I have always believed that saints are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. My mom, Sue Hart, taught me that years ago when she introduced me to Father Solanus Casey, an Irish-American priest who she adored, for good reason.
In 1932 my grandpa, Truman Smith, who lived to be 101, was gravely ill. He and my grandma had been married less than a year when his appendix burst, and he was hospitalized with peritonitis. The doctor told my grandma he would likely not live through the night.
My grandma called her sister-in-law, who immediately told her to call Father Solanus at St. Bonaventure Parish in Detroit. Detroit is where my grandparents lived, and where my mom and her brother grew up.
My grandma called and he answered the phone and said, “He will be very sick, but he will live.” Grandpa’s doctor, Dr. Watson, told my grandma the next morning, after he arrived expecting his patient to be gone, that he certainly had nothing to do with my grandpa’s recovery. “Don’t thank me. Someone else was responsible for this!”
A few months later, after my grandpa recovered, my grandparents visited St. Bonaventure Parish when Father Solanus was presiding over a healing ceremony. The priest, who had never met my grandfather, came to him, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “You are the young man whose life was despaired of.” From that moment on, there was not a doubt that he had performed at least a single miracle in my family.
Nearly four years later, my mom was born. And I don’t know that she ever wavered in her quest to see this priest become a saint. I know she is rejoicing now, as the venerable Solanus has been named “blessed,” the last step before sainthood.
Father Solanus isn’t your typical male saint material. He didn’t drive serpents out of any land, and he didn’t write theological treatises. Hardly an academic, he was a simplex priest, not allowed to say Mass or hear confessions, but he was able to serve as a porter at St. Bonaventure Parish in Detroit as well as at other parishes he served in New York City.
He was instrumental in starting a soup kitchen to feed the homeless and the poor in Detroit in 1929, and that ministry persists today, serving more than 2,000 meals each day. Father Solanus was a Capuchin, with the ideals of St. Francis written deeply on his heart, whether he could study Francis’ writings ably or not. He listened, always, and he did what he could to answer the many who asked for his intercession.
He is exactly the example of the kind of servant of God I want to teach my kids about — an absolutely ordinary human being doing extraordinary things because of absolutely simple faith. It’s the kind of faith I have longed for myself when things get difficult.
Always, I try to go back to Solanus’ examples of what we need to do: “Thank God ahead of time. And … be faithful to the present moment or we will frustrate the plan of God for our lives.” I can’t think of anything more profound — or simpler than that — however hard it is to do.
According to the Positio (the document prepared for presentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints), Solanus exemplified simplicity in all he did. “Father Solanus possessed the biblical simplicity of the dove without having the cunning of the serpent. In his deep Irish faith, his Catholic practice was that of an innocent child. His religious obedience was naturally linked to holy simplicity, even as St. Francis linked these two virtues.”
In its conclusion, the Positio remarked upon his great love for all. “Among the virtues of the Servant of God, Francis Solanus Casey, particularly outstanding are his humility and charity. Although his priesthood might have qualified him for the prestigious ministry of a parish priest or preacher, with ready and willing dedication he accepted the office of porter in a large community in a large city. Moreover, he carried out this office conscientiously and with supreme dedication, winning over everyone by the exquisite love that characterized all his actions.”
Father Solanus Casey will be beatified at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, on Nov. 18, only the second American male to be beatified. More information can be found at the Father Solanus Guild at www.solanuscasey.org.