Since November is the month in which we focus on the saints, I’d like to introduce you to a very special friend of mine.
Some of you, I think, already know him, and you’ll recognize him as you read on. But in my humble opinion — not his, I dare say — not enough people are acquainted with him. He’s what I’d call my “go-to guy” when I need help with something. His name is Solanus Casey, Blessed Solanus Casey OFM Cap., to give him his full title. The fifth anniversary of his beatification is next Thursday, November 17.
Let me provide an example of what I’ve come to count on Solanus for. (Yes, we’re on a first-name basis).
A few weeks back I thought I had locked myself out of a company car. I was “on assignment” to pick up some incoming passengers at Logan Airport, and in the process of getting the required livery parking permit, I was shocked and horrified to realize that I didn’t have the vehicle keys. I retraced my steps back to the place I had parked, with no sign of any keys. I came to a sickening conclusion, that I had locked them in the vehicle. Even more alarming, my cellphone was in there, too, so I’d have no easy way of getting hold of my employers to let them know what had happened.
“Solanus, buddy, I need your help,” I blurted. It was not much of a prayer from a Liturgical standpoint, but certainly as heartfelt as anything I had uttered in quite a while.
A voice — not a real voice, at least I don’t think so — said, “I’ve got this. Piece of cake. Try not to be in such a hurry next time, OK?”
And sure enough, somehow the driver’s side door, which in my panic I thought I had checked, was open. It shouldn’t have been, because I had used the door switch to lock all the doors before getting out, but it was. The problem was solved, I breathed a sigh of relief the likes of which I hadn’t exhaled in many a moon. Then a prayer of thanks to my pal.
It’s trivial and certainly wouldn’t qualify as the miracle the Vatican is waiting for before they canonize Solanus. But in my world, it qualified.
One of the silliest of human thoughts, as least in mine, is the concept of Heaven as a vast office complex, where each saint has a cubicle and some of the cubicles, like St. Anthony’s or St. Jude’s, are always humming with activity, while maybe St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen or St. Erc aren’t as busy and they spend a lot of time watching the celestial equivalent of ESPN. They will gladly intercede for us if we ask them, but what about Solanus? He’s not even a real saint yet!
Wikipedia has a nice article on Solanus, and there’s a website (solanus.org) that will provide many more details on my friend than I can supply here. I first became aware of him through a friend who was part of the Franciscans of the Primitive Observance who for several years had a friary on Rivet Street in New Bedford.
The Church has no shortage of saints and keeps adding new ones, but speaking as a non-theologian, I’m not sure why some candidates for sainthood seem to be on what the secular world would call a “fast track” while a person of great holiness like Solanus has to cool his wings.
Some friends of ours have been dealing recently with some grave childhood illnesses. Suffice it to say that things were looking grim. I encouraged them to ask Solanus’ help, which they promised to do. I told them I would keep pestering him, too. At some point I remembered that one of Solanus’ favorite recommendations was, “Thank God ahead of time.” I passed that on to my friends and it seems that it helped turn the situation around for them and for their kids. A miracle? We all think so.
One of the really wonderful things I find about Solanus Casey is how real and down to earth he is. He liked sports and hot dogs and if he hadn’t lived in New York and Detroit, he’d probably have been a Sox/Pats/Bruins/Celts fan. He played — or tried to play — Irish tunes on his fiddle, to the annoyance of some of his fellow monks. He basically had to jump through hoops to get through his early religious training, where classes were taught in German and Latin, a fact that presented huge obstacles to an Irish kid from Wisconsin who didn’t speak German or Latin. But he stayed with it because the Blessed Mother had told him to: “Go to Detroit,” she said.
The Capuchins decided that Solanus didn’t have the intellectual firepower for all aspects of priestly ministry, so he was ordained “simplex priest” with limited faculties to celebrate Mass, but not to preach or hear Confessions. Instead, they decided that he would make a really good porter. But God and our Lady had other plans for Solanus, and the humble doorkeeper was soon recognized as possessing extraordinary gifts to heal bodies and souls.
The Wikipedia article and the website will take you further into the life and painful death of this wonderful man. I can’t help but smirk at the thought of what young Bernie Casey’s superiors — now presumably also in some corner of Heaven where they can chat merrily in German and Latin — are thinking of their former student, the dumb Irish kid from Wisconsin who, once the Vatican gives the nod, will be the first Irish-American saint to be canonized!
If opening a car door and healing two very sick children don’t qualify as miracles enough, we’ll just have to find a few more.
Bill Black, from Bourne, is a “charter member” of St. Elizabeth Seton parish in North Falmouth. He married for 53 years to the love of his life, blessed with two sons and four grandkids. Retired, he is also an Irish traditional musician and photographer of boats on the Cape Cod Canal.