For local Catholics, friar set for beatification an example of confidence, hospitality, humility

842

Fr. Solanus Casey will be first U.S.-born religious priest to be beatified Nov. 18

The sainthood cause of Wisconsin-born Fr. Solanus Casey (1870-1957), a Capuchin priest and doorkeeper at Franciscan friaries in New York and Detroit, will be beatified Nov. 18 at Ford Field in Detroit. Fr. Casey is pictured in an undated image. (CNS photo)

Fr. Eduardo Montemayor, SOLT, along with every other priest of his order, may owe his priesthood to Fr. Solanus Casey, the Franciscan friar set to be the second U.S.-born priest and first U.S.-born religious male to be beatified Nov. 18 in Detroit.

Fr. Montemayor, a priest-in-residence at Most Holy Trinity Parish and a member of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity, said his order’s founder, Fr. James Flanagan, wanted to establish a new community to address what was happening in the Church at that time and went to consult with this holy priest he’d heard of who lived in Detroit. Fr. Solanus gave a “Simeon” response, referencing the words of the New Testament figure who, upon seeing Jesus, said, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.” Six months after that encounter, Fr. Solanus passed away, and a year later, the community was established.

“We always saw how Fr. Solanus had an influence or blessing for the founding of our community,” said Fr. Montemayor.

In 2011, Fr. Montemayor was the first of his order to be sent to Detroit to study at Sacred Heart Seminary. Now the community sends its seminarians there. After he completed his studies, Fr. Montemayor stayed in Detroit for a few years to serve as the archdiocesan associate director of evangelization and Hispanic ministry.

“How important it would be for the cause of evangelization for Solanus Casey to become a saint and to become a blessed,” Fr. Montemayor said. “He used his gifts to bring faith to people and he did so in a simple way. He was just a porter who healed people with a great love.”

Fr. James Flanagan, founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, visits the tomb of the friar whom he consulted prior to establishing the order nearly 60 years ago. (Courtesy of Fr. Eduardo Montemayor, SOLT)

Fr. Montemayor said that one of the essential aspects of the New Evangelization is hospitality, adding that parishioners have to be a welcoming presence.

“He’s a great model that anyone can do the New Evangelization and bring hope to those hurting and suffering,” he said. “We have to welcome everyone with great love and we bring them to God’s mercy. God used him so powerfully.”

Fr. Solanus Casey was born Barney Casey in Wisconsin in 1870. He first discerned diocesan priesthood in Milwaukee, but after struggling academically, he was advised to join a religious order where he could serve as a “simplex” priest, with the ability to celebrate Mass but without faculties to hear confessions or preach doctrinal homilies.

Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, a Phoenix-based Franciscan Friar of the Holy Spirit studying in Detroit who plans to attend the beatification, finds saintly qualities in such facts.

No matter what difficulties or limitations we experience in life, we can be holy if we choose to remain simple and thankful before God,” Fr. Athanasius said. “Fr. Solanus is a great example of how to accept our limitations in life and nevertheless live a full life for Christ. Christ is the center and once we see Him there then holiness is a real possibility and miracles abound.”

At the end of a novena leading up to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Barney Casey heard the Blessed Mother telling him to “go to Detroit” where the Capuchin Franciscans were headquartered. He entered the community in 1897, professing solemn vows on July 21, 1901 and was ordained a priest July 24, 1904. During his priesthood, he served as a porter, or doorkeeper, eventually becoming a much-sought after counselor and healer.

His assignments took him to New York for 20 years, then back to Detroit for another 20. He semi-retired to Indiana for 10 years before returning to Detroit for the last years of his life, dying in 1957. In May of this year, Pope Francis approved his beatification, which will take place at Ford Field in Detroit.

“You couldn’t grow up Catholic in Detroit and not grow up with stories about this Franciscan friar on the East side named Fr. Solanus Casey,” recalls Harry Plummer, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Phoenix. Plummer was born a year after Fr. Solanus passed away and grew up in Detroit.

Father Solanus Casey, who will be beatified Nov. 18, records a note from a woman who visited him at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit in 1941. The Capuchin Franciscan friar kept dozens of notebooks filled with prayer requests and favors from the thousands who visited him each year. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Detroit)
Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You. I give myself to You. May I be the person You want me to be, and may Your will be done in my life today. I thank You for the gifts You gave to Father Solanus.

If it is Your Will, bless us with the Canonization of Father Solanus so that others may imitate and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans, I ask You, according to Your Will, to hear my prayer for … (your intention) through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. “Blessed be God in all His designs.”

Imprimatur: The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit
May 4, 2017

Plummer rekindled his devotion to Fr. Solanus while serving in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana. He was waiting to speak to an administrator at one of the schools he was visiting when he noticed an old friar.

“I go in and I start talking to him and he says he’s from Detroit. I asked, ‘Did you know Fr. Solanus?’ and he said, ‘Know him? I was his co-postulator when Cardinal [John F.] Dearden opened up his cause back in 1966.’”

Plummer then got to hear stories of Fr. Solanus in the monastery.

“The friars, when they were injured … they would come up to him in the community room and ask him to pray over them and they would be healed right then. And he would say in this high-pitched voice, ‘Don’t any Capuchins want to suffer anything anymore?’ and then he’d heal them,” Plummer said. “This humble friar just received everything with patience and with confidence in God’s abilities.”

Plummer said that Fr. Solanus prayed with the confidence that God would heal, and said that he learned from Fr. Solanus to “approach confidently the throne of grace to obtain God’s favors.”

“One of my constant themes with administrators is to encourage them to give God permission to work through them, to be grateful for the many gifts that they’ve already received, but to confidently approach them to give God permission to work through them in their ministry,” Plummer said. “I think that giving God permission is a direct result of my understanding of Fr. Solanus’ life.”

Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest in Detroit, Mich., is seen talking to a woman in this 1954 file photo. During his lifetime, countless men, women and young people came to him seeking wisdom, counsel and aid. (CNS photo/The Michigan Catholic)

Fr. Athanasius, who was ordained earlier this year, recalls the first time he and Br. Peter Teresa McConnell visited Detroit to explore the possibility of the friars sending students there. The local archbishop Allen H. Vigneron encouraged us to visit the tomb of Fr. Solanus.

“We only had minutes to spare before we had to go to the airport for our return flight to Phoenix, but we rushed over to St. Bonaventure Monastery where Fr. Solanus’ tomb is accessible for pilgrims’ veneration,” Fr. Athanasius said. “We walked in and knelt down by the plain wooden casket and entrusted our little community and its future to intercession of Fr. Solanus. I felt incredible peace at that moment and I began to experience joy in my heart whenever I thought that we might be setting up a friary in Detroit so close to the place where Fr. Solanus lived his earthly life.”

The friars have since made many return visits, and they are planning to attend his beatification, which is particularly significant for the Franciscan family in the United States.

“When I’m close to Fr. Solanus’ tomb, I feel like I remember what it means to be a Franciscan: simple and holy,” he said. “Fr. Solanus is just the kind of blessed that we need at this time. He was simple. His spirituality was simple. Everyone needs that kind of example. No matter what difficulties or limitations we experience in life, we can be holy if we choose to remain simple and thankful before God.

“For me, Fr. Solanus is a great example of how to accept our limitations in life and nevertheless live a full life for Christ. Christ is the center and once we see Him there then holiness is a real possibility and miracles abound.”