Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“People’s Priest” may become first U.S. male saint

Father Solanus Casey, according to all who knew him, was a kind and gentle priest whose story is one of devotion to God and selfless service to others. The son of Irish immigrants, Casey was born in 1870 on a Wisconsin farm. Now, he appears poised on the cusp of becoming the first American-born male to attain sainthood in the Catholic Church.

His remarkable life is documented in a 60-minute film titled The Healing Prophet: Solanus Casey. Interestingly enough, he didn’t take the conventional route to priesthood. Rather, he pursued a number of secular occupations and interests before dedicating his life to others.

At age 21, he was one of the first streetcar operators in the Midwest. Another job found him working in a stone quarry. In his job at Stillwater State Prison in Minnesota, Casey crossed paths with none other than members of the Jesse James outlaw gang. As a young man, he fell in love and proposed, but never married.

Casey’s parents afforded him and his 15 siblings little material wealth, but they were faithful to bring them up in the church. Even as a teenager, Casey was sensitive to others, Solanus Casey documentaryespecially to his family and their needs. He quit school in eighth grade to work and help support the family.

Two of his siblings died during a diphtheria epidemic, and the young Casey turned to God for strength and guidance. Another tragedy – a fatal stabbing, which he witnessed – was a determining factor in his decision to pursue the priesthood.

Religious education was not an easy road, but he was eventually ordained a Simplex Priest, unable to hear confessions or preach sermons. Instead, he was assigned the duty of monastery porter, a title that implies what the job entailed -- that of doorkeeper. Some believe this humble position was central to his growing sensitivity to the needs of others because it brought him in frequent contact with people from all walks of life -- including the poor, the desperate, the hungry, the sick.

As porter of St. Bonaventure in Detroit in the 1920s, Fr. Solanus earned a reputation as the “People’s Priest.” During the Great Depression, his concerns for the poor led to the first soup kitchen established by the Detroit Capuchins. Eventually, many deemed his spiritual gifts to include the ability to heal the sick and to prophesy the future. Countless miracles are attributed to his prayers.

Fr. Solanus died in 1957 at age 86. Fr. Michael Crosby, Casey’s biographer, says the Vatican is looking for “people from the U.S. who can model what it means to be holy.” Fr. Solanus Casey seems to fit the bill, and there are countless faithful who are praying and working toward his canonization.

Sainthood or not, producers Audrey Geyer and Kevin Lindenmuth at Audrey Geyer Productions (audreygeyer@aol.com) have done a great service to chronicle this remarkable man’s life and ministry. The 60-minute film, available for home video purchase (www.afastore.net), features interviews with Fr. Michael Crosby and others who know Casey’s life well. It is a celebration of a life well-lived. OneNewsNow

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