|In Your Midst||
A Saint in the Family
Father Solanus Casey was my great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother and the sixth of the sixteen Casey children. Growing up we heard amazing stories about him. When people would ask for his prayers, those prayers were often answered in a phenomenal way. Children who couldn’t walk, walked; someone dying of cancer, didn’t… at other times someone came to him sick and Solanus would simply tell them God was ready to welcome them home.
I first met him in 1945 when I was fifteen. My three priest uncles (Monsignor Ed, Father Maurice, and Father Solanus) came west for my cousin Father John McCluskey’s first Mass at old Sacred Heart Parish in Seattle. The family gathered from all over, north south, east, and west. After the Mass, over a hundred family members came to a picnic at our home on the lake in Bellevue. Father Solanus and his two priest brothers were a big part of it. I remember watching Father Solanus and thinking, for such a holy person, he’s so ordinary. That really struck me! He played ball, went boat riding, sang and told stories with us.
My dad had a recorder for making records, old 78 rpm’s, and whenever we had a gathering he would get everybody to say something and he’d record it. So part of that afternoon was spent making records. Father Solanus talked, told a couple of stories, and played his violin. As it happened, this is the only recording the Capuchins have of his voice—or his violin!
I met him again in 1948. As a graduation gift, I went to the Midwest for my first canoe trip, then on to Chicago to visit my aunt. She, her two boys and I went to Huntington, Indiana where Solanus was at the time. We had several wonderful visits, and spending the night at the monastery was an added bonus.
I was battling with my vocation at the time and I thought, “Ah! Father Solanus knows these things, I’m going to ask him.” So I talked to him about it. “You know, I don’t know if I should enter or not.” He looked at me, smiled, and said, “That’s between you and God.” I was disappointed because I had to make my own decision!
Father Solanus died in 1957. The family members who were able to go to the funeral came back with stories of 20,000 people lined up outside the mortuary to pay their respects... truly extraordinary!
In July 1987, as part of the process towards canonization, the Vatican asked that the body be exhumed for identification purposes. I was asked to be one of two family members to go to Detroit and witness this. The exhumation was an awesome experience. When the casket was opened, the lining was in tatters, it looked like cobwebs, but there he was, lying there, totally recognizable. His habit was in shreds but he was not. That in itself is not indicative of sanctity, but everyone present was awestruck.
Father Solanus was a man who lived beyond his time. He was ecumenical at a time when the word was hardly known. He worked with Jewish, Muslim, Protestants, all groups of people. He related well to the rich and the poor. He started a soup kitchen which today serves 6,000 meals a day! He always taught people to thank God for the good things they have already received, and to thank God ahead of time for the gifts they hoped to receive. He was truly a man of God.
Sister Anne Herkenrath, snjm, is the Pastoral Care Minister at St. James Cathedral and the grand-niece of Venerable Solanus Casey.
Other articles in the March 2005 issue:
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