The quirky Father Solanus: Squeaky violinist, tamer of bees

Detroit, Mich., Nov 17, 2017 / 03:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- You’ve heard of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves.

But have you heard of Fr. Solanus Casey’s multiplication of the ice cream cones?

To be sure, what Fr. Solanus is most remembered for his is gentle holiness, humility and obedience to the will of God in all things. It’s why the beloved Capuchin friar is being beatified this weekend in Detroit.

However, there’s something endearingly unconventional about the story of Father Solanus Casey – from the miracles reportedly worked through his intercession down to his breakfast habits – that makes his story especially unique.

The ice cream miracle

Fr. Solanus was a friar and simplex priest, meaning that, due to lesser academic abilities, he was not allowed to preach or to hear confessions.

But this freed him up for other charisms in which he particularly thrived – including serving as the porter (doorkeeper) at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, from 1924-1945.

As porter, Fr. Solanus became the main link from the brothers to the outside world, and he soon became renowned for the gentle and willing counsel that he offered, and for the miracles attributed to his intercession.

Fr. Tom Nguyen, OFM Cap., a Capuchin friar who lives in Detroit, recalls a story commonly told at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit:

On one warm summer day in 1941, a fellow friar in the novitiate came to see Fr. Solanus, in need of a miracle of healing. Something was wrong with his tooth, and if things went poorly at the dentist, the friar could miss too much formation and be sent back to the beginning of novitiate, as was the practice at the time.

The young friar sought Fr. Solanus’ blessing before heading out to the dentist, who told him to trust God that everything would work out.

While the friar was at the dentist, a lady who came to visit the monastery brought Fr. Solanus two ice cream cones. Too busy to eat them at the moment, Fr. Solanus shoved the cones into his desk drawer, much to the dismay of his secretary, who was sure they would be a soupy mess in a matter of minutes.

After more than half an hour, the younger friar returned from the dentist, his tooth found miraculously healthy. He went to thank Father Solanus, who pulled out three (not two!) perfectly frozen ice cream cones from his desk drawer on the hot summer day, which he offered to the friar to celebrate his good outcome.

The breakfast penance

Saints are often people known for offering up some kind of physical penances to the Lord – whether that’s wearing a scratchy hair shirt, taking on some kind of fasting, or sleeping on a hard floor. Even in this way, Fr. Solanus’ penance was uniquely quirky.

The friar was known for eating all of his breakfast at once – cereal, juice, coffee, and milk all mixed together in the same bowl.

In a story for the Michigan Catholic earlier this year, Fr. Werner Wolf, OFM Cap., recalled how he had been inspired to join the Capuchins specifically by Fr. Solanus Casey, who was still alive at the time. Eager to learn from the holy friar, Fr. Wolf decided he would watch Fr. Solanus very closely.

“So the first day I was there, I watched him like a hawk,” Fr. Wolf said.

“In the morning, the novices brought food to the older friars. First breakfast, I watched that man’s every move, pouring his cereal, the sugar, the cold milk, then warm milk, then prune juice in the whole works. I looked at him, telling God, ‘Father, if that’s holiness, I don’t want none.’”

Tamer of bees

Like St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans, Fr. Solanus also had a special relationship with animals – bees in particular.

On several occasions, witnesses recalled Fr. Solanus taming the bees that were kept by the Capuchin friars.

On one particular occasion, the witness was Father Benedict Groeschel, cofounder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

Fr. Groeschel was visiting St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, where Fr. Solanus Casey was stationed at the time.

Then a young Capuchin, Fr. Groeschel had also heard of the holy Fr. Solanus, and watched him closely.

One day, Fr. Groeschel and another friar were visiting the beehives kept by the friars, when the bees started swarming angrily.

Fr. Groeschel was instructed to get Fr. Solanus, who started talking to the bees and calming them when he arrived.

“He started to talk to the bees. ‘All right now. Calm down. All right,'” Father Groeschel recalled in a story to Our Sunday Visitor. “And they started to calm down and go back into the hive…. I was absolutely in total shock.”

Fr. Solanus recognized the problem – there were two queen bees in the hive – and without the standard protective gloves or netting, stuck his bare hand in the hive and pulled out the second queen without getting stung.

He was also known for calming bees by playing his harmonica, which is now on display at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit.

A violinist of ‘more love than skill’

Also on display at the Solanus Casey Center is the friar’s beloved violin, which by all accounts he played “with more love than skill.”

He loved to play the violin and sing, a skill he picked up while still living at home. But he had a high squeaky voice that some friars found grating. According to one account from the Catholic Education Resource Center, one of the Capuchin friars had fallen ill, and Fr. Solanus went to fetch his violin in order to cheer him up. While he was gone, the sick friar asked one of his visitors to turn on the radio to deter Fr. Solanus from playing his violin.

In another story about his violin playing, a friar heard a squeaky noise coming from the chapel. When he went to see where the noise was coming from, he found Fr. Solanus alone in front of the chapel’s Nativity scene, playing and singing Christmas carols in his squeaky voice for the baby Jesus.

On the whole, Fr. Solanus’ quirks only served to make him more beloved among the people of Detroit and those who have a devotion to him.

“He was sincere, everyone knew he was holy, even though listening to him play the violin was a challenge,” Fr. Wolf told Michigan Catholic in February.

Over 20,000 people came to pay their respects after the friar died, and an estimated 70,000 people are expected in Detroit for his beatification this weekend. His beatification Mass will take place on November 18th at 4 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

 

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