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Irish Roots

The Casey family in 1892. Blessed Solanus is in the back row, third from left.

Blessed Solanus Casey was born Bernard Francis Casey on Nov. 25, 1870 on a farm near Oak Grove, Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. He was the sixth child in a family of ten boys and six girls born to Irish immigrant parents who left Ireland after the Great Famine.

Solanus’ father, Bernard James Casey, was born in 1840 at Castleblaney, County Monaghan, Ireland. After his father’s death he left home at the age of 17 with a younger sister. His mother’s last words to him were: “Barney boy, keep the faith.” They sailed from Liverpool on the SS Curling and arrived in Boston on July 29, 1857 to meet other relatives. Bernard became quite skilled as a shoemaker in Massachusetts.

Solanus’ mother, Ellen Murphy, was born on Jan. 9, 1844 in Camlough, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. She was 8 years old when her family sailed from Liverpool on the Western Star. They arrived in Boston on June 20, 1852 to live with relatives. Ellen eventually found work in the textile mills near Portland, Maine.

Bernard and Ellen met at a Fourth of July picnic in Biddeford, Maine. It was love at first sight, but Ellen’s mother established a 3-year waiting period before the two could marry. Ellen was 16 years old at the time. The separation was difficult and the two lost contact. With the help of his parish priest, Bernard reunited with his sweetheart and married her on October 6, 1863 at St. James Church in Salem, Massachusetts.

After the Civil War ended, Bernard found shoemaking to be a dying business. Farming seemed to be the business of his future. The family bought 80 acres of government land four miles south of Prescott, Wisconsin in an area known as Oak Grove. Five more children were born there. One of them was the future Fr. Solanus, then called “Barney” like his dad.

Three years later, the Caseys moved to a larger farm at Big River in the Trimbelle area. Seven more children were born and Barney spent ten years there before leaving to work through the area as a logger, hospital orderly, street car operator, and prison guard.

His childhood was rich in love, steeped in Catholic tradition. The children shared a love for sports, hunting, fishing, swimming, skiing, and skating. The ten boys formed their own baseball team: The Casey Nine. Barney played catcher, usually without a glove. The other boys enjoyed boxing, but Barney would not participate. Inflicting pain on another person was not aligned with his values.

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