Solanus Casey

The Story of Father Solanus
Catherine M. Odell
Our Sunday Visitor
Number of pages: 
266 pages
Grade / Age level: 

This November, to coincide with our American History studies, we will study American saints, blesseds and venerables. One of the venerables we will study is Fr. Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan, born in Wisconsin in 1870 and died in Detroit in 1957.

One of the books we’ll use as a read-aloud during November is Solanus Casey: The Story of Father Solanus (revised) by Catherine M. Odell. This book details the engaging life-story of this humble man, a simplex priest, who taught those around him not only about God’s love but about humility and joyful acceptance of God’s will.

Casey, the sixth child born to Irish immigrants Barney and Ellen Casey, grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, surrounded by his nine brothers and four of his six sisters (two died during a flu epidemic). Odell describes this early life – a life filled with working and studying alongside his devout Catholic family. A life where Casey learned his faith and his faithfulness to God’s will. A life where Casey learned to trust those around him as well as to put his absolute trust in God’s kindness.

Agriculture in the late 1800s suffered a downturn and Casey and his older brothers left the farm to get jobs in the bigger towns. In Appleton and Superior, Casey found employment as a prison guard (and met the infamous Younger brothers) and held jobs on the streetcars of these larger towns. He convinced his parents to bring the family to Superior and all was well in the Casey family. But Barney, as he was called by the family, began to feel the call to the priesthood and in 1891 applied for acceptance to the diocesan seminary.

Casey’s grades at the Seminary were not great – he had trouble with Latin and some of the other college-level coursework. The seminary reviewed his records and suggested that maybe the religious life was not for him. But Casey wouldn’t believe that. Instead, he applied to the Capuchins. In 1897, at the age of 27, Barney Casey was invested in the Capuchins and given the name “Solanus”. After seven years of classes, health problems and worries about his future, Solanus Casey was ordained a “simplex” Capuchin priest on July 24, 1904. [Simplex priests are not able to hear confessions or preach sermons, but are truly and fully priests in all other aspects of the religious life.]

Casey spent the next 53 years of his life as doorkeeper at various Capuchin monasteries in New York, Harlem, Yonkers, Detroit, and other mid-west towns. In all of these assignments, Fr. Solanus was so much more than the doorkeeper. He listened with his heart to people’s problems – to their crises in faith, their financial crises, their health crises. To each of these people – and he talked to millions over the years – he spoke to their hearts, to their faith, to each individual.

Solanus seemed to handle each need, each set of worried eyes, delicately but effectively. He radiated a sense that God cared about all those things. He often laid hands on those sick and prayed for a healing then and there. And his promises of prayer for individual intentions were more than polite words. He began to spend extended time in the chapel after office hours and his Capuchin house commitments were fulfilled. pg 108

Odell’s book details all the many little things Casey did for others. Through illnesses, painful and debilitating, Fr. Solanus continued to minister to those in need. His story, as told through Odell’s prose, is one of the most beautiful, Christ-filled books I’ve read in a long time. The reading is simple – as was this man – and yet it details a life so filled with God’s love and charity to others – a charity that had the good Father reminding everyone to “Thank God” as he showed them out the monastery door.

During the Depression, the Capuchins opened a soup kitchen in Detroit. This man of simple faith was told that there was no more bread to serve the crowd of people waiting.] “Just wait and God will provide.” Fr. Solanus said an “Our Father” after inviting the men to join him in prayer. We just turned around and opened the front door … a bakery man was coming with a big basket full of food … when the men saw they they strated to cry … Fr. Solanus in his simple way, said, “See, God provides. Nobody will starve as long as you put your confidence in God, in Divine Providence.” pg 132

This book captures the love and charity I want my own children to have; the simple faith that I’m trying to pass on to my family. I’m sure my children will remember Venerable Solanus Casey for many years to come, thanks to this book by Catherine Odell.

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