This morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has signed the decree paving the way for the beatification of US Capuchin Fr. Solanus Casey
. I am happy to provide some background on this extraordinary American Capuchin priest whose beatification ceremony will take place in Detroit, Michigan in the next few months.
The Positio for Detroit’s Capuchin Fr. Solanus Casey
Detroit’s Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap had two loves: “the sick and the poor.” Thank God: That includes all of us!
A Positio (Positio super Virtutibus – Position on the Virtues), pronounced puh-ZEET-see-oh, is a document - or collection of documents - used in the process by which a person is declared Venerable.
It is a collection of the evidence obtained by a Diocesan Inquiry into a candidate’s Heroic Virtues. The Positio is prepared for presentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
. Upon presentation, it is examined by a committee of expert historians and theologians. If they find the evidence suitable, they may then make a recommendation to the Pope that the candidate be declared Venerable.
The official Positio for the Cause of Canonization of Fr. Solanus Casey was prepared under the direction of the Relator of this Cause, Fr. Peter Gumpel, SJ. He appointed as his collaborator, Michael Crosby, OFM Cap. who wrote Volume I, the biographical history of Fr. Solanus, and Volume III, the treatise on the Virtues. The Congregation for Causes of Saints gave their recommendation to Pope John Paul II on July 11, 1995. His Holiness then promulgated the Decree of Heroic Virtue and bestowed on Fr. Solanus the title of “Venerable Solanus Casey.”
This decree raises a Servant of God to the second stage of “Venerable” in the Sainthood Process. The following excerpts are opinions from the Theologians who studied Fr. Solanus’ life and work for the Decree.
“Holiness does not consist in extraordinary things but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” These words of Pope Pius XI could serve as title to the life of the Servant of God, Francis Solanus Casey. The Positio explains the Servant of God’s limitations in a very realistic and believable way. No saint is free of human limitations. For the faithful, it is a matter of great importance, consolation and edification to show the path of the Servant of God toward maturity in holiness and perfection.
With regard to the Servant of God’s virtues, the following words of his are significant: “It seems to me that were we only to correspond to God’s graces, continually being showered down on every one of us, we would be able to pass from being great sinners one day to be great saints the next.”
In the lives of the saints he saw the models for his own life. For the Servant of God, growth in holiness meant growth in the knowledge of God and neighbor. It also meant that faith, hope and charity were essentially one because they revealed the trace of the Holy Trinity in our immortal souls, whereas their contrary was demonstrated by society’s atheism, despair and hatred.
All his life the Servant of God sought the unity of people in God. He loved without limits, discrimination, or prejudice, since all were children of God. Race, color, another creed, or conviction — none of these mattered. He respected the conscience of all. During the war between the United States and Japan, he never referred to the Japanese as enemies, even though they had imprisoned his brother. He was always available to help even strangers. The poor and sick had a preferred place in the life of the Servant of God. He regarded solidarity with even the least of his brothers and sisters as a distinctive mark of his Order, according to the teaching of Sacred Scripture (1Cor3:4). The meaning of his life consisted in the glory of God and the service of others.
- The Servant of God used to ask his sisters to pray for him that he might grow in prudence. His simplicity overcame all human imprudence. As already mentioned, he may have been somewhat imprudent in counseling the reading of The Mystical City of God
, since the Church had not officially accepted the content of the private revelations of Mary of Agreda. But subjectively speaking, his intentions were certainly good. Sometimes people said the Servant of God was too compassionate with sinners. But he took as his model Jesus, who hated sin but loved the sinner, who rejected error but loved the erring. It was not that he was not critical enough, but rather that he respected even non- Catholics in the same spirit that the Church later ex- pressed in the Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium (16)
: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
- The Servant of God was very concerned about injustice, much like the Old Testament prophets who rejected even cultic worship when it was an expression of hypocrisy; while acts of injustice were being committed against others, especially the poor. He was well aware that justice demands especially that we love God and other human beings. He faithfully observed all the commandments of God and the Church in order to carry out the will of God. Throughout his life he fought for justice and peace, during the Cold War he prayed especially for peace.
- The Servant of God showed his fortitude especially in the difficulties of his life, whether during his studies or during his illness. As a simplex priest he could not hear confessions even though, from his conversations, he knew people’s sufferings, problems and sins better than others. He never complained but endured the situation with a fortitude that was truly heroic. When he experienced rejection of himself or his ideals, he remained silent and offered no opposition. Every day he was available to people often as many as eighteen hours a day. He also helped people through his many letters. Joyfully he counselled others, despite his weak voice and respiratory problems. In sickness, especially toward the end, he suffered terrible pain, and before he died there were forty hours of agony to endure.
- The Servant of God did not despise the good things of this world, whether food or drink, but always observed the right measure. He also practiced renunciation, he never smoked. His heroic temperance is seen especially in his great patience. Only two examples are described in the Positio where the Servant of God showed impatience. In the one case, some people tried unjustly to show that he was in opposition to the bishop. In the other case, his confreres were trying to prevent people from seeing him even though he felt he was well enough to listen to them and help them.
The following excerpts were very significant in the study. Father Solanus’ heroic practice of the virtues can be seen in the other moral virtues related to them, either potentially or subjectively: patience, humility, meekness, simplicity, kindness, thankfulness, etc.
- For everyone who knew Father Solanus, the virtue that distinguished him in an absolutely unique manner was humility. He always humbly accepted the will of the superiors, including the extremely difficult and humiliating decision regarding his ordination as a simplex priest. The fact that his two brothers, who were priests, enjoyed full faculties, as did his classmates, was never taken as a humiliation. If anyone said to Father Solanus that to remain a simplex priest was humiliating, he would reply, “In order to practice humility we must experience humiliations.” He was convinced it was God’s plan for him to remain a simplex priest.
- Simplicity, the sister of humility, is also a great evangelical virtue. It is evident from the Positio that it was practiced in a heroic manner, as seen in the following: “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.”
- Calmly and with heroic patience, Father Solanus bore the many trials to which God subjected him repeatedly throughout his life, especially as a student and in his last years when he suffered from skin disease. He accepted trials and humiliations for love of Jesus Christ and was happy to be allowed to share in His passion. He saw it [suffering] as having a redemptive value in the life of the Mystical Body - that certain people are chosen by God to suffer as an apostolate.
Reputation for Holiness
- Many saints have built their reputation for holiness as founders of religious Orders or Congregation by preaching to the multitudes, evangelizing the people, publishing impressive works of theology, etc. Father Solanus’ reputation is built entirely on the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. That a simplex priest whose only pulpit was the front office of the friary, who was never allowed to hear confession or preach, who exercised his apostolate solely through kind words, fraternal charity, love of neighbor, and with humility, patience and obedience - all of this constitutes a uniquely valid argument in favor of his holiness.
In this final consideration of Fr. Solanus’ life of Heroic Virtue, we find these excerpts from Theologian IX to be a very inspiring summary of all his virtues. This theologian emphasized above all Fr. Solanus’ outstanding love of God and neighbor which permeates all the virtues.
Heroic Love of God
This virtue, a constant trait of the entire life of the Servant of God, appears first of all in his faithful and authentic observance of the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, along with his faithfulness to his duties as a priest and religious. His deep love of God expressed itself in devotion and love for the Church, pope and bishops, and his burning desire to see the Church prosper and grow. This love showed itself especially in his deep gratitude to our Lord for His passion and the wonderful gift of the Eucharist.
In his short talks, he preferred to speak of God’s great love. He did the same in his writings: “Love in itself is beautiful because it is directly of God. Love, however, when inordinate in creatures, is no longer beautiful in the eyes of men or angels.”
Heroic Love of Neighbor
The Servant of God’s thoughts on this virtue is clear from his definition of religion: “Religion is the science of our happy relationship with God and neighbor.” In the course of his ministry he met thousands of people from all ages and walks of life, and to all he showed his love for God by loving all in God. The Servant of God always showed extreme compassion for the sick and the poor, seeing God’s presence in them in a special way.
The sign of the Cross made by the Servant of God at the beginning of any work showed his right intention in all actions. The advice he gave in a spirit of love was followed by all, both religious and lay people, who admired his prudence and wisdom. The rare prudence with which the Servant of God was endowed enabled him to direct all his actions toward his eternal salvation.
The Servant of God always distinguished himself for giving God and neighbors their due. He faithfully observed the divine and ecclesiastical laws in charity and in fulfillment of his duties as a priest and religious. His simplicity and sincerity of heart were outstanding. As a person of Irish descent, his deep sense of justice led him to support Ireland’s struggle in defense of her freedom. He treated everyone - superiors, confreres, and those who came to him - with due respect, reverence and humility. He always maintained high esteem and respect for his family, showing gratitude to them for their good example.
The Servant of God manifested this virtue by patiently bearing humiliations, penances, labors, fatigues and all sorts of trials and sickness in the course of his long life. In food and drink he was always moderate without ostentation. He fasted almost always, but without attracting notice. He accepted occasional ridicule and contempt with equanimity.
He practiced this virtue in an exemplary manner, particularly in trials that called for courage. Noteworthy is the courage he showed in leaving his family to become a religious. As a student, he edified all by his humility and patience. As a priest, he heroically carried out the humble tasks assigned to him in a spirit of obedience. In this way he was an example of fortitude to his confreres. He courageously faced many problems with his health and was able to lead others to accept illnesses or trials in their lives. During his last illness, he edified all by the example of his fortitude.
The Servant of God, ever grateful for the gift of his religious and priestly vocation, was always seen by his superiors as a model of obedience.
Apparently, the Servant of God made a private vow of chastity even before becoming a Capuchin. We he became porter, he always dealt with women in a way that was circumspect yet courteous. He loved little children for their innocence and simplicity and considered them a blessing from God. He was strict and assiduous in his mortification of the senses, including rest and nourishment.
This virtue could be seen in the second-hand and outmoded clothes worn by the Servant of God. He was always content with what was necessary and was loath to ask anything for himself. At his death, he left one trunk of tattered clothing and few personal items, including a beat-up violin that he used to play occasionally.
Convinced that there is only one model of eternal truth, Jesus Christ, the Servant of God strove always to imitate Jesus, especially by his modesty and humility. He was never given any important offices of elected superior, but joyfully accepted his limitations as a simplex priest and religious. He never pushed himself forward, but always lived simply, accepting corrections calmly and even joyfully. Placed in the position of porter where he had to deal with many people, he drew them all by his openness and simplicity. When they would thank him for some favor received, he always replied, “Thanks be to God.”
By carefully considering all the elements brought out by the abundant documentation on the life, work and virtues of the Servant of God, Francis Solanus Casey, we can conclude quickly, backed by a wealth of data, that we have here the figure of a Servant of God who is highly qualified by reason of his heroic virtues: theological, cardinal and the others.
Raising our Servant of God to the honors of the altar, which he richly deserves, would be of great use to the Church, not only in the United States but throughout the world, especially today in light of the celebrations being planned for the Third Millennium of our Redemption. Here is a Capuchin Franciscan priest who followed the great saint of Assisi closely and faithfully. He would bring new light and give a strong boost to Catholics in the United States today, influenced as they are by the prevailing materialism and seriously threatened by a crisis of faith.
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.
Fr. Solanus Guild
1780 Mt. Elliott
Detroit MI 48207