Finding Solace in Solanus
The winds of a Wisconsin Winter swirled round one Bernard Casey who felt lost. The young 26-year-old had been dismissed from a seminary which was dubbed ‘the German Seminary’ because the classes for the seminarians were conducted in German so they could minister to the multitudes of German immigrants. But young Casey had not mastered the Teutonic tongue. Concurrently, newspaper reports posited that the German seminary was ‘inhospitable’ to Irish Catholics such as Casey who was the sixth child born to Irish immigrants. Next Casey sampled life in a Capuchin friary only to feel his call confused because of his disgust for the unkempt beards of the friars. Casey was a fastidious young man who did not want to be a priest with a mane of wayward whiskers.
Now directionless, young Casey invited his mum and his sister to join him in offering a novena in the days leading to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for the intention that he would be inspired as to the steps he was to take in pursuing his vocation. He honored this hallowed feast day by making a private vow of chastity and in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament he received the divine message that would seal his fate: ‘Go to Detroit’. This meant he was to join the Capuchins there – for Detroit was their base. He would have to offer up his loathing of long beards. So eager was he to follow God’s will he left the warm confines of his loving family before Christmas and arrived in Detroit on Christmas Eve.
The account of Casey receiving an inner locution may inspire you to seek direction as to your personal vocation on the day which celebrates Our Lady being conceived in her mother’s womb with a stainless soul that sealed her fate as the one worthy of bearing the Messiah. For people who feel that inner locutions and messages from Heaven are the stuff of fantasy or even deceitful invention on the part of one such as Casey, they may consider that the message ‘Go to Detroit’ was unlikely to be fabrication the part of Casey who had an aversion to the Capuchin beard. At much the same time in Italy a ten-year-old Padre Pio got to know a friar with a flowing beard and became consumed with the desire to become a bearded Capuchin.
Initially I studied Solanus’s life for the book I’m writing on Padre Pio because he was an older contemporary of Pio’s. But Solanus’ role is bigger than that of being merely a peer of Pio who was the greatest mystic of the 20th Century. I have developed this love for Solanus whose intercession has given me much help with personal anxiety. 2018 was a time of sorrow in the Catholic world: the scandals caused by priests who present as having sex addiction, who want to satisfy their lust, irrespective of the utter devastation caused their victims. As someone devoted to Franciscan Saints, I found the sight of Cardinal McCarrick in a brown habit to be troubling. Yet, the antibiotic for being scandalized is the sanctity of our Saints like Padre Pio and Blessed Solanus.
Solanus’ main role was that of porter of the monastery. The faithful flocked around him – he often saw up to 200 people a day. He was a mystic, not a meddler. A young woman came to him who thought she had to become a nun, but Solanus told her that she did not have a vocation to religious life and was to marry a man in the military and have a big family. This happened just as Solanus augured. On another occasion, Solanus was visiting the sick in a Detroit hospital, when a young husband asked him to bless his wife who had just had minor surgery. To the young man’s horror Solanus told him that his wife was, in fact, about to die and he was to reconcile himself with God’s will. She died that very day, but her husband was prepared for her passing.
Another Saint, André Bessette came to Detroit and sought out Solanus, and when the two men of the cloth were face to face, they found themselves lost for words, for Solanus spoke no French and André spoke no English, but they blessed each other in Latin, the universal language gave these two saintly sons the means to confer on each other a sacred blessing.
In Catherine M. Odell’slovely biography of Fr Solanus, I read an account of Solanus facilitating the reconciliation of a couple on the brink of a nasty divorce. The man had been carrying on with another woman. He ended it, but the other woman told him she would tell his wife. Preempting this, the man confessed to his wife who was so distraught she wanted to divorce him. The couple were brought to Solanus, but the wife could not bring herself to look at the friar, so embarrassed was she at having a husband who had sought affection in another woman. Solanus instructed the man to give his side of things, ‘I don’t want you to leave anything out. Say everything.’ The man spoke while his wife cried her heart out. Solanus then turned his attention to the wife and said, ‘well, that isn’t so bad, the man is repentant. The Lord forgave Mary Magdalene, and you have three lovely children outside waiting for the mother and father to get together again.’ With that Solanus encouraged the wife to kiss her husband and forgive him. The couple saved their marriage and became an especially happy pair.
Blessed Solanus is like vitamin C for the soul. Revisiting his life of saintly selflessness is the means of strengthening our soul’s immune system.
I wrote this piece for The Mass of Ages, Winter 2018 Edition.
A big thank-you to my friend Catherine Collins (the daughter of Traddie Royalty, Richard Collins) who prayed for me when I was writing this article because I became stuck, having the concept in my head; that revering the sanctity of Saints is an antidote to being scandalised, but could not develop in in words. Then the beautiful Catherine prayed and the piece above got written. I am very blessed to be so close to her and enjoy fun and frollics with her around London.