Who was Blessed Solanus? A simple man; a simple priest; not a man of letters although he sometimes wrote like a poet; not a man of degrees, yet his thought reached to profound depths.
In his own time, he was far ahead of his time. Like a prophet, he was a man with a message for our times. Like a prophet, he lived a life concerned for God’s people, suffering and laboring for the conversion of sinners. His message, always one of faith and trust in God, was to console and to encourage. He brought about peace by a kindly insistence on our right relationship to – and dependence on – God and neighbor.
This Capuchin priest, Bl. Solanus Casey, was born November 25, 1870 on a Wisconsin farm along the banks of the Mississippi. He was the sixth child in a family of ten boys and six girls. His Irish immigrant parents named him Bernard after his father.
From an early age he learned obedience, diligence, and piety from his God-fearing parents. Life on the farm taught him to be practical and resourceful. At 17, eager to supplement the family income after several crop failures, Bernard willingly left the farm for other employment. In nearby Stillwater, Minnesota he worked for a time as a hand on the log-booms, as a part-time prison guard, then as one of the first streetcar operators when Stillwater installed the new electric trolleys.
In 1891 Bernard was able to pursue his long-cherished dream of becoming a priest. He began his studies at age 21 and entered St. Francis Seminary High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he dedicated himself to his spiritual and academic formation. Called by God to the Capuchin Order in 1896, Bernard was given the new name of Solanus. He soon became a model of religious observance, ever-faithful to the holy vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Although he experienced some difficulty with his studies, he so edified his Superiors and fellow religious that he was found worthy of ordination to the holy Priesthood on July 24, 1904.
His long priestly ministry then began in New York. During the fourteen years he served at Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers, New York Fr. Solanus fulfilled the humble duties of Sacristan and Doorkeeper besides those of Director of the Young Ladies Sodality, Director of Altar Boys, and other pastoral duties. He soon edified the parishioners by his prayerful example at Mass, by his great charity toward the sick, the children, the non-Catholics and the poor.
The sick especially were anxious for his priestly visits and consolation. His apostolate to the sick and to the poor continued in other places also. He was appointed to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in New York City in 1918 and then to Our Lady of Angels Parish in Harlem in 1921. Soon after being appointed in 1924 to the Capuchin Friary of St. Bonaventure in Detroit Father Solanus became known and loved by all. Always available to the poor, the sick, and the troubled souls, he brought comfort to people from every age and walk of life. He was ready and willing to listen to anyone anytime. His ministry of charity and comfort was especially noted during the great Depression of 1929 when his concern for the poor inspired the Detroit Capuchins to establish their Soup Kitchen, a service of charity that continues to this day.
During the years of 1941-1945 Bl. Solanus’ advice and prayers aided many anxious families whose sons and daughters served in World War II. Eager for the spread of the Catholic faith, Solanus actively promoted help for the Missions and showed great charity and concern toward non-Catholics. Always zealous for souls, his ministry to the sick and troubled continued unabated, even in the later years of his life when his Superiors, wanting to give him a well-earned retirement, sent him to the Friary of St. Felix in Huntington, Indiana in the spring of 1946. There he spent his time in prayer and ministry to the sick and troubled until his own infirmities brought him back to Detroit for special medical care.