Detroit, Michigan, 1957
Thirty-eight-year-old Gladys Feighan is overjoyed, on a visit to St. John Hospital from her home in Utica, New York, to learn that Fr. Solanus Casey, “the best-loved man in Detroit,” is a patient there. It has been a dream of hers for years to get to Fr. Solanus, revered by so many as a living saint; but for some time his Capuchin Franciscan superiors at St. Bonaventure’s Monastery have made it hard for anyone to see the ailing eighty-six-year-old priest.
Before that, when he was “retired” to a Capuchin house in Huntington, Indiana, she had actually prepared to make a trip there, but both her physician and her pastor advised against travel because of her pregnancy.
Terrified to lose another baby, she had listened to them. And lost another child, she reflects sorrowfully.
Mrs. Feighan is a sufferer from the Rh blood factor. Like most women with this problem, her first pregnancy was normal. But since her first child, she has had one miscarriage and two babies born dead.
An acquaintance with a similar history made that trip to Indiana and has three more living children to show for it.
Now Gladys sees the brown hooded robe of a Capuchin in the corridor. Running after it, she begs the brother who is looking out for Fr. Solanus if she can please see the ill man “for just a few minutes.” Br. Gabriel can make no promises. Frail old Fr. Solanus has been brought in by ambulance, very sick with a skin infection, maybe dying. And people have no consideration. A woman who asked to see him for a minute stayed over half an hour. . . . The more Brother talks, the lower Gladys’s face falls. But in the end, he says he’ll go ask.
What he doesn’t tell Mrs. Feighan is that to ask is an empty formality with Fr. Solanus: in his fifty-three years as a Capuchin priest, he has never said no to seeing anyone, whether it was the middle of the night, the middle of his meal, or the 150th person of a day. The man has absolutely no instinct for self-preservation. Because of his great devotion to his vow of obedience, he accepts the restrictions placed on him by superiors who know the mobs coming, phoning, and writing for his prayers day after day, year after year, have taken the last drops of the holy old friar’s strength. But he has been heard to groan to himself, “Oh, why must they keep me from seeing the people?” To give himself to God by giving himself to others until there is nothing left is the one desire of his Christlike heart.
Soon Gladys is in his room. Let her tell it as she related the experience for the book The Porter of Saint Bonaventure’s:
When I entered . . . Father Solanus was sitting at a little table. He welcomed me, asking me to sit down. “What is your name?” he asked.
“No — your given name?”
“What, Gladys, do you want from God?”
“I want a baby. Another baby.”
“A baby! For a woman to want a baby — how blessed. To hold God’s own creation in your own hands.”
I told him about my Rh factor; that I was well toward my middle thirties; that I feared it wouldn’t be long before I might be too old to bear children.
“I do so want another child,” I told him. “Perhaps I am selfish.”
“No,” he answered me, “you are not selfish. For a woman to want children is normal and blessed. Motherhood entails so many responsibilities — bringing up a child as it should be brought up is doing God’s work. One doesn’t always meet women who want children.”
[Gladys expressed concern about her children who had died before they could be baptized.]
“That’s not for you to concern yourself about,” he answered. “Just have confidence in our dear Lord’s infinite love.”
Father Solanus’s mind seemed above earthly things. He was ecstatic — so much so that I could hardly ask him a question. After answering my first few questions, he did nearly all the talking. His words to me were of God’s infinite love for us, and of how we should place all our confidence in that divine, all-embracing love. As he spoke, he was trembling with emotion. Finally he said, “Kneel down, and I will bless you, and your husband and all your family.”
The other Capuchin was there, and a Sister of St. Joseph [who was] one of the hospital sisters, and they knelt too.
Then he said to me, “You will have another child, Gladys. Your Blessed Mother will give you another child. You must believe this with all your heart and soul. You must believe this so strongly that before your baby is born you will get down on your knees and thank the Blessed Mother [for her intercession]. Because once you ask her, and thank her, there’s nothing she can do but go to her own Son and ask Him to grant your prayer that you have a baby.”
Tears were in his eyes.
When I reached home, I was shaken for a couple of days but uplifted. I felt confident, happy.
Not long after, on July 31, 1957, the mystic Franciscan, conscious to the last, died peacefully. He was buried in the small Franciscan graveyard next to St. Bonaventure’s. There, several years later, Gladys came with her children. She had become pregnant in 1962. Her doctors feared another dead child. But she was jubilant and confident. That confidence was rewarded — with twins.
Others had similar tales of graces received. The mother of Capuchin missionary Bishop Cuthbert Gumbinger told her son in 1959 that she attributed her recovery from a heart attack to the intercession of Solanus. Bishop Gumbinger was no doubter: Fr. Solanus had appeared to him in a dream and immediately afterward obtained several things the missionary needed.
Gladys Redfern was another grateful individual. In 1964 three examinations and x-rays showing a tumor in her breast, she entered Highland Park General Hospital in Detroit for surgery May 22, the following morning. In her prayers she was asking Father Solanus’s intercession that the lump might prove benign. That night the doctor stopped by her room and made his last examination before the operation. The lump was gone.
The Wonderworker of the Soup Kitchen
Because of his special love for the poor, Fr. Solanus loved to help out at the Capuchins’ soup kitchen whenever his callers gave him a free hour. Capuchin author Michael H. Crosby reports the two following incidents: Ray McDonough was a soup kitchen volunteer whose daughter Rita gave birth to a little girl with a clubfoot. Ray asked Fr. Solanus to visit the baby. The Franciscan did. Holding the little foot in one hand, he blessed it in the name of the Trinity. On the next viewing, the same doctor who had pointed out the clubfoot to the mother scratched his head and said that the foot was perfect. Baby Carol grew up to become a mother herself without ever having any foot trouble.
Arthur Rutledge, who worked for the fire department, was another soup kitchen volunteer. He was being rolled into the operating room in a Detroit hospital one day when Fr. Solanus happened by.
“Hey, Art, what’s up?”
Art explained he had a tumor.
“Where is it?”
“In my abdomen — my stomach.”
Solanus put his hand on the area.
“Have the doctors give you a last check before they operate,” he said a minute later before continuing down the hall.
Art did. The tumor was gone.
When he was “retired” to Indiana, Fr. Solanus also gave a helping hand to Fr. Elmer Stoffel, with whom he helped care for the Capuchins’ beehives. One day around 1950 Fr. Elmer was stung by several bees. When Solanus saw his confrere on the ground rolling in pain, he immediately blessed him. Elmer at that time was blind to Solanus’s holiness and, in fact, disliked him so much that he sent many a barbed comment the healer’s way. Yet, to his chagrin, he had to admit that the second he was blessed, the pain vanished.
William King of Detroit, the son of a Protestant clergyman, had serious eye trouble. His Catholic boss at the Grand Trunk Railway suggested he see Fr. Solanus. King demurred until his doctor said one of his eyes would have to be removed to try to save the sight in the other one. So dim was his vision that his wife had to lead him into the porter’s office. Fr. Solanus urged the couple, since they wanted a favor from God, to do something for Him in return. He suggested they begin attending their Protestant church every Sunday instead of just whenever they felt like it. King’s eyes were cured.
So were many other sick or weak eyes — like those of John J. Regan of the Detroit News. In 1929 hot casting lead (used in newspaper production) blew up in his face. When Mrs. Regan got to Harper Hospital, she saw her husband’s chart and the diagnosis “permanently blinded.” She passed out. Coming to, she rushed to Fr. Solanus, who promised her John would see. Back she ran to the physician who had just operated on her husband. He assured her gravely that was impossible: the best her husband could hope for would be to tell light from dark. Two weeks later, when John Regan’s eyes were unbandaged and he said, “I see you,” to the physician, the man declared it a miracle. Regan’s vision tested excellent.
As the 1940s opened, real-estate man Luke Leonard saw himself as “an alcoholic bum.” Living in a seedy hotel, he decided one day he was getting nowhere “tapering off.” Without any hope of success, he mustered the courage to quit cold turkey.
At once he plunged into the nightmare of delirium tremens, hallucinating monsters and trembling uncontrollably. Walking the streets hour after hour, he bought a soft drink, only to find he shook too badly to get it to his mouth unaided.
Low-voiced Fr. Solanus usually saw everyone in one room, but he took Leonard behind closed doors and let him pour out his fear, self-loathing, and near despair. Two or three times another friar peered in, saying, “Fr. Solanus, others are waiting, some from out of town.”
“Ask them to wait a little longer,” and the white-bearded priest went on listening.
Finally Leonard ran down. Fr. Solanus leaned toward him. “When did you get over your sickness?”
“You mean my drunk, Father?” Leonard replied, doubly astounded. In that era alcoholism was not considered an illness, nor could anyone consider Luke Leonard free of addiction. Then Fr. Solanus laughed, a laugh Leonard says was “gentle and encouraging.”
A few minutes later the drinker was back on the street, but now he felt, he says, “strengthened and with a free, elevated spirit.”
He never took another drink.
Fr. Solanus Casey Continues His Work
After Fr. Solanus’s death, some of his lay friends got the Capuchin’s’ permission to form the Father Solanus Guild. To them, Fr. Solanus’s life was a model for followers of Christ. To make that life known and promote his Cause, they collected both his writings — mainly letters — and testimonies about him from those he converted, counseled, and / or healed. In the twenty-first century, the Guild stocks biographies and other materials to help others know Fr. Solanus. It also continues to accept prayer requests for his intercession. The Guild’s own publication, like a visit with him, gives spiritual inspiration through Fr. Solanus’s words and reports healings and favors people are still ascribing to the humble Capuchin’s prayers.
As early as 1966, reports of twenty-four important cures after his death were sent to Rome, although his Cause was not formally opened until 1982. His heroic virtues have been recognized by the title Venerable since 1995.
The following sampling of reported cures testifies that Fr. Solanus after death is still as compassionate and willing to bring others’ needs to God as he was when he gently greeted the troubled and sick in places like New York and Detroit.
An Illinois woman writes: “When I was five months pregnant, I was hospitalized for an undiagnosed illness. For two to three weeks I had bouts of fever with extremely elevated heart rates. When no cure could be found, my aunt enrolled me in the Father Solanus Guild without my knowing it. The fever suddenly broke that very same day and did not return.” The letter next tells how the baby she bore was healed from the undeveloped-lungs syndrome that can menace infant lives.
Someone’s son, who has had a heart attack five years earlier, suffers cardiac arrest. His mother begs Fr. Solanus’s prayers. Twenty-four days later, the son is back at work. Best, tests show no damage to the heart.
A December 2008 report from England is another heart healing. “You [The Capuchins] kindly promised prayers for my heart . . . [They] were heard in a most unexpected way. When I saw the cardiology surgeon before Christmas, I was told that my enlarged heart was now normal size. It was hard to take in as I had never been told that this was possible.”
In 2009 Fr. Solanus’s prayers are sought that no one be hurt during work on a rickety old barn. The eighteen-year-old helper of the person praying suddenly plunges eight feet through an upper floor to land on rocks, just laughs, and walks away!
A person disabled for over twenty years but able to function independently becomes ashamed to go out because of drooling from a shaking mouth / chin. To the doctor’s surprise, after a month’s persistent prayers for Fr. Solanus’s intercession, the unsightly symptom vanishes.
A young husband sends his thanks. His wife had been in a Connecticut hospital where extensive tests reviewed by three doctors revealed lymphoma tumors in the kidney and pelvis. The man added his wife to those seeking the dead Capuchin’s intercessory prayers. Exploratory surgery found no malignancy — and no tumors. The letter ends, “I honestly think that Fr. Solanus’s intercession resulted in a clean bill of health.”
From New York, a 2006 report: “A chest x-ray revealed something suspicious on one lung. A CT scan was ordered. Cancer was suspected so a PET scan followed. Turning to Solanus’ prayers, the patient four days later received good news: all negative, probably just a scar from childhood pneumonia.”
From New England, the grateful parent of a fifteen-year-old boy writes:
My son, age 15, was diagnosed as having lymphoma [cancer of the lymph-node system]. Two biopsies were done. The surgeon told us that he was quite sure the biopsies would be malignant and that we should not even consider that they would be benign. We were devastated, but we told the surgeon that we believed in miracles. We asked for the intercession of Fr. Solanus.
Praise be to God, the biopsies were benign and the surgeon was amazed. My son had further testing with an oncologist and all was fine. I thank Fr. Solanus for his intercession and I praise the Holy Name of God. Fr. Solanus’s intercession must be so powerful before the throne of God.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Patricia Treece’s Nothing Short of a Miracle: God’s Healing Power in Modern Saints, which is available through Sophia Institute Press.