St. Francis of Assisi sold all he had and collected stones to rebuild the Portiuncula. Blessed Solanus Casey, a Franciscan in Detroit, collected thousands of tales of woe from a suffering city and helped God to rebuild lives. Time and time again, God blesses poverty, devotion and unfettered faith and builds something beautiful.

In the year we celebrate the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima — which, amid Mary’s dire warnings, shared a clear message of hope for a better world — Father Solanus, a simple Franciscan priest who made the world better by exemplifying Christlike simplicity, humility and love for humanity was beatified.

Bernard Francis Casey was born into a hardworking Irish-American family who struggled and suffered to build a life for 16 children. Yet, they did. Barney, as he was known to family and friends, also struggled. He was left with a weak and impaired voice due to diphtheria and went from job to job in a struggle to find his vocation.

When he settled on the priesthood, the diocesan seminary in Milwaukee, with its classes in German and Latin, proved to be a bridge too far. It was suggested he join a religious order that could ordain him as a simplex priest, a priest without the faculties to preach or hear confessions. This must have been a blow to his pride, and yet in prayer, he heard the soft and comforting voice of the Blessed Mother tell him, ‘Go to Detroit.’

The Capuchin Friars of St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit would make a home for the now-Father Casey. At St. Bonaventure, Father Casey remained obscure and content. He loved to play his violin, and he did so poorly. This did not dissuade him, nor did his assignment as porter of the monastery. To be porter meant he got to minister to people.

The poor would come to him — so would the sick and unemployed, especially during the Great Depression. Catholics and non-Catholics alike would come and tell their stories to the Irishman who loved a good story. Father Casey was never one to give a quick and curt answer. He responded to each person prayerfully. And miracles happened. The unemployed quickly found work. The sick were healed. Broken marriages were mended, and the desperate people of Detroit were given hope in a time of hopelessness.

A monument of Solanus’ work still stands in the midst of a recovering city: the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Solanus and his brother Capuchins worked the soup kitchen throughout the Depression. When bread ran low, Father Casey prayed for God to give us ‘our daily bread,’ and a truck soon arrived with a donation. It was the soup kitchen and the prayer of the simplex priest that kept the flame of faith alive in desperate times.

The Holy Mass was always the first thing on Solanus’ mind and the greatest succour for anyone in need.

Another devotion close to his heart was the holy cross. St. Bonaventure’s has a relic of the True Cross, and Father Casey would often bless the sick with this holy relic. Prayer and devotion always lift the spirits of the downtrodden.

When Father Casey died in 1957 more than 20,000 Detroiters filed passed his casket. What did this man have to elicit such devotion, and how does his witness fit into this time of rebuilding?

Father Casey had the ability to take what was given to him and turn it into something beautiful for God and neighbour. He did so first by listening to the narrative of suffering. We don’t do this enough in our society. We are in the age of the instant reply. Quick to argue, quick to become overemotional, we need to recover the ability to listen. Only in listening was Father Casey able to discern. When we are practiced at listening and discerning, we can give people a real answer to the question of suffering.

Father Casey was never one for a boxed answer; as a porter, he was attentive to the request of each guest and could discern what it was they actually needed. It was these virtues that made him a master builder, taking the scraps he was given and refashioning them into a better future for all who sought his prayers.

Let us look at the life of Father Casey and try to imitate him by opening the door to others, by being a porter to anyone who knocks, by doing ‘little things’ with great love for the God who loves us first and loves us always.

Blessed Solanus Casey,
A Good and Faithful Servant


Adapted and edited from Robert Klesko’s original article at

This article can be found in Mirror 0817.