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Saintly Parents Inspire Holy Children: Blessed Solanus Casey’s Parents, Bernard and Ellen

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Over a year ago, I started looking into the lives of holy men and women, resolute moms, and dads, who were able to raise a family and live their faith fully. I was surprised at how many examples we have in our Catholic faith of saintly parents. I wanted to share some of these inspiring stories with our readers, in a series of posts called Saintly Parents. This is the fourth article in the series about sainthood and parenting. Does parenthood make you a saint? Can your life inspire your children to live holy lives as well? We will look at the parents of Blessed Solanus Casey as an example that proves that parents can inspire children to holiness.

A Saintly Son:  Blessed Solanus Casey

Blessed Solanus Casey was born on a farm in Wisconsin in 1870. His parents, Bernard and Ellen, were Irish immigrants and they named him after his father, Bernard. He was the sixth child in a family of sixteen children (ten boys and six girls).  Father Casey became a Franciscan Capuchin priest and lived and served in the US from 1900-1950. He is one of the few Americans from the last two centuries in the process of canonization to potentially join those known as the “modern American saints.” He lived and worked in New York, Yonkers, Harlem and then in Detroit for most of his life. He was known for his great faith, his service as a spiritual counselor as well as for being an inspirational speaker. Due to his struggles to learn German and Latin, he was ordained in 1904 as a “sacerdos simplex” and for this reason he could only say the Mass but could not hear confessions or preach publicly. Fr Solanus was a humble man who was given jobs normally completed by the lay brothers, tasks like being a porter i.e. answering the door of the St. Bonaventure Monastery whenever it rang. He also served as a cook, tailor, and assistant to the janitor. He would spend hours before Jesus in the Eucharist at night in prayer. He ministered to the sick often and people attributed cures and healing to his prayers. He was one of the founders of a soup kitchen in Detroit during the Great Depression. He died at the age of eighty-six and soon after his cause for beatification began. Pope John Paul II named him Venerable in 1995 and he was beatified in Detroit in 2017.

Blessed Solanus’ Parents: Bernard and Ellen

There is no doubt that Solanus Casey is a saintly example for us all. As his life and holiness became known, the life of his holy parents has come to light. In my quest to answer questions about sainthood and parenthood, Blessed Solanus’ parents proved to be an amazing example of a couple who lived holy lives in a challenging time with a large family in the midwestern United States.

Fr. Solanus Casey’s father, Bernard James Casey was born in 1840 in Ireland. Bernard immigrated to Boston in 1857, with his sister when he was 17 years old and he became a skilled shoemaker in Massachusetts. Ellen Murphy was born in Ireland as well, and was only 8 years old when her family immigrate to America. Ellen lived in Portland, Maine and worked at a textile mill for many years. Bernard and Ellen met at a Fourth of July picnic in Maine. It was love at first sight, but Ellen was young, so they waited a few years and were married in Massachusetts in 1863, during the Civil War.

After the war ended, Bernard found that shoemaking could not support his family, so he became a farmer. Like many people during that time, the Casey family moved West. They purchased eighty acres of farmland near Oak Grove, Wisconsin. Bernard and Ellen had sixteen children, one of which was Fr. Solanus, who they nicknamed “Barney” like his dad. Mr. Casey was a hardworking man of good moral character and Barney followed in his fathers example later working as a logger, hospital orderly, streetcar operator, and prison guard. During his time as a prison guard, Fr. Solanus befriended two men, Cole and Jim, two members of the former Jesse James-Younger gang of outlaws. Fr. Solanus made such an impression on the two men that the former gang members made Fr. Solanus a small wooden chest/suitcase which Father Solanus later would use when traveling. Fr. Casey would continue to visit the prisoners even after he left his job as a prison guard.

Fr Solanus’ childhood was rich in love and Catholic tradition. The children shared a love for sports and the ten sons formed their own baseball team called ‘The Casey Nine.’ The Casey family honored their Irish Catholic Faith more than anything else. Fr Solanus recalled memories of daily prayer with his family. He often recalled his father calling them in from outside to, “Prayer, boys, prayer!” Barney (Blessed Solanus) learned to love the rosary from his mother and he vowed to say it every day, remaining faithful to this promise throughout his whole life. His parents made sure their children actively practiced their faith and, in these moments, this holiness took root in their son. Fr Solanus remembers the spiritual experiences of his First Communion, Sunday Mass and reading the Bible as a family. While attending Christmas Eve Mass with his family, Blessed Bernard Casey felt the call to priesthood and soon after entered the Seminary to become a priest.

Little else is known of his parents but the legacy of faith speaks volumes of the two people who started and nurtured a family of faith. In 2017, at the beatification of Blessed Solanus, three hundred people from his extended family attended the ceremony. Two of Fr Casey’s brothers became priests, and his great niece is a nun.

The three main “saintly parent” lessons that I have taken from the example of Blessed Solanus Casey are:

1) For a parent, you may never be a recognized saint, but the important thing is that your children live holy lives and make it to heaven. There is little glory in being a parent, but the crown of glory that St Paul speaks about will be in heaven. Blessed Bernard Casey’s parents may never have the word blessed before their name, but they inspired others with their lives. They were inspiration for their children to follow God’s call and they were blessed by God to have a priestly vocation in their family.

2) God speaks to our children in prayer, the sacraments, and moments of grace. Teaching our children to pray the rosary, go to Sunday Mass, speak to God in adoration or read the bible are crucial habits for life. These activities of practicing your Catholic faith are moments that God has to touch the hearts of our children. This personal relationship with God can only happen if we give it opportunity to.

3) Blessed Casey was known to have the gift of healing the sick and the gift of kindness. A kind heart is formed from the time you are a child by seeing the example of kindness in others. I believe the two greatest examples of kindness must have been his parents. In a large family of sixteen children, I am sure the kids were encouraged to think of other people first. Show your children how to be kind to others.

Prayer Inspired by the Casey Family’s Story:

Prayer For Kindness

O Lord, give me strength today to show kindness in all that I do. Help me to open my arms to those less fortunate and extend my hand to those who may need it, so that they may see You in my kind words and actions. Amen.

Personal Testimony ~ My Mothers Great Aunt Millie

Have you ever experienced a miracle? My mother has related this real-life story to me many times when I was a child. During the Christmas Season of 1928, diphtheria spread through the Detroit, Michigan community and my great aunt Millie’s family contracted the illness. Their physician broke the news to Mr. Droste that Millie wasn’t expected to make it through the night.

It was New Years Eve and Mr. Droste visited Father Solanus and gave him the sad news. Father Solanus returned with Mr. Droste to their home and Millie received the last sacraments.

Father Solanus assured Mr. Droste, “You and your family, will have a Happy New Year.” Father Solanus reassured them that Millie would be alright. The next day, Millie began to recover. (Derum, 1968).

In her later years, Millie and her husband George were privileged to be one of the few people present at the exhumation of Father Solanus’ body, on July 8, 1987.  Fr. Solanus’ remains were found to be mostly incorrupt.  

To read many more real-life miracles experienced through Father Solanus, read the book, “The Porter of Saint Bonaventure’s The Life of Father Solanus Casey, Capuchin, The Fidelity Press, 1968, by James Patrick Derum.”

Father Solanus and his third class relics have become special to my family and we have experienced graces through them. Many miracles have been attributed to Fr. Solanus’ intercession.

My personal favorite quote by Father Solanus is, “Worry is a weakness from which very few of us are entirely free. We must be on guard against this most insidious enemy of our peace of soul. Instead let us foster confidence in God, and thank Him ahead of time for whatever he chooses to send us.” -Fr. Solanus Casey.  

Learn more about Father Solanus’ cause through the Fr. Solanus Guild.

~ Melissa Leija, Customer Service Manager, Agape Catholic Ministries

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