Bernard Francis Casey was born on November 25, 1870 on a farm in Oak Grove, Wisconsin. His parents, Bernard and Ellen, were both immigrants from Ireland. They called the younger Bernard “Barney,” and he was their sixth of sixteen children.
In 1878, young Barney contracted diphtheria, which permanently damaged his voice, leaving it a soft, wispy quality for the rest of his life. The same disease took the lives of two of his siblings that same year, so we can only imagine the pain his parents suffered in that terrible time.
In 1887, now seventeen, Barney left the family farm to take various jobs in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He worked as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, a street car operator, and as a prison guard, where he befriended two of Jesse James’ accomplices. He proposed marriage to a young lady, but her mother unexpectedly sent her off to boarding school, which ended the relationship. While working as a street car operator in Superior, he was driving through the darker side of the city and witnessed a drunken sailor stab a woman to death. This horror inspired in Barney a re-examination of his life and priorities, and he set himself on becoming a priest.
At first, he thought he might become a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The classes at the minor seminary, however, were taught in German and Latin, neither of which Barney spoke. Because of his academic struggles, he was advised to consider a religious order. Barney wrote to the Jesuits, the Franciscans, and the Capuchins. All three responded positively. Not knowing which to choose, Barney asked his mother and sister to join him in a novena to end on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. After receiving Holy Communion on the last day of the novena, Barney heard the Blessed Mother tell him, “Go to Detroit,” the headquarters of the Capuchins. He did so without hesitation.
Barney was received into the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Detroit in 1897 and given the religious name “Solanus” after St. Francis Solanus. Interesting, both the saint and the new friar shared a love for the violin. Casey would often play his violin for his brothers during recreation, though his horrible singing voice wasn’t as appreciated. Barney made his vows on July 21, 1898 and was ordained to the priesthood on July 24, 1904 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Milwaukee by Archbishop Sebastian Messmer. Because he did poorly in his studies, Fr. Casey was ordained a “simplex” priest, that is, a priest with faculties to preside at Mass, but not to preach or hear confessions. (According to one source, Fr. Casey received the faculties to preach and hear confessions after five years of priesthood, but chose not to practice these faculties; however, I’ve not been able to confirm this with a more reliable source). Fr. Casey celebrated his first Mass on July 31 that year, in Appleton, WI, in the presence of his family.
Fr. Casey’s first assignment was at the Sacred Heart Friary in Yonkers, New York. He served in New York for two decades, also at St. John’s Church near Penn Station and at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem. In 1924, Fr. Casey was transferred to the Saint Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, Michigan. He remained at Saint Bonaventure until 1945. While there, he served as the porter, welcoming those at the door who came to visit the monastery. He also helped start the Capuchin Soup Kitchen to feed the hungry during the Great Depression, a ministry that continues to this day. Each Wednesday afternoon, Fr. Casey conducted services for the sick. It was at theses services that Fr. Casey first gained a reputation as a miraculous healer. Those who sought him out for healing and for other blessings reported the efficacy of Fr. Casey’s prayers. His reputation grew and he became known as a wonder worker throughout the city.
Fr. Casey had a deep devotion to the Eucharist and could be found praying before the Blessed Sacrament in the monastery chapel at the early hours of the morning when all others were sleeping. He enjoyed good health himself, playing tennis or volleyball with the younger brothers, or even jogging into his late seventies.
In 1946, Fr. Casey was transferred to the Capuchin Novitiate of St. Felix in Huntington, Indiana because of declining health, exacerbated by a violent case of eczema. In 1957, when he was taken to the hospital for a bout with food poisoning, he was diagnosed with erysipelas, or St. Anthony’s Fire, a skin disease caused by strep. The doctors even considered amputating his legs because of ulcers, but the ulcers eventually healed. On July 2, 1957, Fr. Casey was admitted to the hospital to stay because of the deterioration of his skin disease. He died on July 31, 1957 in the presence of his nurse. His last words were, “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.” Fr. Casey was buried at Saint Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. 20,000 people filed by his remains to get one last glance at their wonder working priest. On July 8, 1987, Fr. Casey’s remains were exhumed and found to be incorrupt. He was reinterred at the Father Solanus Casey Center on the Saint Bonaventure Monastery grounds.
The cause for Fr. Casey’s canonization began in 1976. On July 11, 1995, Pope St. John Paul II confirmed that Fr. Casey had lived a life of heroic virtue and bestowed on him the title Venerable. Over the years, thousands of letters have been sent to the office championing the canonization effort of Fr. Casey reporting favors received through his intercession. Examples of such letters can be found on the solanuscasey.org website:
“Thanking God ahead of time is such a beautiful act of faith that God taught me through Fr. Solanus and I am very grateful! Last December I had blood in my urine and had a renal ultrasound which showed 2 larger stones (5mm and 12mm), one in each of my kidneys. The 12mm is too large to ever pass and requires surgery. The 5mm could possibly pass but would cause major pain and could get stuck. I had bleeding on and off for months but no pain,which indicated it could be moving slightly within in the kidney, but not passing.
“I listened to a clip on your website from Fr. Solanus’ words & wisdom which related to thanking God ahead of time as an act of faith. This led me to read “Thank God Ahead of Time” and a story about a man who had a tumor. On his way to surgery, Fr. Solanus saw him and told him to have the doctors check it again…it was gone and he didn’t need surgery. I folded this page and “thanked God ahead of time” for the healing of my stones and asked for Fr. Solanus’ intercession.
“A few days before the CT scan, I tried to visit the Solanus Casey Center for the first time to ask Fr. Solanus for his intercession at his tomb. The Center was closed due to a power outage that day, but we prayed anyway in the parking lot as a family and asked for Fr. Solanus to intercede. We didn’t need to be in the building for the power of prayer to work…we knew God saw our efforts. My dad had a strong devotion to Fr. Solanus and I feel they were both praying for me.
“I had the CT scan on 9/8 to plan surgery options, but the report shows both stones are completely gone, praise God! The radiologist and urologist both looked at it separately and both told me they saw nothing. There is no way these could have passed naturally and both kidneys are now clear! God bless! -Pam”
In May of 2017, Pope Francis announced that a miracle had been investigated and verified and that Ven. Solanus Casey will be beatified at a Mass in Detroit on November 18, 2017.
From The Michigan Catholic, May 9, 2017:
“According to Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap., director of the Solanus Casey Center, the miracle needed to raise Fr. Solanus to “blessed” involved a woman with an incurable genetic skin disease. The woman was visiting friends in Detroit and stopped at Fr. Solanus’ tomb to pray for others’ intentions. After her prayers, she felt the strong urging to ask for the friar’s intercession for herself, too, and received an instant and visible healing.
“The miraculous nature of her cure was verified by doctors in her home country, in Detroit and in Rome, all of whom confirmed there was no scientific explanation.
“‘She knew the Capuchins and decided to come to Detroit — to the tomb,’ Fr. Preuss told The Michigan Catholic. ‘She came here because she had a whole list of people she wanted to pray for. So she prayed for them, and a voice in her head said, ‘Pray for yourself.’ And she was instantly cured.
“‘There were five doctors to whom she explained her condition, and her former physician, and they all said they had no explanation why this should have gone away,’ Fr. Preuss said.”
In a blessed coincidence — or perhaps not — Fr. Solanus himself suffered from a skin disease, which ultimately caused his death in 1957.
“I’m sure Fr. Solanus said, ‘I know what this is like,’ and decided to show mercy upon her,” Fr. Preuss mused.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.