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The Porter of St. Bonaventure

Story ID:6466
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:various Wisconsin USA
Year:1957
Person:Fr. Solanus Casey
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I have a confession to make - I love to read the stories of the saints. So - what's to confess? In some spiritual circles people will tell me that's fine except that I should try to broaden my horizons and delve into deeper spiritual works like St. John of the Cross if I truly want to grow in the religious life. I thought to myself - maybe for them- but for me reading about the lives of the saints is quite enough to sustain my desire to advance in the spiritual life. By trying to emulate the saints even in some small way, I feel I will have succeeded in growing spiritually.

Though it made me recall that as a youngster - I couldn't get my fill of fairy tales. I should have been reading an assortment of book types and didn't. Yes, I think my book reading resume fell short of making me an astute reader. And yes, I do have regrets in this case.

I pray for a number of people who I hope will get the miracle they need to ascend the first step on the ladder of being proclaimed saint in the Catholic Church. Among them is Father Solanus. Years ago I read his story and was impressed and added him to my list. Then recently, I couldn't even remember why I thought him so special.

I love serendipity and it works. I had decided that I must either share my many Catholic Digests from years back or simply put them in my recylcing box for collection on Thursdays. However, I consider all books and magazines gems of knowledge, and I felt- even if one person picks one of my discards up and THEN recycles it, I will be happy to have shared in their growth in either a spiritual, intellectual, or practical way.

And so, I picked up a very "old friend" - the Catholic Digest from January 1996. Before I would give it to a teacher acquaintance who I see in church to ask her if she would like to pass out some of these Digests to her students - I decided to peruse it briefly. And guess what I found? Yes, the story of Father Solanus. Entitled "The Saint I Lived With" by Martin Pable, O.F.M. Cap., he prefaced his story with "Everybody laughed at Solanus Casey's fiddle playing. He was a good man, but it's safe to say that his violin isn't what got him into heaven. He was better at praying than playing......"

I loved reading his story. It made me realize how foolish I am if I think being intelligent or handsome or beautiful or rich is really important. Nor is having a prestigious job or an important political office something that is necessary to measure success -unless that is how you measure it. It isn't mine. Fr. Solanus had none of the above and today he is being considered for sainthood. Yes, all of us "plain" people can take great consolation from knowing about this simple and holy man. He is an inspiration to me and maybe he will be to you as well.

His story naturally can be found on the internet where you can even hear him play his violin and give a talk, but here I will only mention parts of his life written by Fr. Martin Pable which I found particularly interesting. Naturally, I hope you will turn to the internet for more details re this humble, plain-looking bearded Capuchin friar who died on July 31, 1957. His last words were "I give my soul to Jesus Christ." So simple, so sincere, so true, and so indicative of his whole life.

EARLY LIFE. He was born Bernard (Barney) Casey, the sixth of 16 children to Irish immigrants - Bernard and Elizabeth Casey. He was only able to finish elementary school and then found jobs to help with the family finances. He found jobs as a logroller, a prison guard, and a streetcar driver. He also had a school sweetheart - Rebecca Tobin to whom he proposed. She turned him down because her mother did not approve.

AN AWAKENING. One night when driving his streetcar he came upon a horrible scene - a drunken sailor standing over a young woman he had stabbed. The police were on the scene when he stopped his streetcar. Barney was shaken and that night as he prayed for the woman and her attacker, he realized the destructive power of anger and violence and realized he needed to do more than pray in order to heal the pain and the suffering of people in need. The thought of the priesthood had occurred to him before, but now he acted upon it and entered the high school seminary in Milwaukee.

DIFFICULTIES. He did well in high school at the age of 21 but college was a different matter all together. His grades were so poor that the faculty voted to dismiss him. But they must have seen something good or special in him because they advised him to apply to the Capuchin or Franciscan Orders which he did. At first he was repulsed by the beards of the monks, their German language, and the austerity of the Capuchin monastery he looked into, but through prayer realized this is where he should apply.

At times Barney had misgivings re his choice of life, but once he received the habit, he immediately felt at peace. Still -studying for the priesthood proved difficult. Who wouldn't find diffiuclt trying to learn theology from Latin texts and German-speaking professors? But this caused the seminary authorites to have serious doubts about ordaining him. However, even if they weren't sure he understood theology, they did recognize that he was deeply spiritual. So they compromised and Barney whose religious name was now Solanus would be ordained a "simplex" priest. He could offer Mass and give blessings but he could not hear confessions or preach a doctrinal sermon.

This new priest who was limited in his "simplex" priestly apostolate would soon show his mettle and worth. After becoming a porter at different monasteries -at each he would find many, many people coming to him to pour out their hearts (confessing) and seeking guidance. They always left consoled after hearing his wise and comforting words of God's love (preaching.) The two priestly functions denied him became the greatest part of his life in this unique way- no matter where he was assigned.

People would say of him that he was never in a hurry and that he would give everyone as much time as they needed. Some of them said - "When you talk to him, he makes you feel as if you are the most important person in the world." What a great and beautiful compliment. Now, when I mention Solanus among the people needing a miracle to be beatified, I no longer wonder why he is on my list and why I pray that he will get the miracle needed for beatification.