Catholic Herald staff
The path of Bl. Solanus Casey’s life begins in what is now the Diocese of Superior. His childhood home was on the western side; he felt the pull of religious life while working in Superior.
Capuchin Br. Richard Merling, co-vice postulator for the cause of Bl. Solanus’ sainthood, said those early years, especially when the future Capuchin witnessed a murder while serving as a streetcar conductor in Superior, were formative.
“Basically, that’s one of the reasons why we really felt that Superior should have a relic,” he explained.
On June 20, Br. Richard presented Bishop James P. Powers with a first-class relic of Bl. Solanus, a bone piece from his hand mounted in a ciborium-style vessel.
All Wisconsin dioceses are receiving a relic, Br. Richard said, as are archdioceses in Milwaukee, New York and Detroit, where Bl. Solanus attended seminary, served as a priest and lived out the balance of his vocation, respectively. Relics are also being gifted to Capuchin houses across the country.
Declared “blessed” in a November Mass, Bl. Solanus is credited with curing the skin condition of a woman who stopped to pray at his tomb, although Br. Richard said there have been “literally, probably thousands of reports” of healings through the friar’s intercession.
Br. Richard, who lives in Detroit, has been involved with Bl. Solanus’ sainthood cause since the mid-1970s, when he served as assistant to the vice postulator. One more miracle is needed to propel Bl. Solanus to sainthood, the Capuchin said, but it must be a very specific kind of healing.
In the case of the woman with ichthyosis, her skin peeled off completely, “in sheets,” by Br. Richard’s description. Although she still has the disfiguring genetic disease, it no longer affects her skin.
“It was rather a dramatic thing,” Br. Richard said.
Bl. Solanus has influenced Br. Richard’s life as well. When he was 15, Br. Richard’s brother was severely injured in a car accident, and the doctor was thinking about amputating his leg. Bl. Solanus was a friend of the family, so Br. Richard’s mother came to speak with him.
“He simply said, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be alright,’” Br. Richard recalled, and everything was okay. The next day, the doctor told them he’d decided not to amputate.
In many of the stories Br. Richard hears, Bl. Solanus often used those words: “’Don’t worry. Things will be okay.’ That was often his phrase.”
Br. Richard remembers “the awe of being in his presence … knowing he was so close to God. People would come and ask for prayer, and “he would all of the sudden gaze off in the distance … it’s like he would talk to God.”
Sometimes he’d tell them everything was going to be okay, and sometimes he’d say God wanted them to do something.
“You just knew that he was in union with God,” Br. Richard added. “If he wasn’t talking with people, he was talking with God. He was in prayer.”
In hindsight, he sees the seeds of his vocation were planted during a visit with Bl. Solanus. He played his fiddle – he used to play at barn dances, Br. Richard said – and told them he didn’t see his mother for six or eight years after he entered the monastery.
His mother’s heart sunk, Br. Richard later learned, because she knew her son was destined for religious life, and she feared she’d see very little of him. Some years later, after attending a retreat, Br. Richard announced he was joining the Capuchins, and his mother’s heart sunk again.
Happily, times had changed – transportation was much faster by Br. Richard’s time – and he wasn’t separated from his family for years.
“Little did I know that I would end up working for his cause,” Br. Richard said.
The November Mass for Bl. Solanus’ beatification drew more than 70,000 people, according to the hosting stadium in Detroit.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was just beautiful. And … everything went off so well.”
The attendance is a testament to how deeply Bl. Solanus touched people.
“You can’t walk through the halls here without meeting someone with something positive to say that their prayers have been answered,” added Br. Richard, who is also director of the Father Solanus Guild.
“He is an intercessor,” the Capuchin said. “He is in union with God. Was in life, and is in death. He encourages us to pray and have faith and trust in God.”
The Detroit Capuchins are celebrating Bl. Solanus’ inaugural July 30 feast day with a novena and nine-day series of Masses beginning July 22.
“It’s a feather in the cap of Wisconsin” that Bl. Solanus is from this state, Br. Richard observed.
In light of that connection, the bishops of Wisconsin have agreed to add July 30 as an optional memorial of Bl. Solanus on their diocesan liturgical calendars for the year of 2018.