On the Road with the Sisters: Blessed Solanus Casey

This week the CultureCast is proud to introduce a new show: “On the Road with the Sisters.” In the ensuing episodes, “On the Road with the Sisters” will be taking you all over the world to experience God’s presence among us. A visual pilgrimage of the human story to seek the divine in all things! Come with us and discover the many spaces, places and people who inspire all to seek the grandeur of God. In this first Episode, Sr.Teresa Benedicta and Sr. Martin Thérèse take us to Detroit, Michigan to visit the shrine of Blessed Solanus Casey.

Sister Teresa Benedicta: Blessed Solanaus Casey was born in Wisconsin on the farm. He was the sixth of sixteen children: ten boys, six girls.

Their education was patchy, particularly when they’re all on the farm. Even though Solanus was the sixth, he was still one of the older ones, so he was off working. When he was in high school, he was sent for a year to the big city where he worked in the sawmills for a while, so that meant he was seventeen before he graduated from the eighth grade, which wasn’t that uncommon in those days.

He was the prison guard to the Jesse James gang and became good friends with one of the members who made him a wooden chest that he took with him when he entered the monastery. He kept it for a long time, but as he got older and was being transferred back and forth, it was one of the things he got rid of. 

Sister Martin ThérèseWhat else did he do? He had some other jobs, but what about the trolley? 

Before becoming a priest, Blessed Solanus Casey was a trolley car driver.

Sister Teresa Benedicta: He convinced his family to leave the farm in Wisconsin and travel to the city. He was driving trolley cars. When he was twenty-one, he drove into a rough section of the town and witnessed a murder. Solanus said that was a defining moment of his life because it was the first time he encountered violence and suffering. It shook him to the core of his being, and he later said he felt this call from God, “What are you doing about the suffering in the world?” He knew at that point he wanted to be a priest. 

He applied [and was accepted] to be a diocesan priest at the German Seminary. His classes were in German or Latin.

He was a C-student. His superiors said, “If you’re going to be a priest in America at this time, you got to do better than a C,” so they asked them to leave the Seminary. They suggested he try monastic orders. That was devastating for him because he’d heard this call from God say, “I want you to be a priest,” and yet the Church around him was saying, “No.” 

This was the beginning of Blessed Solanus’s spirituality; he saw this as God had a bigger plan, and he had to trust Him, and the next step, which he was encouraged by friends, was to write to religious communities. He prayed a novena to our Lady and on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He said he heard our Lady say, “Go to Detroit.” Detroit was the headquarters of the Capuchins. 

Sister Teresa Benedicta: He felt zero desire to be a Capuchin. He was exhausted, and he still felt zero desire to be a Capuchin three weeks after he entered. He was supposed to formally receive the habit and become a part of the Capuchins, and he was debating with himself the entire time. “Is this really God’s will? I don’t feel anything. I don’t particularly want to be here.”

He said he couldn’t deny what he knew in his previous prayer. He took that leap of faith to trust that God would give him the Grace, and God did.

When they decided to ordain him, the local Superior said his German was bad and he still had a speech impediment. They restricted his priesthood where he could not give homilies at mass and could not hear confessions.

His main work was to be a doorkeeper. He would answer the door and bring in guests. He became well-known because people would come to him and ask for prayers, and he had a very common response to everyone: “Thank God ahead of time. Whatever it is you’re asking, thank God for it. Whatever He’s going to answer, whether it’s a yes or no, it’s going to be good. As a sign of your gratitude, do something to show God that you appreciate His answer.”

Sister Teresa Benedicta: I also loved how Brother Richard, who watched his brother be healed, joins the same community and then was later made Vice-Postulator. By the time Father Solanus died, there were seven notebooks of over 6,000 recorded miracles and prayers answered through his intercession, and that wasn’t even all of them.

Early one day, as he’s receiving visitors to the monastery, someone wanted to thank Father Solanus, so he bought Father Solanus some ice cream, but Father Solanus was really busy, so he stuffs the ice cream into his desk. It’s Detroit. It’s summertime. It’s hot and humid with no air conditioning. One of the other Brothers witnessed it. He was feeling like this is a sad occasion because it’s ice cream, and it’s been destroyed in the desk by the heat.

Fast forward several hours. A novice has returned to tell Father good news and Father Solanus says, “This calls for a celebration.” He opens his desk drawer and pulls out the ice cream, perfectly frozen, not a single drop had melted. He passed it to the Brother who had witnessed it earlier himself, and they all enjoyed the ice cream together. 

Sister Teresa Benedicta: I like that Father Solanus was a blend of prayer and action. People talk about his deep prayer life. The Brothers would say often in the morning, they would come to the chapel and find Father Solanus asleep on the wooden steps of the altar. He had this rich prayer life, and they would catch him in prayer and contemplation.

Fr. Solanus Casey serving food at one of his soup kitchens

He lives during the Great Depression. He’s responsible for the first soup kitchens that came into Detroit. The two biggest soup kitchens still in existence in Detroit are successors of the soup kitchen he founded. 

They’ve turned the spot where the old soup kitchen was into the shrine today. Father Solanus’s tomb, which pilgrims come and pray at and can visit today, is right where that soup kitchen was. Even in his death, he is still feeding people. Great miracles happened there.

Sister Martin Thérèse What is the takeaway from him? If you were to say it in one sentence.

Sister Teresa Benedicta: Confidence and trust in God. Thank God ahead of time and expect miracles. 

Sister Martin Thérèse Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us.


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