Barney Casey became one of Detroit’s best-known priests even though he was not allowed to preach formally or to hear confessions! He was born November 25, 1870, the 6th of 16 children. He grew up on a farm near Oak Grove, Wisconsin, and at 21, he entered St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee. He found the studies difficult, and, in 1896, he joined the Capuchins in Detroit, taking the name, Solanus. Studies were not easy for Solanus but on July 24, 1904, he was ordained a priest. However, because his knowledge of theology was considered weak, he could not hear confessions or preach. A Franciscan Capuchin who knew him well said this annoying restriction “brought forth in him a greatness and a holiness that might never have been realized in any other way.”
He ministered as porter and sacristan in Yonkers, New York, and the people there recognized him as a fine speaker. While he could not preach, he could give inspirational talks, or ferverinos, as the Capuchins termed them. His spiritual fire deeply impressed his listeners. Father Solanus served at parishes in Manhattan and Harlem before returning to Detroit, where he was porter and sacristan for 20 years at St. Bonaventure Monastery. Every Wednesday afternoon he conducted well-attended services for the sick. On the average day 150 to 200 people came to see Father Solanus in the front office. Most of them came to receive his blessing; 40 to 50 came for consultation. Many people considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings they received.
Father Solanus’ sense of God’s providence inspired many of his visitors. “Blessed be God in all his designs” was one of his favorite expressions.
The many friends of Father Solanus helped the Capuchins begin a soup kitchen during the Depression. Capuchins are still feeding the hungry there today.
Father Solanus died on July 31, 1957. An estimated 20,000 people passed by his coffin before his burial in St. Bonaventure Church in Detroit. At the funeral Mass, the provincial, Father Gerald, said: “His was a life of service and love for people like me and you. When he was not himself sick, he nevertheless suffered with and for you who were sick. When he was not physically hungry, he hungered with people like you. He had a divine love for people. He loved people for what he could do for them—and for God, through them.”
In 1960, a Father Solanus Guild was formed in Detroit and by 1967, the guild had 5,000 members—many of them grateful recipients of his practical advice and his comforting assurance that God would not abandon them in their trials. Solanus Casey was declared Venerable in 1995, and beatified on November 18, 2017.
As Third Order Seculars (now known as Secular Franciscans), our Sisters Mary Ann Capizzo and Eileen Ghesquiere knew Father Solanus personally.