For Blessed Solanus Casey, the road to the priesthood was not a simple or straightforward one. Members of the Casey family greatly valued their Irish Catholic heritage. Barney kept good memories of daily prayer with his family. Solanus often recalled his father calling them, “Prayer, boys, prayer!” It is no surprise that young Barney learned to love the rosary as his mother did and he vowed to say it every day, remaining faithful to this custom throughout his life.
In 1883, before turning 13, Barney spent a few weeks at St. Patrick’s church in Hudson, Wisconsin. During instruction for his First Holy Communion, Barney first felt the Spirit stir within him, eagerly loving the lessons and the Bible. Attending Midnight Mass one Christmas Eve, Barney secretly wondered whether he could be a priest. This stirring continued to grow until the age of 21 when he entered St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee to study for the diocesan priesthood.
Barney loved the discipline of his studies and he was well-liked among his classmates. The German language of the lessons, however, was difficult to comprehend. Finally, his superiors advised that he was not likely to succeed and they suggested a religious order.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1896, Barney discerned his calling. A spiritual advisor suggested he write to the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Capuchins. All three replied with letters of welcome, so which one should he choose? None of them seemed an attractive way of life, so Barney invited his mother and his sister Ellen to join him in praying a novena for the nine days leading up to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. After Holy Communion on the last day, Barney distinctly heard the Blessed Mother telling him: “Go to Detroit” where the Capuchins were – and still are – headquartered.
Without question, Barney departed through a snowstorm for three days to arrive at the monastery door of St. Bonaventure on Christmas Eve. Exhausted from the trip, he fell asleep, but was awakened by the sound of bells and singing wafting through the air which was pungent with incense. With joy, Barney jumped from his nap and joined the procession to the chapel for Midnight Mass. In the years afterward, he would tell of the profound happiness of that night.
Clothed in the brown habit and white cord of the Capuchins, Barney was given the new name of Friar Francis Solanus after his patron. St. Francis Solano, the Spanish missionary to Peru. St. Francis Solano was a Franciscan priest who loved the poor native children and called them to prayer with his violin. Another Capuchin was named Francis, so the new friar became known as simply “Solanus.”
Simple Profession of Vows, St. Bonaventure Chapel, Detroit. Continued studies at St. Francis of Assisi Monastery, Milwaukee.
His grades continued to be “average” or “passing” marks which caused question from his superiors. After writing a letter to them, resigning himself to God’s will, Solanus took final – Solemn Profession – vows with his class.
Brother Solanus was ordained a Sub-deacon at St. Francis DeSales Seminary Chapel, Milwaukee.
Still questioning his orders, but resigned to “God’s Holy Will” in all things, Solanus was ordained a Deacon, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Milwaukee.
The superiors finally decided: Solanus would be ordained a “simplex priest” without ability to hear confessions or preach doctrinal sermons. Never showing resentment or disappointment, the seeds of humility were planted.
Fr. Solanus Casey celebrated his first Solemn Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Appleton, Wisconsin.