Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey
Father Solanus Casey and two of his brothers made an unusual threesome as they walked together at the College St. Thomas in St. Paul in the summer of 1937: He and Father Maurice Casey wore brown Capuchin Franciscan habits while Father Edward Casey donned the black clerics of an archdiocesan priest.
The vacationing priests had arrived in St. Paul after what Father Solanus later described in a letter as the “exquisite pleasure” of revisiting childhood sites, reconnecting with family and friends, and presiding at Mass in rural western Wisconsin. Their family of 16 children, though no longer based in Prescott or Hudson, Wisconsin, was not forgotten.
The brothers said their goodbyes near the St. Paul Seminary, where Father Maurice and Father Edward had been ordained a quarter century earlier. Father Solanus, his birth name Bernard Casey Jr., made his way back to Detroit, where he was already a well-known and loved doorkeeper at the Capuchin Monastery of St. Bonaventure.
For the example of his holy life, healing and wise counsel that touched thousands, Father Solanus will be beatified Nov. 18 during a Mass at Detroit’s Ford Field. He died in 1957 and was declared venerable in 1995. Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession was the next step needed for his beatification. Another miracle, after his beatification, is necessary for him to advance to sainthood.
Less visibly and in their own ways, his priest brothers and other relatives with archdiocesan connections also courageously lived their Catholic faith. Information from archdiocesan records and other sources has helped in developing sketches of these family members.
Three years older than Father Solanus, Father Maurice Casey struggled to become a priest and find his place in ministry. He left St. Francis de Sales Seminary near Milwaukee and was diagnosed with a nerve disorder. He worked a series of jobs, including one with the U.S. Railway Mail Service.
Father Solanus’ ordination as a Capuchin priest in 1904 rekindled Father Maurice’s desire for priesthood. He completed his theology studies at the St. Paul Seminary and at age 44 was ordained for the Diocese of Helena, Montana, in 1911. He spent 10 years in Montana, including on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
In 1921, Father Maurice returned to the archdiocese and was assigned to the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. He served as a chaplain at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul and at two other parishes before leaving the archdiocese in 1929 to join Father Solanus’ community, the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph. In the early 1940s, Father Maurice returned to serve in the archdiocese until his death in 1949.
Also serving in the archdiocese was Father Edward Casey, nine years younger than Father Solanus. Father Edward attended the St. Paul Seminary and was ordained in 1912. For the first two years of his priesthood, along with serving at St. Mary in St. Paul, Father Edward was assistant editor of the Catholic Bulletin, now The Catholic Spirit.
Father Edward was assigned to Fort Snelling, St. Thomas Military Academy and was founding pastor of St. Therese in St. Paul, which in 2006 merged with other parishes to become Lumen Christi. In 1928, Father Edward left Minnesota to serve first in Australia and then near Manila, Philippines. In 1938, Pope Pius XI gave Father Edward the title “monsignor” for his work with Filipino parochial schools.
During the final year of World War II, Father Edward was a Japanese prisoner of war. When he returned to Minnesota, he raised money for the Diocese of Lipa, Philippines, and later he was a hospital chaplain in Superior, Wisconsin, until his death in 1962.
The priest-brothers’ Irish immigrant maternal grandmother, Brigid Shields Murphy, brought her family to Minnesota after she was widowed, settling in Hastings with four of her five children around 1860, according to “Father Solanus Casey” by Catherine Odell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2017). One of Brigid’s sons was ordained a priest for the Diocese of St. Paul in 1869. The Casey brothers’ uncle Father Maurice Murphy served more than 20 years as pastor of St. Michael in Stillwater; it was under his direction they all were confirmed.
Father Murphy became pastor when he was 23, according to “Church of St. Michael, Stillwater, Minnesota, 1853-2003” by Rita Lammers (2002). Under his leadership, the parish built its present church, a rectory and school, as well as installed bells, established a lay advisory board and organized temperance societies, Lammers wrote.
In 1886, the 15-year-old future Father Solanus journeyed from Hudson to Stillwater to seek work. He didn’t live in his uncle’s rectory, but he was in his care. In Stillwater, Father Solanus worked at a lumber mill, brick kiln and a penitentiary, and as a streetcar motorman, according to Odell. Today, a stained glass window in St. Michael’s atrium depicts Father Solanus, and Stillwater’s Knights of Columbus council and Catholic Worker house bear his name.
In 1949, the three Casey brothers’ paths converged again in Minnesota for the last time upon Father Maurice Casey’s death. Father Edward presided at his brother’s funeral, held at Holy Rosary in Graceville, which was then part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul but is now in the Diocese of New Ulm. Father Solanus gave the homily.
A priest known for his great faith, humility and compassion and for his ministry as spiritual counselor, Father Solanus helped establish the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929 to feed the hungry during the Great Depression, a work that continues in Detroit today. Hundreds of healing miracles were attributed to him during his life and after.
Father Solanus will be the second American-born male to be beatified, after Father Stanley Rother, a North American priest from Oklahoma who was beatified Sept. 23. He also will be the first person from Michigan to receive the designation.
— Catholic News Service contributed to this story
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