No one questioned his piety, but they did his ability to serve with full clerical faculties.
And yet because of his humility and radical trust that God had indeed called him to the priesthood, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey faithfully ministered to multitudes and is counted among the Church’s Blesseds.
As a native of the Motor City and one blessed to go to St. Mary of Redford Grade in School in Detroit, I became acquainted with Father Solanus and other holy men and women who were ascending in the Church’s pantheon of sanctity. I learned of Elizabeth Ann Seton, SC, the first native-born American who was canonized in September 1975, as I began eighth grade at St. Mary’s. There was also the remarkable “Leper Priest,” Father Damien de Veuster, SSCC, who made his ministerial mark transforming the lives of those suffering with the then-incurable scourge of leprosy, and who would later be canonized in 2009. And also, the indefatigable Father Casey, who, though only the humble porter at the Capuchin Monastery in Detroit for many years, is now known as “God’s Doorkeeper,” because of his unquenchable zeal to serve those in need.
Blessed Solanus’ humility was tested and cultivated when he was designated a “simplex priest” at his ordination in 1904, because of the young Irish Catholic’s academic struggles in classes mainly taught in German and Latin. In short, because of concerns about his theological acumen, Father Solanus could not celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation nor preach doctrinal sermons.
He would never hear a single confession, but the prediction of his seminary director, Father Anthony Rottensteiner, OFM Cap., proved prophetic: “We shall ordain Frater Solanus, and as a priest, he will be something like the Curé of Ars.” The reference was to St. John Vianney, a priest who also struggled with his seminary studies and yet became one of the most renowned confessors in Church history.
Blessed Solanus couldn’t absolve the faithful of their sins, but, like Vianney, his spiritual counsel was increasingly sought, as the faithful would daily seek his advice and prayers, and sometimes the waiting lines for the porter priest would wend around the block at the Capuchin monastery in Detroit.
People came to discuss problems with family, health and financial matters, and ask prayers for various petitions. My Uncle Jack Sullivan, now in his early 90s, described his mother, my great-aunt Gertrude, as one of Father Solanus “groupies” back in the day. And if one is going to be a groupie, better it be an aficionado of one who exudes holiness, than some misguided rock star devoted to hedonism.
As others, including St. Damien, were beatified and then canonized, I wondered when Father Solanus’ time would come and prayed for years for his cause. What a blessing, then, to be among the thousands at Ford Field Nov. 18, 2017, to participate in his beatification Mass, which for me recalled the joyful liturgy St. John Paul II offered at the packed Pontiac Silverdome during his 1987 U.S. pilgrimage. (The acoustics at Ford Field are markedly better than they ever were at the now-defunct Silverdome, which mercifully awaits its architectural demise.)
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