Those close to the cause of Fr. Solanus Casey recall a humble, holy friar

Detroit, Mich., Nov 17, 2017 / 05:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Before a potential saint is beatified, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

Those promoting the cause of sainthood for a candidate must gather witnesses and testimonies, writings and documentation of the candidate’s life.

Throughout the process, evidence is brought before various tribunals (a type of court within the Church) both in the local diocese and in Rome, all of whom examine the life and works of the candidate and determine whether the miracles attributed to them are authentic, and whether their life constitutes heroic virtue, among other things.

It’s a process intentionally designed to take years, and those involved in the process come to know their candidate for sainthood in a particularly intimate way.

That has been the case for Fr. Larry Webber, OFM Cap, who currently serves as the vice postulator of the cause for Fr. Solanus Casey, who will be beatified this weekend.

The priest and Capuchin friar, who has officially worked on the cause for the past five years, said the work has led his own life to be marked by Fr. Solanus’ spirituality.

“It’s meant a lot to me” to work on the cause, Webber told CNA. “I hope I’ve always been a man of prayer, but certainly (this) has really deepened in me an appreciation for his spirituality and his faith which is marking my life.”

“I think many people who have had a devotion to Fr. Solanus over the years would say that,” he added. “There’s something about him that marks the way you pray, that marks your faith, that  leads you to a deeper relationship with God…especially in the Eucharist.”

The friars who lived with Fr. Solanus would often find him in the morning lying on the floor in front of the Blessed Sacrament, where he had spent all night interceding for the hundreds of people who had sought his prayers.

“His line was always, ‘Oh don’t worry, I sleep on the soft side of the floor,’” Webber said.
He added that while he admired Fr. Solanus’ “Irish wit”, he also admired his ability to sacrifice and be humble about it without being pretentious.

Sister Anne Herkenrath has also been close to the cause of Fr. Solanus Casey as one of his living relatives. She is the grand-niece of Fr. Solanus Casey, her grandfather was one of his brothers.

Herkenrath told CNA that she remembers first meeting Fr. Solanus as a teenager during a big family reunion. She had heard some stories about this holy uncle of hers whose intercession had healed people, but she wasn’t sure what to make of it all.

“Teenagers are sometimes skeptical about things like this, and I was a little skeptical about him,” she said. “I thought, who is this man? What’s he like? How do I act around him?

“Well he got (to the family reunion), and he was as normal as his brothers and sisters,” she said. “He was so normal that my (hesitation) just disappeared, I was very comfortable with him, and he was just one of us. He played ball with the younger kids, he talked with everybody, he was just normal.”

The family didn’t talk much about the specific favors attributed to Fr. Solanus, Herkenrath said. One of Solanus’ brothers, also a priest, had told the family that those matters were “between God, the Capuchins, and Solanus.”

It was only after his death that she became involved in his cause for canonization, and started learning more about his life. For her part, she helped gather some recordings of Fr. Solanus that her dad had made of him on some old 7-inch 78 rpm records – recordings of Solanus saying a prayer, greeting the family, reciting a poem, and singing and playing the violin.

“I’m still in awe of him,” Herkenrath said. “Again for his being so normal, and yet so in touch with God, so very in touch with God.”

One of the most striking characteristics of Fr. Solanus is his profound humility and acceptance of God’s will in all things, Webber said.

Never able to make good grades in seminary, which was taught all in Latin at the time, Fr. Solanus was only ever allowed to be a simplex priest for the order, meaning he wasn’t allowed to preach or hear confessions.

Instead he was assigned as the porter, the doorkeeper, at the time a lesser role usually reserved for novice friars.

But it was a job “he accepted it humbly, joyfully, and in that obedience and that humility, God transformed him into a saint,” Webber said.

“And I think many of us in our world today need that same lesson – humbly accept the reality you are given, joyfully serve the Lord in it, and he’ll make you holy.”

“(Fr. Solanus) once said to someone: ‘What does it matter where we are sent? Wherever we are, we can serve God,’” Webber added.

Another characteristic of Fr. Solanus that Fr. Webber said he admired was the friar’s pastoral ability to help people take life a little less seriously.

As an example, Webber recalled one story where some good friends of Fr. Solanus were returning from vacation, and they stopped by the monastery to say hello to the friar.

After chatting for a bit, the friends told Fr. Solanus that they were hungry, but they weren’t sure what they were going to eat, because the only thing they had left in their cooler were some hotdogs. It was Friday, and the Church at the time required the faithful to abstain from meat on that day every week.

“And (Fr. Solanus) said: ‘Well how long have those hotdogs been in there?’ And they said: ‘Oh about a day or two.’ And he said: ‘Oh don’t worry, they’re fish by now,’” Webber recalled.

“He had a good sense pastorally,” Webber noted, to take the faith seriously, but also, when appropriate, “not to take things overly seriously.”

Having a brother within his own community being beatified has also caused Webber to examine his own holiness and call as a Capuchin, he added.

“Being holy…it’s not just the vocation of Fr. Solanus, it’s the vocation of all of us,” Webber said.

“And if God has raised up one among us…that is being recognized for his holiness, that calls each of us to say, ‘Well, what do I need to be doing to be a little bit more holy?’”

Fr. Solanus Casey will be beatified on November 18th at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.

 

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