Friar’s connections to Wisconsin, Indiana and Seattle inspire devotees to show their gratitude DETROIT — Make no mistake about it. Detroit claims Fr. Solanus Casey.
Since his arrival at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Detroit’s east side in 1897, the Capuchin friar has been recognized by generations of Detroiters as one their own.
But that doesn’t mean the Wisconsin-born priest doesn’t have admirers across the country.
Fr. Solanus was born Nov. 25, 1870, in Oak Grove, Wis.
, and lived his childhood in nearby Prescott, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers.
Prescott, like much of western Wisconsin in the 1870s, was sparsely populated, so the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Hudson – 18 miles to the north – baptized Bernard Casey Jr. at St. Joseph Mission Church.
Sr. Geralyn Misura, FSPA, ministered at St. Joseph in Prescott for 40 years, starting the Fr. Solanus Circle there in the early 1980s.
“I used to take different groups on pilgrimages in the Prescott area," Sr. Misura said. “Fr. Solanus was baptized in the old mission church in Prescott (the current St. Joseph Church is not the mission church where Fr. Solanus was baptized). In the summer, we had a lot of visitors go to Prescott to see the place of his birth.
Sr. Misura “There was a couple who were parishioners who bought the property shortly after I arrived in Prescott," she said. “They had a taller-than-life-sized statue of Fr. Solanus carved by a fellow who came to the Pierce County fair."Sr. Misura reports the statue fell victim to Emerald Ash disease, but Solanus’ presence in western Wisconsin is still there. Sr. Misura reports the Diocese of La Crosse will send multiple buses to the beatification Mass on Nov. 18 in Detroit.
“People from Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Prescott, all over the diocese are coming," Sr. Misura said. “We’ll be leaving here Nov. 17, and be down on Saturday for the beatification. We also plan to visit the Solanus Casey Center when we’re there."Giving Communion to a saint
While Bernard Casey was baptized at St. Joseph Church, he received his first Communion at St. Patrick Parish in Hudson.
A shrine to Fr. Solanus is pictured in Villa St. Joseph, home of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wis. St. Patrick commemorates Fr. Solanus’ first Communion with a bronze statue that stands outside the parish’s day chapel and a picture of Fr. Solanus near the entry of the church.
“Many in our congregation have prayed for his beatification and one day canonization," said Fr. John Gerritts, pastor of St. Patrick. “We have a stand stocked with prayer cards and information, pamphlets telling his story."Fr. Gerritts reports a busload of parishioners are making the trek to Detroit. There isn’t a formal Solanus Casey group at the parish, but many have prayed for his intercession.
“We had a woman suffering from a skin rash who made a trip to Detroit, and came back not healed of the skin rash, but it did ease," Fr. Gerritts reported.
Solanus serves as example for the children who grow up in the parish, Fr. Gerritts is quick to point out.
“We hear about the saints all the time, certainly we call upon them for their intercession," Fr. Gerritts said. “It’s inspiring when the children make their first Communion, that there was a priest here who gave first Communion to a potential saint. When I celebrate first Holy Communion, I think, ‘Will one of these children go on to be a saint?’"Fr. Solanus serves as a role model for all at St. Patrick Parish, according to Fr. Gerritts, who notes the young Barney Casey walked the same streets and played in the same fields the children of St. Patrick Parish play in today.
“This is where he got his spiritual beginning," Fr. Gerritts said. “We walk the streets where he walked. There is a sacredness of the area."The alum who never graduated
Despite the fact that the young Barney Casey struggled during his enrollment at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, priests and seminarians there still take inspiration from their one-time student.
A small portrait on the fifth floor of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee commemorates Fr. Solanus’ time as a diocesan seminarian there. (Courtesy of St. Francis de Sales Seminary) “We’ve known for quite some time there has been a cause for Fr. Solanus’ sainthood," said Fr. John Hemsing, rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary. “I knew of Fr. Solanus as a seminarian when I was a seminarian."While the future Fr. Solanus struggled with classes taught in German and Latin — predominant languages in the area at the time — he was nevertheless a model seminarian, Fr. Hemsing said.
“Bernard Casey spoke English, so he had to learn German and Latin, and the Latin was taught in German," Fr. Hemsing said. “As a student in the minor seminary, the rector at the time, Fr. Michael Heiss, sat with Bernard Casey to discuss his future as a diocesan priest."Despite the fact that the young Bernard left the seminary in his fifth year — joining the Capuchin order instead — St. Francis de Sales nevertheless considers him an alum.
“We recently remodeled and renovated the fifth floor, where Bernard Casey would have lived," Fr. Hemsing said. “Now we have a small shrine on the wall."A number of seminarians and staff from St. Francis de Sales are making their way to Detroit, as Fr. Hemsing said Solanus’ struggles can serve as an inspiration for all seminarians.
“If he stayed in the seminary and stayed in Milwaukee, he probably never would have joined the Capuchins and been there to answer the door, and who knows what would have happened to him," Fr. Hemsing said. “We don’t always know what God’s plans are for us."Red handkerchiefs
After spending many years ministering in and around New York City and answering the door in Detroit (The Michigan Catholic tried unsuccessfully to reach places where Fr. Solanus served in New York), Fr. Solanus lived in Huntington, Ind.
, at St. Felix Friary, where people from across the country came to visit him, even at an advanced age.
Jan Scher is the director of the Huntington Extension of the Father Solanus Guild, a group of about 25 people who continue to pray for his intercession and canonization.
Jan Scher, director of Huntington, Ind.
, extension of the Father Solanus Guild, poses outside the St. Felix Catholic Center in Huntington. Fr. Solanus spend the last years of his ministry in Huntington at St. Felix Friary, where hundreds continued to visit him in his “retirement." (Courtesy of Jan Scher) “It’s such a privilege to be connected to such a holy man who lived here in the area," Scher said. “He spent many years helping, healing and interceding on behalf of other people. He had a big heart and big mission in life."Fr. Solanus lived at St. Felix Friary from 1946-56. In 1960, three years after his death, the Father Solanus Guild was formed, and Scher’s grandmother enrolled her in the guild when she was 6 years old.
Scher said the Ft. Wayne-South Bend Diocese will have a group present at the beatification to represent his “retirement" years at St. Felix. “SS. Peter and Paul Parish is a Capuchin parish and was extended an early invitation, so we reserved 174 names in less than two weeks for tickets," Scher said. “Bro. Richard Merling (director of the Father Solanus Guild) said we were the largest group that responded."For those in the area who can’t make the trip to Detroit, St. Felix Catholic Center — now home to the novitiates of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and the Franciscan Friars — will celebrate a Mass in honor of the beatification.
At Ford Field, the Huntington contingent will sit in Section 116 and be sporting old-style red handkerchiefs in honor of Solanus.
“When Solanus talked with different groups of people about Jesus and what He did for us, he’d get so emotional," Scher said. “Solanus had such appreciation and compassion; he’d start crying, and had this old-style handkerchief to wipe his nose. When the St. Felix Catholic Center opened in June 2012, we had favors for Fr. Solanus and asked to have red handkerchiefs blessed by Bro. Richard. So when we’re cheering and waving our red handkerchiefs, it will be in honor of Fr. Solanus’ time in Huntington."The ‘other’ Solanus Casey Center
Devotion to Fr. Solanus is far and wide — indeed, the Father Solanus Guild has more than 21,000 members spanning 23 countries.
Even in places where Fr. Solanus never ministered, there are levels of devotion to the porter of St. Bonaventure.
, has its own Solanus Casey Center, an outreach of St. James Cathedral, which provides resources for the homeless in downtown Seattle.
More stories and features about the beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey“There is a need in downtown Seattle for those experiencing homelessness, coming from detention or those just arriving in Seattle," said Patrick Barredo, director of social outreach and advocacy at St. James Cathedral. “St. James is in downtown Seattle, and we see a lot of people in those categories. The King County Jail is just blocks from us, so we minister to the homeless and those leaving jail."Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, Fr. Solanus’ great-niece, ministered at St. James Cathedral, and encouraged the outreach center to be named for Fr. Solanus.
“The main thing the Solanus Casey Center does now is help the homeless and others procure identification," Barredo said. “Often, the homeless lose backpacks, have wallets stolen, so the Solanus Casey Center helps them get new IDs, whether they’re born in the U.S. or internationally. We also help with housing referrals for those looking for shelter."While Fr. Solanus’ reputation isn’t as well known on the West Coast, Barredo said there are some similarities between Detroit’s Solanus Casey Center and Seattle’s.
“Here there is a pot of coffee in the room, clothing is available for people in need," Barredo said. “I wouldn’t say there is any overt attention to a call of who Solanus Casey was, other than being a place that’s about who he was — being open. This is a place of encounter, just like he was someone who opened people to an encounter with Jesus."