German speaking Seminary that he had failed out of on his first try, but this time, he wouldn’t give up.
He trusted God was leading him there — though he had no idea how he would manage to pass his classes. He finally made it through, but barely.
He took the name Solanus, but he was only allowed to be a simplex priest, which meant he was denied the privilege of saying homilies or hearing confessions. He served most of his days as a simple doorman, but that simple job provided two essential gifts for his ministry: humility and time.
This humble priest spent hours each day with the poor and lost who knocked at the door of the friary. His simple path became his way to live for God. He gave each person his full attention, and often his simple prayers with these people resulted in miraculous cures.
There are bookfuls of miracles that have been attributed to his prayers while serving as a simplex priest at St. Bonaventure’s. There were thousands of documented cures, and in fact, Paula Zarate, the woman whose documented miracle was submitted in the cause for his beatification also attended the Beatification this last November.
Her story is a fantastic one, revealing God’s desire to work miracles in our lives. She had a debilitating skin disease which caused her skin to fall off in sheets. As you can imagine, the pain she endured was intense.
At the urging of Detroit-based Capuchin friars who had ministered in her hometown parishes near Panama City, Paula decided to travel from Panama to the tomb of Fr. Solanus in Detroit.
There she knelt, at the tomb of Fr. Solanus. She had a long list of people to pray for, but she never dared to ask for her own cure.
After she finished interceding for all of her friends and family, she heard a voice say, “Ask for yourself”. She didn’t feel worthy to ask for a cure, but now she felt like she must — and so she did. She was cured instantly.
What a story to illustrate that we can’t be afraid to ask God for the big things. We can’t be afraid to ask God for miracles. He wants us to ask, and then trust His answer is going to be the most loving one possible.
Fr. Solanus always said, “Thank God ahead of time” and “Trust in the designs of the Lord”. Those are good words to live by, aren’t they?
My own family has a connection to one of Fr. Solanus’ miracles — but you will not find this miracle in the famous notebooks of miracles kept by Fr. Solanus for all those years.
This miracle was one that not everybody would have seen as a miracle — but that’s not how our family sees it.
You see, my husbands grandfather, Francis, lived in Detroit at the same time as Fr. Solanus. He was a faithful Catholic who loved his wife, 9 children, and one foster child.
This once strong man was slowly losing the battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was losing hope, and the family invited Father Solanus to come to pray over Francis, in the hope that a miracle would be the result.
Francis’ children shared memories of Father Solanus visiting their house and praying with them. They remember him bringing the Eucharist one day, and Fr. Solanus being so focused on Jesus that he walked right up the stairs, past the family and straight to Francis to bring him Jesus.
Only afterward did he greet everybody with the warmth that Fr. Solanus was known for.
Fr. Solanus saw the desperation in the eyes of Francis. He sensed the spiritual struggle that was going on in Francis’ soul. He prayed and then told Francis he would be cured if he read a series of books that he would leave with him.
Francis barely had the muscle tone to even hold the books, but he tried his best to read what he could. I wish I could say my kids’ great grandfather made it into that book of cures — but he didn’t.
He wasn’t cured of Lou Gehrig’s. Eventually, Francis died of that disease — but his final days were filled with a peace that neither he nor his family imagined was possible. Perhaps the cure that Francis had needed, was one of the soul.
Perhaps he was able to accept that this cup was not meant to pass him by, that this was his time to die — perhaps this loving husband and father’s greatest desire was to know that God wasn’t abandoning him or his family.
No, God would remain with them through this difficult time, through their own personal calvary of sorts. Though Francis time to die had come, he died knowing God would remain with his wife and children — and now grandchildren and great grand-children.
And that is our connection with Fr. Solanus Casey. That is the story that was told to me by my sister-in-law as I sat in an Irish pub, after attending the the Beatification of Fr. Solanus earlier that day.
Yes, in honor of Fr. Solanus, we found ourselves at the end of the night in an Irish pub with a pint (or two) and a cider (or two) and our kids and nieces and in-laws dancing and listening to Irish music.
We found ourselves celebrating the great faith and traditions of the Irish people — the very same traditions and faith which helped to make Fr. Solanus Casey the Saint that he will become. It was a fitting end, I think.
And that story of my husband’s grandfather is beautiful to me. It’s beautiful because it’s not the happy ending we sometimes wish would happen — but, it’s one that is more often the case. After all, we’re still in the valley of tears, but that won’t always be the case.
One day, even this story will make sense, and we’ll be able to hear it from Francis, himself. He’ll know the good that came of it, and all the sadness will be long past. He’ll get to meet his grandkids and great grandkids — and maybe even their kids, too.
I’m looking forward to that final reunion one day in Heaven — with Fr. Solanus, and Great Grandpa Francis and all the loved ones that have gone before us. I am looking forward to that day where every tear will be wiped away, every body restored, and every question answered.
What a day that will be!