Once again, I’ll be joining the cast of Solanus, a play about the life and times of Father Solanus Casey, OFM Cap. This year the play will be performed in Duluth, MN, over Father’s Day weekend. I always enjoy being a part of this production, and the cast has become like a second family to me. Now that I live in Los Angeles, I only see these people once a year, but the bond that comes from putting this production together is a strong one.
Here’s the blurb that appeared a couple of weeks ago in the bulletin for the Cathedral of Superior, Wisconsin:
Bernard Francis Casey (Barney) was born near Prescott, Wisconsin November 25, 1870. His father was a rather successful farmer, and the family moved several times to larger acreage. Barney was the sixth of sixteen children, two of whom died in their youth. He was a logger, a hospital orderly, a prison guard and streetcar operator. Eventually, around 1891, Barney came to the “boomtown” of Superior as a motorman on the early electric trolley system. He witnessed the murder of a woman on the trolley tracks, and this pushed him to follow his desire to study for the priesthood.
The pastor of Sacred Heart parish (the eventual “cathedral” of the Superior diocese), advised him to go to St. Francis seminary in Milwaukee in 1892. Classes were taught in German, and this proved too difficult for Barney. He was advised to return home after graduation. The desire to become a priest stayed with him and he turned to the pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in East End. He advised him to go to the Capuchin monastery in Detroit, but Barney did not like the bearded Capuchins. However, he prayed for help, and seemed to hear the Blessed Mother tell him to “go to Detroit”. He arrived at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Christmas Eve 1896. He was professed in that Community as Francis Solanus Casey, but became known just as Father Solanus.
He continued to have difficulty with his theology studies, but because of his humble and sincere attitude, the Capuchins had him ordained a “simplex” priest on July 24, 1904. This meant that he could say Mass, but not preach formal sermons, or hear confessions. He could and did deliver some very good inspirational talks. Therefore he was given the job of sacristan and doorkeeper at monasteries in New York. After twenty years in New York he was assigned to St. Bonaventure’s Monastery in Detroit. Fr. Solanus had become very famous at his previous assignments as a humble man of prayer through whom wonderful things had happened. This continued in Detroit, and his fame spread far and wide. When he enrolled people in the Capuchin Mass Association they often had their prayers answered immediately or very soon. He often would tell people the exact day and time of the answer to their prayers. He always emphasized God’s tremendous love for all people.
In 1946 he was transferred to the Monastery in Huntington, Indiana because of his poor health. He lived there until l956 when he went back to Detroit and was hospitalized several times because of severe and painful health problems. When asked if he was in any pain he would often answer “yes, thanks be to God.” He died in St. John’s hospital in Detroit on July 31, 1957. He had said his first Mass in Appleton, Wisconsin on July 31, 1904 and died, fifty-three years later, at the same hour he had started that Mass. An estimated 20,000 people passed by his coffin before his burial at St. Bonaventure Monastery. In recent years a special shrine has been designed at St. Bonaventure’s by the same man who was the liturgical consultant for the renovation of the Superior Diocesan Cathedral, Fr. Richard Vosko.
Pope John Paul II declared Fr. Solanus Venerable in l995. This is the first step on the road to canonization. The next step is Beatification. Then public prayer and devotion can be started to Fr. Solanus. A drama based on the life of Fr. Solanus has been written and directed by Ms Molly Druffner from Hudson, Wisconsin, and the cast is composed of people from that area. It has been put on in Detroit several times. Now it will come to Superior and be performed at the Performing Arts Center at the Superior High School on June 18 at 7:00 p.m. and June 19 at 2:00 p.m. Watch for further information to come out in the bulletins and local newspapers.