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Solanus Casey: The humble “doorkeeper” priest who will fill a football stadium on Saturday

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This will be the largest Catholic event to take place in Detroit since St. John Paul II visited there in 1987.

On November 18, 2017, a great event will take place at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan, the home field of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Upwards of 70, 000 people are expected to fill the stadium — but not for a football game. This will be the largest Catholic event to take place in Detroit since St. John Paul II visited there in 1987. And, more than likely, this event will receive barely a mention by the mainstream media. That is the way of things in 2017. But it doesn’t matter.

It does not matter because this day transcends any political motivation or desire for wealth or fame. The event is the beatification ceremony for Venerable Solanus Casey. At Ford Field or watching from home, we will celebrate a working man who, against all odds, became a priest and will enter the final chapter on his road to being canonized a saint, an American-born saint. This simple, unpretentious man known as the “Doorkeeper” was the kindly priest who shed his ego so he might serve others.

The sixth child of 16 children, Bernard Francis Casey was born to poor, Irish immigrants in Oak Grove, Wisconsin, in 1870. His family and friends called him Barney. When Barney was a young boy he contracted diphtheria and this left him with a permanently raspy voice. Barney was never going to be a singer but that never mattered to him. He had always felt the calling to the priesthood. Unfortunately, there was a bump in the road for Barney. He had to go to work to help support the family.

Barney Casey did what he had to do to earn money. He worked as a lumberjack, a prison guard, a streetcar operator and even as a hospital orderly. He did whatever job he had to the best of his ability, always with serving God as his primary goal. Consequently, his education was put on hold and it took him five years to get back to high school. When he did it was at St. Francis High School Seminary in Milwaukee. He spent five years studying before being able to join the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. When he was accepted he took the name Solanus, after St. Francis Solanus.

Brother Solanus became Father Solanus Casey at the age of 33. He had to fight to get through his studies but he managed, though he was ordained as a “Sacerdos Simplex” — a simple priest, meaning he wouldn’t preach or hear confessions. Father Casey never complained.

For more than 20 years Father Casey lived at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. His primary job was that of “doorkeeper.” He became known for his service to the sick and for the advice he would give to the visitors who came by. After a while, people began attributing cures and other blessings to Father Casey’s interaction with them. 

Father Solanus Casey died in 1957. He was a man who opened and closed doors for people. A man who had no ego and was happy to serve God in the simplest of ways. A man who, with the miracles attributed to his intercession, will be beatified before tens of thousands of people in a football stadium on November 18, 2017.

Blessed Solanus Casey, please pray for us. And thank you for your wonderful example of how to live.

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