A pilgrim touches the tomb of Fr. Solanus Casey as dozens of written prayer requests rest on top. Over the years, thousands of pilgrims have visited the holy Capuchin's grave site to ask favors for healing and intercession. (Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)
John J. Boucher
How much we hurt. How deep is our need for the healing power of Jesus! The life of soon-to-be Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., offers healing and evangelization lessons for us. He was an evangelizing, charismatic, healing priest long before Vatican II’s (1959-65) call for evangelization and teaching about charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thousands came to his monastery door, and to Wednesday afternoon healing services he conducted. Fr. Solanus’ life offers seven lessons for healing and evangelization today: 1.) Healing and evangelization arise from obedient humility.
Fr. Solanus was born of Irish immigrants in 1870, and was baptized Bernard (“Barney”) Francis Casey Jr., in Prescott, Wis. Nothing about his early life was particularly extraordinary, growing up as one of 16 children. Convinced God wanted him to become a priest, he entered seminary, but problems with theological and Latin studies plagued him. At ordination he was restricted from preaching or hearing confessions. For the next 20 years his sole ministry was to do odd jobs. He became the doorkeeper (or receptionist) at one Capuchin-run ministry after another in New York City and Detroit. Greeting visitors, running errands, and carrying messages to other priests filled most of each day.
His humble obedience in response to failures, restrictions, suffering and the grind of ordinary life was extraordinary. He wrote:
“Crosses [are] the best school wherein to learn appreciation for the love of Jesus Crucified. ... If we only try to show the dear Lord good will and ask him for resignation to the crosses he sends or permits to come our way, we may be sure that sooner or later they will turn out to have been just so many blessings in disguise.”2.) We must listen to people’s needs and to what God wants for them.
While waiting to meet with other priests in the reception area, people shared their problems and sufferings with Fr. Solanus. He would listen and maybe ask a few questions, then pray with them. He might lay his hands upon them to bless them, use holy water, read prayers from a prayer book or a Scripture passage or give them second-class relics from a canonized saint. Often, he would enroll a person in the Seraphic Mass Association, which assured a person that they would be remembered in the Masses said by Capuchin missionaries around the world.
Many cures and miracles were reported. In the notebooks his superiors asked him to keep, he recorded thousands of requests and answers: healings from pneumonia, alcoholism, vision problems, infantile paralysis, cancer, convulsions, etc., as well as spiritual healings and conversions to Jesus Christ and the Church. Fr. Solanus frequently brushed off such marvels by attributing it to the prayers of all those missionaries or by saying, "The good God is a loving God. He just wants to fill needs."3.) Healing and evangelization are meant to work together with other charisms of the Spirit.
At times Fr. Solanus received divine prophecies and would inform a petitioner, “You’ll be healed by (such and such) an hour or day.” At other times he would prepare them to accept death. What he said led many to conversion.
One morning a drunk man appeared at the front door at 4 a.m. “Where's that guy Solanus?” the man wanted to know. ...
“Well, he's here. What do you want with him?” Solanus answered.
“I came here to kill him,” the man replied.
“Well,” Solanus said, “that's something that should be discussed.” (Catherine M. Odell, Fr. Solanus, Our Sunday Visitor, p. 105)
The man was a communist. His mother was a devout Catholic and friend of Fr. Solanus. Her vocal concern for her son's rejection of God and the Church led the man to think he needed to eliminate Solanus' influence on her. Fr. Solanus invited him in and listened and shared God's wisdom with him. He repented and returned to the Church.4.) Thank God for his mercy before any healing or evangelizing.
Fr. Solanus invited everyone to express “humble confidence in God.” He called seekers to thank God for his loving care even before their prayers were answered or not answered. He encouraged, “Thanks be to God. … Let us thank him at all times and under whatever circumstances. ... Thank him frequently for, not only the blessings of the past and present, but thank him ahead of time for whatever he foresees.”
We see here a living reminder of St. Paul's words: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Th. 5:16-18).5.) Healing and evangelizing need to be built on intercessory prayer.
Fr. Solanus himself spent hours and hours each day praying for others’ intentions before the Blessed Sacrament. Often the friars would find him asleep on the chapel floor after a night in intercessory prayer. 6.) Use gifts of healing and evangelizing to serve the poor.
As the Depression bore down on Detroit, Fr. Solanus served in, and helped collect food for, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which his order started. At times, the kitchen fed more than 1,000 people a day. One day when the kitchen had run out of bread, Fr. Solanus rose, blessed the soup kitchen aloud, and urged his brothers to be confident in God. Within moments, an entire truckload of donated bread arrived at the kitchen door. 7.) Help others meet the healer and evangelizer-in-chief, Jesus Christ, in his body, the Church.
Fr. Solanus invited those who came to him to be converted to God. In a word, he was an evangelist, zealous to spread the Catholic faith, while respectful of those from other faiths.
Fr. Solanus was a flesh-and-blood model of how to minister the healing love of God and to evangelize in today’s hurting world. He combined humble listening with healing prayer, prophecy, wisdom, and a call to conversion. He taught people to pray in thanksgiving and intercession. He served the poor, the sick and suffering, while inviting all to be converted to Jesus Christ and be his disciples.
When Fr. Solanus died in 1957, more than 20,000 people attended his Detroit wake and funeral. Soon, a movement for his canonization began in Detroit. In 1995, Fr. Solanus was given the title “Venerable.”
With the declaration of his beatification, he is acknowledged as one who is in heaven, in union with God, and is given the title of “Blessed.”
Fr. Solanus would have something to say about that — and any blessings still to come:
“When we think of past blessings and merciful providence — notwithstanding our sins — whereby God has blessed us, why should we not foster confidence by thanking Him for the future?”
For four years, John J. Boucher served as director of religious education in St. Patrick Parish, Hudson, Wis., where Fr. Solanus Casey received his first Communion and confirmation. Mr. Boucher and his wife, Therese, have published numerous articles about Fr. Solanus.