He was born Bernard "Barney" Casey on November 25, 1875 in Prescott, Wisconsin in a three-room log cabin near where the Mississippi River flows into the St. Croix River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. He grew up on a farm in a large, loving Catholic family. He was the sixth of sixteen children of Irish immigrants who had migrated to the upper midwest from the emerald sod because of the potato famine. In his early youth the family sold the farm and moved several times, ending up in Superior, Wisconsin on the shores of the great Lake Superior where Bernard helped supplement the family income through various jobs such as lumberjack, prison guard and trolley conductor.
While he was conducting others, God was conducting something special in his heart and when he turned twenty-one he knew he was going to be a priest. But the journey would not be easy. He entered the Saint Francis de Sales Diocesan seminary in Milwaukee, but struggled with his studies, mainly because so much was in German and Latin, two languages he was not adept with. After four years his superiors recommended he leave and try to latch on with a religious order. Undaunted he applied to the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the Capuchins. The only one that was encouraging were the Capuchins which at first scared young Bernard for he had wanted an active order and felt intimidated by the strict silence. Yet, after prayer, submitted his will to God and on Christmas Eve in 1896 arrived in Detroit to begin life at the Capuchin house of Saint Bonaventure.
He still struggled with his studies, but his superiors overlooked those shortcomings for his zeal and humility and total obedience to all he was asked was beyond reproach. Because of this he was ordained a Capuchin priest on July 24, 1904, taking the name Father Bernard Solanus Casey. Because of his drawbacks with his studies he was assigned the status of "simplex priest" which meant he could not hear confessions or preach sermons on Sunday. It was strange that his superiors did this for many likened him to another simple priest who touched thousands of souls - the Cure d'Ars Saint John Vianney. Deprived of these privileges pained Father Solanus greatly, but he accepted and was sent to a Capuchin parish in Yonkers, New York where he was assigned as sacristan and porter at Sacred Heart Parish. In this capacity he was made chaplain of the altar boys and records show vocations rose sharply after he began working with the servers. The Order saw the fruits of his ministry and gave him an additional assignment: promoting the Seraphic Mass Association, a new organization formed to assist Capuchin missionaries in foreign missions. Prior to Father Casey taking it on, it had struggled. However, it flourished once Father Solanus got involved and it was an ideal eye-opener to all regarding his healing ministry which he would become renowned for.
He remained at Sacred Heart until July 16, 1918 when his Order transferred him to another Capuchin parish in lower Manhattan - Our Lady of Sorrows. Sacred Heart parishioners petitioned the Order to keep Father Casey with them but Father Solanus assured them it was God's will and not to interfere, that he would always be with them and besides, Manhattan wasn't that far. That was the essence of the man. Whenever someone brought up a problem, had an ill, or offered a negative, Father Solanus Casey would look them in the eye - right to their soul and give them that knowing wink and assurance that all would be right with God. His manner converted countless, either Catholics to a deeper faith or non-Catholics to appreciate Catholicism more and at least practice their own faith more fervently. Though he longed to convert the world, he never forced conversions, realizing he was only the sower and gardener. Only God could provide the graces to nurture the soul to conversion and that harvest would be in His time. But Father Casey knew it would eventually come and this buoyed him on through all kinds of hardship.
Hardships would follow, but so also would the joys for the pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows gave Father Casey permission to speak in public now. People flocked to hear him not because he was such a great speaker for his voice was gravelly and hard to understand, but because of the sincerity and tremendous spiritual depths he could mine in the hearts of the listener. To a person, everyone who came in contact with this living saint felt he had time only for them no matter what other distractions were going on at the time. In the early summer of 1921 he contracted gangrene and was hospitalized at St. Francis Hospital. Rather than commiserating how bad he felt he saw it as an opportunity to reach others in the hospital wards. He was fully resigned to lose his leg and gave it to God if He needed it. God didn't need it, but the Almighty knew Father Solanus would and the leg was saved to the amazement of the doctors who had diagnosed the worst. Add to this that others in the hospital were getting better and many physicians were perplexed. Word began to spread of Father's healing powers.
This catapulted in October 1921 when he was transferred to Our Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem where people of all faiths flocked to him. He was the first person they saw when they knocked on the door for he was the porter and the pastor became miffed that people stopped after seeing Father Casey and didn't seek out the pastor except to inform the pastor of the healing ministry of Father Solanus. The fruits of this the pastor could eventually see in the influx of faithful not only at Mass but praying before the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day and night. Often Father Casey was there with them, even at times sleeping all night in church because he didn't want to leave Our Lord.
Word of his healing ministry reached his superiors and they asked him to keep a diary of special cases and reported cures related to his consultations with men and women who sought him out for this ailment or that, either physical, mental or spiritual ill. He wrote as much as he could remember and filled the book with short prayers coming from his heart as well and submitted his notebook to his superiors regularly. In January of 1922 Father Solanus celebrated his silver jubilee of entering the Capuchin Order as a Novice with a Mass that packed Our Lady Queen of Angels with overflow crowds clamoring to get in. They filled the street out front creating a buzz throughout the Big Apple. He was loved by people of all faiths - Jew, Muslim, Hindu and even atheists for he loved them all in return, seeing, much like Mother Teresa saw in each person, the image and likeness of Christ.
It was a sad day in New York in August 1924 when the Order recalled him to Detroit. He had become legendary in America's largest city and they did not want to give up this living saint. His reputation followed him to the Motor City where he became a permanent fixture for twenty more years at Saint Bonaventure Monastery as the doorkeeper or porter. For hours on end he would console, counsel, comfort and reassure countless souls who sought him out. He would never lie to them but had a gift from God for reading souls and knowing whether someone would be healed or not. His reputation became legendary in Detroit as he became not only the best known priest, but the most loved.
The rigors of devoting so much time to God's children took its toll on his physical stamina and, at the age of 74 his superiors sought to give him more rest and realized it could not be done in Detroit. Therefore they sent him to their Novititate in Huntington, Indiana at Saint Felix. But his gifts followed him and even in this cloistered house he was besieged by requests from the faithful all over the country. Correspondence became a full time occupation for this aging, holy priest and the Order, to keep from taxing him further and because he could no longer write, assigned a full time secretary to help him answer the overwhelming number of letters. Despite all of this, he still found time for his prayer life and to counsel people who flocked to the Novitiate, often being turned away by other monks when he wasn't looking. Relentlessly they didn't give up and often he'd let them in the back door and commiserate with them over the treatment. Yet he would not offer a complaint to his superiors but give it all to God, praying that He would touch the hearts of his fellow monks and they'd be more compassionate and understanding.
In May 1956, at the age of 86, his health failing badly and unable to see very well and getting weaker by the day, he was transferred back to Saint Bonaventure's in Detroit so he could receive treatments to ease his pain and be given all the care possible. All realized it was only a matter of time. That Christmas, in spite of his declining health, he managed to get himself to the chapel on his own lugging his prized violin which he had played for so many years. There, alone before the Blessed Sacrament he gave the Christ Child a Christmas concert on his Strativerius. Soon the tones wafting from the chapel attracted many of the monks who had retired for the night. It would be Father Solanus Casey's last Christmas on this earth.
The following summer he was admitted to the hospital for a painful skin disease that permeated his entire body causing great pain. Father Casey had always expressed his great desire to be alert and conscious at the time of his death so he could give himself totally to God. The Almighty answered his prayers for just before eleven at night on July 31, 1957 on the Feast of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, Father Solanus sat straight up in bed with two nurses present. Extending his hands in a giving gesture he feebly asserted, "I give my soul to Jesus Christ" and fell back on the mattress. His soul had left his emaciated, old body to live forever with Christ in Heaven.
The turnout for his funeral in Detroit was legendary as people came from near and far causing a traffic jam. Five thousand filed by his coffin and thousands more filled every inch of the church and then the cemetary during his burial. The Capuchin provincial Father Gerald Walker, OFM Capuchin gave him the ultimate praise, "He was the greatest man that the Province of Saint Joseph ever produced." Soon after his death accounts of his healing intercession began pouring into the provincial house and soon his cause was introduced. Nine years after his death a Vice-Postulator was appointed by the Holy See. After four years of intensive research on his life four volumes were presented to the Postulator General in 1980 and four years after that the interrogation process was complete and presented to Rome. In 1987 with Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka, then head of the See of Detroit, and other Archdiocesan officials present, Father Solanus Casey's body was exhumed and examined. His body was found to be amazingly intact and not as decayed as a cadaver should be at that stage. He was reinterred in a new steel casket sealed with the Archbishop's seal and put in a cement vault in the floor of the north transept of Saint Bonaventure's Monastery Church. His cause for beatification is being studied by the Congregation for the Causes by Saints. For more on Father Solanus Casey, we recommend his official site at www.solanuscasey.org.
It is appropriate Father Casey's selection came up when it did for tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and it is the Rosary that he held so dear and said religiously daily. It all stemmed from a dream he had just before he made the decision to become a Capuchin. In his dream he was standing above a massive pit of fire and felt great fear. As he looked up he saw a huge Rosary dangling down from Heaven. He reached for it and grabbed onto the Crucifix, embracing the crucified Lord as the Rosary began ascending upward saving him from the searing flames below. Upon awaking Father Solanus knew instantly what he was to do and for the rest of his life never forgot that dream, recalling it everytime he prayed his Rosary and conveying the necessity and rewards of Mary's special weapon to all he came in contact with. All his life Father Casey had a special devotion to Our Lady and her special mission God had entrusted her with in bringing others back to her Divine Son. And that's what Father Casey did as well, bringing countless souls back to Jesus through his love and devotion for, by honoring Christ's Blessed Mother, he was honoring Our Lord even more and was rewarded with 87 years of devotion and service to God in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Unlike Francis, Father Solanus never experienced riches or the good life and, to his credit and a blessing, never knew what he was missing for his life was complete because he had God. And that was all that mattered to him. As he said so often in a poem he composed, "We do God's will best when we obey and crucify self-will each day." He was rich in God's love, and shared those treasures with all he met endeavoring to instill in all the importance that this wealth was priceless. No amount of money on earth could buy it, but God was giving it to every one of His children free. That was the kind of man Father Solanus Casey was and his legacy lives on in the hearts and souls of so many grateful for his simple and lasting gifts.
Without editorializing too much, the practice of “hiding” the Tabernacle is probably one of the greatest violations that evolved from Vatican II. Canon Law states: Paragraph 1 “The Most Holy Eucharist is to be reserved regularly in only one tabernacle of a church or oratory.” Paragraph 2 states “The Tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved should be placed in a part of the church that is prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer. Paragraph 3 goes on to say “The Tabernacle in which the Eucharist is regularly reserved is to be immovable made of solid and opaque material, and locked so that the danger of profanation may be entirely avoided. “ (Can. 938).
The words “prominent, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer” evidently mean something else to many of these modern day liturgical commissions for a back room is not prominent. The word “prominent” means “well-known; eminent” and is derived from the Latin prominent which means “to project” in other words, to stick out, to stand out, to be prominent and conspicuous. Again, the Document on the Sacred Liturgy by Vatican II says: “The Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a solid, inviolable Tabernacle in the middle of the main altar or on a side altar, but in a truly prominent place.” In newer churches, too often the Tabernacle is an afterthought with more emphasis placed on the organ, or baptismal pool, or abstract architectural structure that remind one of a gymnasium or music hall…anything but a reverent home for the Highest of highs. This is disconcerting to Catholics who live their Faith for they realize the Tabernacle is the Heart of the church, for day and night it houses the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself. Consider how eager we are to give the best we can and show respect to our earthly guests; then how much more concerned we should be to furnish a suitable dwelling place for our Divine Guest the Redeemer, the Incarnate Son of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states on page 306, #1183:: “The Tabernacle is to be situated “in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor.” This is a direct quote from Pope Paul VI’s Mysterium Fidei (AAS, 1965). The Catechism goes on to reinforce, “The dignity, placing, and security of the Eucharistic Tabernacle should foster adoration before the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” On page 348, #1379 the Catechism asserts: “The Tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharistic in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent, outside the Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in His Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic services. It is for this reason that the Tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
We've heard from all authorities on the prominence the Tabernacle should be given, yet many disregard or misinterpret these directives to suit their own purpose or search out loopholes to justify their actions in hiding the Tabernacles where it “wont distract the people!” No wonder our Lord is upset at how He is treated in our day!” `Though it is not the common practice today, up until Vatican II every Tabernacle was covered with a veil when the Blessed Sacrament was present within; the color of the veil being either white or the color to match the liturgical season. It recalls the origin of Tabernacle which is gleaned from the Hebrew word taberna for “tent”. A tent or curtain covered the Ark of the Covenant.
Next week we will cover the Crucifix and sacred vessels on which the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus, Soul and Divinity confected through the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass and the reminder of His ultimate bloody sacrifice depicted through the crucifix.
Death of Saint Bruno, confessor and ecclesiastical writer and founder of the Carthusians. For more on this saint, see DAILY LITURGY.
Birth of Matteo Ricci founder of Chinese Missions. This Jesuit brought the faith to Goa and China and died in Peking on May 11, 1610.
Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni is elected the 241st successor of Peter, becoming Pope Alexander VIII. His election came through the intervention of King Louis XIV of France and he came to an agreement with him on the four propositions of the so-called "Gallican liberty." He gave help to the king of Poland and the Venutians in their struggles with the Turks. He died on February 1, 1691 after a two year papacy.
Death of Saint Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Jesus. This Franciscan Tertiary suffered the mystical stigmata and was canonized by Pius IX in 1867.
Death of Blessed Marie Rose Durocher, Religious Founder. For more on her, see DAILY LITURGY.
On John Paul II's first official trip to the United States as Supreme Pontiff, he becomes the first Pope ever to step foot in the White House when he meets with President Jimmy Carter on his day in the nation's capitol.
Death of Cardinal Terence Cooke, Archbishop of New York at the age of 62.
Beatification of Diego Luis de San Vitore, Jose M. Rubio y Peralto , and Francisco Garate - all marytred Jesuit priests.