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American priest said to read souls on the way to being named a saint

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Father Solanus Casey recognized by Pope Francis as having interceded in healing of woman's skin disease

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis today approved a miracle attributed to the American Roman Catholic priest and Capuchin, Fr. Solanus Casey, paving the way for his beatification.

The announcement came this morning, after the pope met with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato. During the audience, the pope also declared ‘Venerable’ Francis-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân (1928-2002), a former Vatican cardinal and martyr who was in solitary confinement for nine years in Saigon, Vietnam.

The life of Fr. Solanus

Born Bernard Francis Casey, on 25 November 1870, in Oak Grove, Wisconsin, “Barney” (as he was known) was the sixth of sixteen children to Irish immigrant parents. When he was a boy he contracted diphtheria, which left him with a permanently raspy voice; two of his siblings died of the illness.

After working as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly and a prison guard (where me befriended two of Jesse James’ cohorts), he felt a call to the priesthood and was admitted to the Capuchin Order in Detroit in 1897. Upon his reception of the Capuchin habit, he was given the religious name “Solanus” after St. Francis Solanus, who like him shared a love of the violin.

Due to academic struggles in seminary, his superiors agreed he should be ordained a simplex priest, meaning he could offer the Sacrifice of the Mass but would not have the faculties to preach publicly or hear confessions. They assigned him to the post of Porter, or doorkeeper, one of the lowest tasks in the community. However, Fr. Solanus believed it was a great blessing and took his responsibilities as a porter very seriously, listening to everyone who came to the monastery.

The humble porter’s reputation for holiness soon spread. Fr. Solanus was known for his great faith and his abilities as a spiritual counselor able to read a soul, but also for his great attention to the sick for whom he celebrated special Masses. During his lifetime, visitors attributed miracles to his intercession.

Fr. Casey was eventually transferred to a different monastery to get away from the crowds who came to him. But they soon found out where he was stationed, and started to come by the busloads.

What was the secret to Fr. Solanus’ sanctity? According to reports, Fr. Solanus loved to pray before the Holy Eucharist in the quiet of the night. Fr. Benedict Groeschel (1933-2014), founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, once recalled visiting Fr. Solanus’ friary on a warm night and was unable to sleep. Around 3:00 a.m., Fr. Groeschel took a walk and arrived at the chapel where he put on two lights and saw Casey kneeling on the top step of the altar. Groeschel observed him for several moments and noted Casey didn’t move. Fr. Groeschel simply turned off the lights to leave Fr. Solanus in prayer.

“I give my soul to Jesus Christ”

In 1946, due to failing health and suffering from eczema over his entire body, Fr. Solanus was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate of St. Felix in Huntington, Indiana, where he lived until 1956.

One year later, on July 31, 1957, after a hospitalization Fr. Solanus died from a skin disease known as erysipelas, at 11:00 am at St. John Hospital in Detroit. A commemorative plaque was placed outside the door of the hospital room where he died. His last words reportedly were: “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.”

An estimated 20,000 people filed past his coffin prior to his funeral and burial in the cemetery of the Detroit friary he had lived in. On July 8, 1987 his remains were exhumed and reinterred inside the Fr. Solanus Casey Center at the St. Bonaventure convent. His remains were found to be incorrupt save for a little decomposition on his elbows. His remains were clothed in a new habit prior to re-internment in a steel casket at the north transept.

A range of miraculous cures have been associated with the Fr. Solanus’ intercession, during his life and after his death. Pope Francis’ official recognition today of a miracle attributed to his intercession paves the way for Fr. Solanus’ to be beatified, bringing this humble priest and porter one step closer to being recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint.

The miracle

“The beatification of Father Solanus Casey is an incomparable grace for the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit and for the whole community of Southeast Michigan,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the head of the Archdiocese of Detroit, said in a statement today. “He is an inspiration to all us Catholics – and to all – of the power of grace to transform one’s life.”

According to the Michigan Catholic, the miracle approved by Pope Francis Casey “involved a woman with an incurable genetic skin disease.”

According to the report: “The woman was visiting friends in Detroit and stopped at Fr. Solanus’ tomb to pray for others’ intentions. After her prayers, she felt the strong urging to ask for the friar’s intercession for herself, too, and received an instant and visible healing.

The miraculous nature of her cure was verified by doctors in her home country, in Detroit and in Rome, all of whom confirmed there was no scientific explanation.”

Although the Vatican has not released an official date, Fr. Solanus is expected to be beatified in Detroit sometime in 2017.

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