In light of faith: Blessed Solanus Casey’s witness to my family

(A series of columns focused on and written by millennials and young adults)

By Kate Bryan
Catholic News Service

Kate Bryan

Kate Bryan

Pope Francis has said in the preparatory document for the upcoming synod on “young people, faith and vocational discernment” that we need to see credible witnesses in order to be inspired to be holy.

Blessed Father Solanus Casey was an ordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. On. Nov. 18, more than 60,000 people descended upon my hometown, Detroit, to celebrate the beatification of this humble and faithful servant of God. The beatification Mass perfectly reflected this ordinary man who truly lived an extraordinary life.

While many people hadn’t heard of Father Solanus prior to that weekend, I was raised with a devotion to him. Prayers to Blessed Solanus were commonplace in my family. I vividly remember praying at his burial site in Detroit when I was no more than 5 years old.

As a child, I suffered from terrible eczema, and once I found out that Father Solanus had also suffered from the same skin condition, I used to pray and ask him to help me. While I was never “cured” of my eczema, my prayers to God through Father Solanus were answered and I was always granted peace and strength to endure even the severest pain.

My family’s long-standing devotion to the priest originated when he began visiting my great-grandfather at his house in Detroit. Francis Peter Cullen was a strong Catholic family man who had a beautiful wife, nine young children and a foster child to boot.

Francis suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and while the disease itself was devastating, he seemed to be more distraught by the thought of leaving his wife and young children behind. Father Solanus was invited to come pray with and over Francis, with the hope for a miraculous recovery.

(CNS illustration/Nancy Wiechec)

(CNS illustration/Nancy Wiechec)

By that time, in 1939, Father Solanus had become a popular priest in Detroit and was well-known for his guidance and healings. His ministry was spread through word of mouth, much like devotions to Father Solanus still continue to spread today. He had already co-founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and had served as the doorkeeper at St. Bonaventure Monastery for years.

Father Solanus was ordained a “simplex priest,” which meant he could say Mass but couldn’t preach or hear confessions. While his ministry was limited, he lived his calling out in humility and believed that God was using him in every meeting.

There are countless stories of his powerful interactions with the poor, people who ended up at the door of the monastery, and home visits — and countless miraculous healings from many of those encounters.

Pope Francis recently said Father Solanus was “a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor.” Father Solanus took every opportunity he could to “encounter” those in need, pray with them — and wrote down the name of each person he met in his prayer journals.

My great-grandfather was no exception. Francis’ children always remembered Father Solanus visiting their house when they were kids and praying with them — and for them. While their father wasn’t cured of ALS, Father Solanus’ presence and prayers seemed to bring a veil of peace and serenity over their household.

Franciscans display an image of Blessed Solanus Casey during his beatification Mass Nov. 18 at Ford Field in Detroit. (CNS photo/Jeff Kowalsky, courtesy Michigan Catholic)

Franciscans display an image of Blessed Solanus Casey during his beatification Mass Nov. 18 at Ford Field in Detroit. (CNS photo/Jeff Kowalsky, courtesy Michigan Catholic)

Francis stopped fretting about his impending death and leaving his family behind — and was able to spend his last days embracing every moment he had left with his family. While a miraculous recovery didn’t happen, it was its own kind of miracle.

And that’s often how Father Solanus works. It’s very much the crux of many of the stories I heard in Detroit and read during the beatification.

As I reflect on the beatification and what it means in my own call to holiness, two prominent themes stand out. First, Father Solanus was a humble servant of God. He was an ordinary man who followed God’s will, no matter how simple it seemed.

Young people often dream about how our lives will turn out and have fixed ideas about our vocations, but sometimes God calls us to a different path, and oftentimes it’s humbling. Father Solanus is the perfect example of how God can do great things through our faithfulness, dedication and humility.

Second, each encounter that we have matters. Father Solanus wrote down the name of every person he met and prayed for them daily. Imagine if we all emulated that in our daily lives.

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Kate Bryan, a guest columnist for the Catholic News Service column “In Light of Faith,” is a communications strategist and writer living in Washington. Read more at katembryan.com or follow her on Twitter @katembryan.

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