Blessed Solanus Casey’s Story
Barney Casey became one of Detroit’s best-known priests even though he was not allowed to preach formally or to hear confessions!
Barney came from a large family in Oak Grove, Wisconsin. At the age of 21, and after he had worked as a logger, a hospital orderly, a streetcar operator, and a prison guard, he entered St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee—where he found the studies difficult. He left there, and in 1896, joined the Capuchins in Detroit, taking the name Solanus. His studies for the priesthood were again arduous.
On July 24, 1904, Solanus was ordained, but because his knowledge of theology was judged to be weak, he was not given permission to hear confessions or to preach. A Franciscan Capuchin who knew him well said this annoying restriction “brought forth in him a greatness and a holiness that might never have been realized in any other way.”
During his 14 years as porter and sacristan in Yonkers, New York, the people there recognized Solanus as a fine speaker. James Derum, his biographer writes, “For, though he was forbidden to deliver doctrinal sermons, he could give inspirational talks, or feverinos, as the Capuchins termed them.” His spiritual fire deeply impressed his listeners.
Father Solanus served at parishes in Manhattan and Harlem before returning to Detroit, where he was porter and sacristan for 20 years at St. Bonaventure Monastery. Every Wednesday afternoon he conducted well-attended services for the sick. A co-worker estimates that on the average day 150 to 200 people came to see Father Solanus in the front office. Most of them came to receive his blessing; 40 to 50 came for consultation. Many people considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings they received.
Father Solanus’ sense of God’s providence inspired many of his visitors. “Blessed be God in all his designs” was one of his favorite expressions.
The many friends of Father Solanus helped the Capuchins begin a soup kitchen during the Depression. Capuchins are still feeding the hungry there today.
In failing health, Solanus was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate in Huntington, Indiana, in 1946, where he lived for ten years until needing to be hospitalized in Detroit. Father Solanus died on July 31, 1957. An estimated 20,000 people passed by his coffin before his burial in St. Bonaventure Church in Detroit.
At the funeral Mass, the provincial Father Gerald said: “His was a life of service and love for people like me and you. When he was not himself sick, he nevertheless suffered with and for you that were sick. When he was not physically hungry, he hungered with people like you. He had a divine love for people. He loved people for what he could do for them—and for God, through them.”
In 1960, a Father Solanus Guild was formed in Detroit to aid Capuchin seminarians. By 1967, the guild had 5,000 members—many of them grateful recipients of his practical advice and his comforting assurance that God would not abandon them in their trials. Solanus Casey was declared Venerable in 1995, and beatified on November 18, 2017.
Miracles Happen: The Simple Witness of Solanus Casey
Why did they follow him? Why did they line up by the hundreds on a Detroit sidewalk or in New York, day after day, patiently waiting their turn to talk with him? This man was deemed not sharp enough to be a diocesan priest. He tried again and barely made it to ordination as a Capuchin Franciscan priest, and then without license to preach or hear confessions. Yet the faithful came by the thousands to hear simple counsel from this ordinary man. “Be confident in your faith,” Solanus Casey would tell them. “Seek, and you will receive.”
On November 18, in Detroit’s Ford Field, the Catholic Church recognized this Capuchin Franciscan as Blessed Solanus Casey. Declaring him a saint seems only a matter of time—and one more sanctity-proving miracle. In the weeks before his beatification, we visited the Detroit center devoted to his message and memory. There we talked to ordinary folks and two Franciscan experts about the man about to be named Blessed Solanus.
What was his strongest trait? He had a reputation as one who had the biblical gift of healing, which is why many came to him. Capuchin author Father Marty Pable says that flowed from a deeper gift, his “confidence in faith.” Another Capuchin, Brother Richard Merling, assistant postulator for Casey’s canonization, says it was his compassion. We’ll get back to these friars shortly. But first, a little background.
Life of a Saint
The man we will know as Blessed Solanus was born Bernard (“Barney”) Francis Casey on a farm near Prescott, Wisconsin, in 1870. Within a few years his father, Barney Sr., moved the family to a newer, bigger house, described later in life by Friar Solanus, with tongue in cheek, as a “one-story mansion, about 12 by 30 feet.” (He was known for his sense of humor.) The big room was divided to accommodate all 11 of the Caseys at night—parents in one section, kids in the other. The snowbanks sometimes mounted as high as the gable roof, he later recalled, not atypical for country living in Wisconsin winters.
His parents were first-generation Irish Americans. From his parents, Barney picked up folk traditions, songs, and storytelling—and a deep piety—of the old country. He would hold these for the rest of his life, most notably his seemingly constant prayer, his gift for listening to people’s stories and connecting to them. Then there was his (debatable) talent for playing the fiddle (see sidebar below).
In his religious family, Barney the younger found himself naturally devoted to the Blessed Mother. He loved his rosary. No doubt he prayed it every other Sunday, when his half of the family alternated going to Mass with the other, for lack of space in the horse and wagon.
Of his life on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, he later wrote that he had “never seen a picture in Bible history or elsewhere so nearly like an earthly paradise.”
But there were hard times. After two years of failed crops, the family decided that 17-year-old Barney should head to nearby Stillwater and find work. He worked at the log booms, unjamming felled trees as they floated to mills downriver. Then he moved to Superior, Wisconsin, where he was a conductor on the streetcar—a new invention at that time. He fell in love with a young woman and proposed marriage, but her parents wouldn’t allow it.
Along the way, God was calling him in another direction. One day in 1891, it all came into focus in Superior. Barney had to stop his streetcar because a beating was taking place amid a crowd, blocking the tracks. An injured woman was on the ground; a drunken man threatened her with a knife until police arrived. Casey “saw this as a kind of microcosm of all the violence and anger in the world,” writes a biographer. He felt called to do something about it, something different with his life than operating streetcars. He sought counsel from his pastor and discerned his call. He would, in his words, try to make the world better by serving God as a priest. He was accepted at St. Francis Seminary of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
One could go on, but here are the keys to Casey’s Milwaukee seminary experience: Classes were taught in German. He was Irish. Try as he might, he remained a poor student academically. And he had a noticeable rebellious streak. He was sent home.
God was still calling, though. His spiritual advisor recommended the Capuchins to him. At St. Bonaventure Seminary in Detroit, Casey’s holiness shone, but still there were classes in German. He didn’t do well with Latin, either. Due to his academic deficiencies, the order made use of the now-antiquated practice of ordaining him a simplex priest, without faculties to preach or to hear confessions. Today he might have been declined ordination.
In Brooklyn, his first assignment, he was eventually appointed to help the porter, the friar who answers the door and interacts with visitors on behalf of the Franciscan community. It was there at the door, in New York parishes for 14 years, then in Detroit for 30 years, that Casey would make his mark, counseling people and praying for their healing. Healing came to many.
A Legacy of Love
Casey personally interacted with thousands of visitors over his career. In fact, most of those had come to the Capuchin Franciscan monasteries specifically to talk with Casey, whose healing reputation had spread. Today, families keep living memories of him.
Visiting Detroit’s Solanus Casey Center one day in August of this year, Shirley Smitz tells the story of her miraculous life. “I had a deadly kidney disease when I was 6,” Smitz, now in her 60s, explains. After she had received six transfusions without remission, her mother, Mary Waters, came to St. Bonaventure to ask for Casey’s prayers.
Mary, now elderly, sits close by, occasionally nodding in agreement as Smitz continues: “After my mother returned to the hospital, there was a doctor’s examination. The doctors came out and said, ‘Mrs. Waters, your daughter is well. It’s gone!’ The doctors didn’t know how it happened.” There are hundreds of miraculous stories connected to Father Casey in Detroit.
“He was a very humble and simple man,” says Capuchin Brother Richard, “and people were very attracted to that. They knew that he was a man who had the gift of healing . . . not only physical healing, but spiritual and relational healing.” Physical healing didn’t always come, he adds—Casey was no magician.
Brother Richard tells the story of one woman—whose husband was in the hospital and too ill to come to the monastery—coming to ask Casey to pray for a miracle. She asked him if he would call her husband and pray with him. Casey agreed, and, talking with her husband, said, “I’m praying that you will have a happy death.” The woman was dumbfounded, says Brother Richard. “That’s not what she came for!” he says with a knowing grin. But the man died happy: “He was so at peace with the fact that he was going to die. He accepted it all.”
Are all of these stories really believable? Father Marty jumps in: “I think they’re very believable. Once you grant that his faith in God’s power, in God’s love, was so strong, nothing is surprising when you think about it.” People were not always healed, Father Marty is quick to add—this is about God’s will for each of us. “But you always felt better; you always felt some kind of spiritual lift when you talked to Solanus.”
Feeding the Poor
Casey’s work at the door brought him in touch with people with every sort of need. As the Great Depression overtook the land in 1929, hungry people came to him for help. That was the beginning of a soup kitchen ministry that continues to this day.
In the beginning, he would give away some of the evening supper for the community, explains Brother Richard. “The cook would just be furious at that—you could understand it, in some sense,” he continues. “But Father Solanus had this sense that these people needed it.”
It wasn’t long before the Capuchin Soup Kitchen was established. There’s nothing like giving away someone’s supper to motivate action! “During the time of the Depression, they had close to four or five thousand people a day—they had lines going both directions down the block, around the corner on both ends,” says Brother Richard. The Secular Franciscans, a lay order founded by St. Francis, was strongly present, associated with the friars in Detroit. Urged by Casey and the other friars, they took it upon themselves to head out by horse and buggy to collect food from nearby farms and work at the kitchen.
Today there remain two soup kitchens. The original one, where the Solanus Casey Center is today, was moved a few blocks away from the monastery. Now it serves about 300 meals per day, says Brother Richard. The second location, closer to downtown, serves 1,500 meals daily. The kitchens provide an array of services—a story in their own right—in the spirit of Casey, who would say, echoing St. Francis himself, “I have two loves: the sick and the poor.”
Patience of a Saint
Casey was indefatigable, listening to people’s stories for as long as they needed to talk, praying with them well into the evening. It was a boon but also a challenge to his brother friars, especially as he went into overtime. The people “all waited their turn,” says Brother Richard, even waiting for Casey when other friars were available.
“There were chairs set up, and the biographies say nobody would seem to get upset because they knew that they would get the same attention.” The friars, in turn, were patient with the visitors, Brother Richard explains, then Father Marty jumps in: “Except the brother who was in charge at the front desk. He would say: ‘Casey, get a move on!’” Closing time was supposed to be 9 p.m.
Just as one might imagine a saint would do, Casey would then sometimes retire to the chapel “to pray a little.” Or he would answer the door before hours, early in the morning: “The other friars are too tired,” he said. In the middle of the night once, Casey met a drunken man at the door. “Where’s Father Solanus?” he demanded. “Why do you want him?” asked the priest. “I want to kill him!” the man said. “Well, we’ll need to talk about that,” said Casey, and invited the man in. As he sobered up, his story came out, and he sought confession. Casey insisted that he come back the next day to see a priest. “Tell him you’ve talked with me, and it will go quickly,” he added.
Casey’s work continued essentially till the end of his life. He had retired to St. Felix Monastery in Huntington, Indiana, but the people followed him. Father Marty, who lived there as a seminarian when Casey was in retirement, remembers that a box of letters would arrive daily, letters Casey would answer individually.
The once-quiet phone line was constantly ringing with requests to talk with the healing priest. But Casey would find time to wander around Huntington in the evenings, smelling the flowers, taking in nature, even harvesting honey from hives the friars kept. He died in 1957, at age 86, after several illnesses.
Today, interest in Solanus Casey is by no means limited to the places he lived. “Once he died, people started coming here and praying at his tomb, his gravesite, and felt that many wonderful things were happening,” says Brother Richard. Those people even come from countries afar. Healing services, up until recently held monthly at the monastery chapel, are now happening every two weeks.
Much of this renewed interest is related to the Solanus Casey Guild, which grew rapidly after Casey’s death to ensure he would be remembered. The drive that has promoted Casey’s canonization cause was part of that effort from the beginning. Brother Richard is the guild’s director. He says membership went from 60 members to 600 in its first month back in 1957, and kept growing. It had 100,000 members at one point, reports Brother Richard.
A Lasting Memory
Later this month, Father Marty and Brother Richard will look out at the crowd in Ford Field as bishops, cardinals, and Capuchins lead 60,000 in the beatification Mass. The day of festivity will be for something they have known all along: this man was a saint.
If Brother Richard had to say one thing that we could most imitate in Solanus Casey’s life, it would be his “compassion and understanding of other people.”
For Father Marty, it is Casey’s “sense of God’s presence and God’s goodness. I think that’s what Solanus tried to communicate to people. God is here, and he’s here for you. You can trust in God.”
Perhaps capturing some of Casey’s humor, Brother Richard imitates the holy man’s high-pitched, soft voice as the two friars recall, almost in unison, a refrain of Casey’s: “Trust in God; trust in God!”
Yet, “there’s nothing spectacular about him,” observes Father Marty. “He had no charisma at all! He didn’t preach, for one thing. He just had that gentleness, love, and compassion—people just sensed it; they were drawn to him.”
As Blessed Solanus Casey, even more will be.
Solanus Casey’s Infamous Fiddle
For a decade starting in 1946, Father Solanus Casey lived in semiretirement at St. Felix, then a 60-member Capuchin house in Huntington, Indiana. The facility was part school, part retirement home. Every Sunday evening, there were socials that all the friars were expected to attend. “He would have us listen to him playing the violin and singing ‘Mother Machree’ [a sentimental Irish favorite],” recalls Capuchin Father Marty Pable. “The events were kind of boring, frankly,” he says, laughing. “Sometimes he would try and play the violin in the priests’ recreation room, and they would turn the radio up! He got the hint, and he would go out to chapel and play before the Blessed Sacrament.”
Brother Richard Merling affirms that, recalling a fiddle story from one of Casey’s work partners, the late Brother Leo Wollenweber: “He would go out and play in front of the statues. He knew they weren’t going to take off!” For all of the kidding, though, there are some who enjoyed Casey’s playing. Brother Richard tells his own story of Casey coming to talk with an ailing relative and offering a tune on his newly restrung violin. The priest liked an audience. “Maybe he was having a good day,” says Brother Richard. Laughing now, he tells of the sarcastic reception his news got back home. He excitedly told some brothers, “We got to hear Father Solanus playing the violin! ‘Yeah,’ they said. ‘So did we!’”
God knows best, and, while we’ll still hope for a favorable surprise, we can hardly do better than not only being resigned to whatever God permits but even beforehand to thank Him for His mercifully loving designs.
—Solanus Casey, letter to a person in Detroit
Solanus’s struggle to find his place as a priest and member of the Capuchins followed him, in a sense, to his first assignment. Sacred Heart parish in the New York suburb of Yonkers, where Solanus arrived in 1904, looked down from a hill onto the Hudson River. The view from his window reminded Solanus of his childhood home in Wisconsin.
Solanus’s simplex status presented a problem to the pastor of Sacred Heart, Father Bonaventure Frey. Father Frey, who had cofounded the Capuchin order in the United States and established the parish, had admitted Solanus into the Capuchin novitiate seven years earlier in Detroit. Now he was faced with the question of how to employ an apparently holy priest who could not do the regular parish work of hearing confessions and preaching at Masses.
Father Bonaventure ended up putting Solanus in charge of the church’s sacristry and of the altar boys. In this and in his future assignments, Solanus, though a member of the clergy who had studied theology for ten years, performed the tasks of unordained brothers.
Solanus was strict but fair with the boys, quick to reproach them for lack of reverence in their tasks but also eager to reward them for good service with walks to the park, stops for ice cream and subway trips to the beach, Manhattan, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and baseball games. The boys knew he cared about them, and they loved playing baseball with the catcher who refused to wear a mask.
The Holy Priest
After a couple of years Father Frey retired, and a new pastor, Father Aloysius Blonigen, came to Sacred Heart. Quite soon he gave Solanus a new assignment: that of porter for the monastic community and the church office.
As porter Solanus answered the door, tracked down friars who had visitors and handled messages and packages. He swept the sidewalk in the morning and talked with people in the neighborhood. Sometimes he ran inside and came out with food to give away. Other times people asked him to visit an afflicted person at home. He became known as “the holy priest,” as in “Go get the holy priest,” when someone was in need.
Especially when people were sick, more and more often someone came to the monastery and asked for Solanus. People noted his sensitivity and gentleness. “If you were sick, he hurt with you. He was very compassionate. He could say a few words to you and you would be perfectly at ease.”
Solanus demonstrated an openness to all people, including non-Catholics. At this early point in his ministry, his visiting took him to non-Catholic homes where Catholic servants who belonged to the parish were employed. In time Protestants, Jews, people of many faiths and races as well as nonbelievers came to see him. While inviting non-Catholics to consider the “claims” of the Catholic faith, he respected people’s religious commitments and encouraged them to live up to those commitments. Commenting on his definition of religion, “the science of our happy relationship with God and our neighbors,” Solanus wrote, “There can be but one religion, though there may be a thousand different systems of religion.”
One woman saw a rabbi with a cane come to visit Solanus every week. “Now he had faith and I was full of doubts,” the woman said. “But when I saw him walk away without the use of his cane, then I believed.”
The other doorkeepers embodied this same ecumenical spirit. André invited everyone to pray at the oratory, including Protestants and Jews. Many Protestant military personnel attended Pio’s Masses during World War II; he was reportedly friendly with all of them (though he had little patience for Jehovah’s Witnesses) and never pressured them to convert to Catholicism. “If they intend to convert,” he said, “the Lord will show a way.”
In the context of everyday acts of concern and service, Solanus’s gifts began to make themselves known. He once went to visit a woman who had given birth and was suffering from a life-threatening infection. He immediately asked for holy water. The family had none, so he sent Carmella Petrosino, a girl who acted as a gobetween and translator for Solanus and the Italian immigrants in the parish, to her home to get some. When she returned, Solanus prayed over the sick woman and blessed her, “and from then on the woman got over her infection and lived a long time afterward.
During the World War I years, he developed the habit of visiting families in the parish who had men going into the armed forces. Solanus would pray with the family for their safety and bless the departing men. Sometimes he would predict their safe return.
The Sisters of St. Agnes, who served the parish, noticed this ability to predict the future. They would say to one another, “If in June, when you go back to the motherhouse in Wisconsin, Father Solanus says, ‘See you in September,’ you will be coming back; if he just says ‘Goodbye,’ you will be transferred.”
Solanus just seemed to know. As his ministry developed, he gave prophetic words of encouragement to many: “Tomorrow at 9 o’clock,” “in two days at 3 o’clock,” or “within a short time,” “if you have faith these troubles will disappear.”
Perhaps this prescient gift served Solanus’s own well-being when his parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. He made the long trip to Seattle for the event, where he celebrated Mass with his two priest brothers, Maurice and Edward. Aprogram of tributes, songs and poetry followed.
It was the last time Solanus would see his parents. Two years later his father died while saying a prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows. Three years after that his mother died of pneumonia during the noontime ringing of the Angelus bells. Though Solanus could not be present for their funerals, the memory of their anniversary celebration was perhaps a great comfort. And the circumstances surrounding their deaths served as reminders of the gift of faith they had given him.
The Front-Door Ministry
In July 1918, after Solanus had served for fourteen years at Sacred Heart, his superiors transferred him to a Capuchin parish in lower Manhattan, Our Lady of Sorrows. His new assignment began the same day as the transfer. His journey from the country to the suburbs to the city was now complete.
Father Venantius Buessing, his new superior, made him the sacristan, as he had once been in Yonkers, and also director of a parish young woman’s group, or sodality. Though Solanus could not preach formal homilies, he could deliver short exhortations, known as “ferverinos,” to this group on the Scripture for the day. Solanus worked hard on these “homilettes,” frequently speaking of God’s love and the challenge to accept and respond to it. About fourteen of the homilies have been preserved.
At Our Lady of Sorrows Solanus had more time to himself, and these three years in the heart of the city were a kind of retreat for him. He studied Scripture and read piles of books dealing with the saints, the church fathers and mystical writings. He also devoted himself to personal prayer.
The provincial chapter of 1921 moved Solanus yet again, sending him to the Capuchin parish of Our Lady, Queen of Angels in Harlem, where he resumed the duties of porter. Starting in Yonkers, but especially in Harlem and later when he returned to Detroit, his frontdoor ministry took on the form that it would have for the rest of his life.
Solanus sat in an office near the door. People came and waited to talk with him. In their time with him they told him of their problems: sick loved ones, marital troubles, estranged family members, unemployment, looming surgeries, drinking problems, depression, anxiety. Invariably Solanus listened with attention. He sometimes laid his hands on a sick person and prayed. In other cases he promised to pray for the person’s needs, which he did in the chapel after he had fulfilled his other responsibilities.
After hearing about a difficult situation, sometimes Solanus looked away into space. It seemed he would receive an intuition. He could see into the problem, what the need was and how it would turn out. Returning to the person, he would speak very gently and with great compassion, offering advice and comfort.
Solanus encouraged his visitors to “do something to please the Dear Lord”8 as a sign of faith and commitment, like helping the needy, going to confession, returning to regular prayer and participation in the sacraments. He often persuaded them to join the Seraphic Mass Association (SMA). Founded in Switzerland at the turn of the twentieth century, the association raised money to support Capuchin missions throughout the world. In exchange for a small contribution, Capuchins worldwide would remember SMA members in Masses and other prayers.
Solanus saw many values in the SMA. It supported the Capuchin missions, encouraged appreciation for the benefits of the Mass and the mission of the church and gave the people he talked with a way to give as well as ask for something. So many new SMA memberships came in through Solanus’s work that he became an official promoter of the association. People tended to want Solanus rather than another friar to sign them up for the SMA, as more favors seemed to flow for the members he enrolled.
Solanus also visited inmates at a Harlem prison. Now he went to minister to, not guard, the prisoners, who were largely poor African Americans. He said Mass, talked with them, gave them newspapers and Christmas cards and administered “the pledge”—a promise not to drink for a certain time after they were released from jail.
Answers to Prayer
Solanus’s ministry at the front door produced results. Sick relatives became better. Estranged spouses reconciled. Personal problems resolved themselves. People were coming back to Solanus to tell him about these favors and blessings. “Thank God!” and “God is good!” Solanus would say. He reminded them that the blessing came not from him but from God, and through the many Capuchin priests around the world who had offered Masses for their intentions.
Solanus had been noting answers to prayers as early as 1901. Perhaps he had some inkling of his gifts even as a novice, when he wrote in his notebook, “Beware of congratulating thyself on the blessings wrought through thy medium.”
When the Capuchin provincial, Father Benno Aichinger, visited the friary in Harlem in 1923, he told Solanus to begin keeping a record of his visits with people. Ever obedient and dutiful, Solanus acquired a notebook and wrote under the first entry: “Nov. 8th, 1923….Father Provincial wishes notes to be made of special favors reported through the Seraphic Mass Association.” For example, a woman enrolled her sister, who suffered from severe pain, and later reported, “Thank God and the good prayer society, I’m feeling fine.”10 Every third or fourth entry recorded a similar positive outcome.
By 1956 Solanus had filled seven of these “Notebooks of Favors Reported” with more than six thousand entries. At that time one of Solanus’s assistants, Father Blase Gitzen, had so many reports of cures through the intercession of Solanus that he “eventually threw them away.”
The number of Solanus’s visitors continued to grow, but in July 1924 he found out that he was to move from New York to the Capuchins’ provincial headquarters in Detroit, St. Bonaventure’s Monastery. In the peremptory ways of religious life in those days, he received the news on July 30 and had to be in Detroit on August 1. He packed immediately and was on the train the next day.
At St. Bonaventure’s Solanus became an assistant to the longtime porter, Brother Francis Spruck, and picked up where he had left off in New York. It didn’t take long for large numbers of people to begin coming to talk with him. Soon the friars left the door unlocked and put a sign over the doorbell that said, “Walk In.”
Some days Solanus’s time in the office lasted from 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM.“From morning to night he would be listening to persons with worries and cares and disturbances, and with all the humility and all the patience in the world he would give them fatherly advice and often enkindle their courage and hope and reassure them in a brief time their troubles would be finished or counsel them to be resigned to suffer with Christ.”13 Solanus’s evening prayer for people stretched his day out to as much as eighteen hours.
Though thousands of people poured out their hearts to him, Solanus could not give absolution for sins because of his simplex status. Instead he worked out a system with one of the other priests, such as Father Herman Buss at St. Bonaventure’s. After hearing a petitioner’s story, he would say, “Now go over to the church and I’ll call Father Herman and he’ll go over to hear your confession….Now you told the whole story. Just give a résumé to Father Herman. He will understand that you talked to me and he’ll give you absolution.”
Following God’s Plan
Visits with Solanus in his office frequently concluded with his giving a blessing. In the words of Brother Leo Wollenweber, “Standing—a tall, thin, almost gaunt figure—he would place his hands with their crooked arthritic fingers on the head of the person and softly pray. Sometimes he might playfully tap the person on the head or cheek” and give the person a smile, accompanied by his “twinkling blue eyes.”
“When he was speaking with you,” another Capuchin said, “you felt that he was constantly Godcentered, on fire with love for God, and constantly Godconscious, seeming always to have his eyes on God. He seemed to see everything as flowing from God and leading back to God.”
Solanus never seemed to lose patience under the crush of visitors, despite the long hours he kept. And his patience spawned patience in the people waiting to see him. They knew that he had time for them, and he treated each as if he or she were the most important person in the world. Even when people had to wait for hours, they remained peaceful. “Somehow the sense was that Solanus would take as much time with everybody as was needed, and that somehow this was all part of God’s plan.”
Rarely did Solanus speak of the hardships of his ministry. In a letter to his past assistant Brother Leo, he qualified his “complaint” by pointing out that his calling far outweighed the pain he experienced: “Even though fraught with dangers, it has many advantages, if only we be of good will, and cooperate with the graces never failing on God’s part and [that of] our Blessed Mother. Sometimes of course it becomes monotonous and extremely boring, till one is nearly collapsing.” But with typical humility Solanus added, “In such cases it helps to remember that even when Jesus was about to fall the third time, he patiently consoled the women folk and children of his persecutors, making no exception.”
“That poor sinner Solanus,” he once told Brother Leo, “more than anyone else gave me trouble as long as I was in St. Bonaventure’s.” Deflecting the focus from those who burdened him with their troubles, he once asked someone to “Breathe a little [prayer] for the conversion of the poor sinner Solanus who makes so little progress in faith, hope, and charity.”