Thank God ahead of time. This sentence nearly leapt off the page of a thin book of collected quotes by Father Solanus Casey that I purchased at the St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. I was a young college student, and my faith was in its springtime as I embraced my singlehood to grow and mature in everything related to Catholicism. I only ended up at the Capuchin monastery, because my mother had invited me to a one-day pilgrimage there. Having never heard of Father Solanus before that day, I eagerly accepted her invitation without expectation of what might happen or how I might be inspired.
But Father Solanus’s life changed mine that day as I traced his footsteps through the building, feeling his presence strongly with me. It was as if Father Solanus came to life that day, and everything biographical about him captivated me in an instant. His writings, too, were simple and yet incredibly profound. I knew I met a kindred saint that day, despite the fact that he was not even beatified.
My mother’s interest in Father Solanus began with a casual conversation with her friend who owned the local Catholic bookstore in our area. He explained that Father Solanus spent quite a bit of time in his later years living in our diocese, which piqued her interest further. Then she heard some amusing personal stories from friends whose parents had known him, and somehow the camaraderie between Father Solanus and my mom was sealed.
I knew that day as I pondered his life and legacy why my mom asked me to join her. The depth of my affinity towards this plain and quiet Franciscan perplexed me at first, mostly because I was the scholarly type who enjoyed intellectual debates and analyzing research in my spare time. Father Solanus was nothing like me, but I was drawn to him. I wanted to be more like him spiritually: poor in spirit and pure of heart.
After that pilgrimage, I began to ask for Father Solanus’s intercession, but only sporadically. College and then graduate studies overwhelmed and distracted me, but his memory remained captured in my psyche. From time to time I would wonder rhetorically (and silently), How can I be like Father Solanus? How can I grow in such humility and with joy in being considered nothing?
You see, Father Solanus scrubbed the toilets at the monastery not only without complaint but, in fact, with great interior peace and joy. I couldn’t fathom doing such a thing were I in his position, because my pride was too great. But Father Solanus accepted what was given to him – whether it was bodily injury or a menial and demeaning task – with incredible resignation to the Divine Will. He gave all to and for God. That is what attracted me to his charism.
Years later, I found myself masked in darkness as I faced a dreaded c-section with our second daughter, Sarah, after an intense 24-hour labor. My pride in shambles, I wept openly in front of perfect strangers who prepped me for the operation. My heart was inconsolable, yet somewhere in the abyss of my fear, a tiny voice said to me, Say a prayer to Father Solanus.
Instantly I offered a silent supplication to my Capuchin friend in Heaven, and my heart was still and quiet. I sensed a Heavenly presence, though I uttered not a word to a single person, including my husband, Ben. And the operation not only went flawlessly, but I was told by the on-call obstetrician that it was “miraculous.” (I tell this story in greater detail in my forthcoming book, From Grief to Grace, published by Sophia Institute Press.)
When Sarah entered the world, I knew Father Solanus had a hand in her life, because the circumstances surrounding her birth were so visibly holy. So I requested a third class relic badge with a piece of cloth touched to his tomb that I brought to Sarah’s surgeries. Whenever we bring out the relic badge, it’s inevitable that the O.R. nurses comment favorably, often sharing their own faith stories with Ben and me. Many of them are Catholic and promise to pray for Sarah and the surgical team during the operation.
It’s incredible how such a seemingly insignificant and simple piece of cloth encased in plastic can draw people out of themselves and into the eternal. But that’s how Father Solanus operated in life, and he has certainly continued this mission after his death. As I type this, Sarah is nearing her sixth surgery, and my fears of the unknown, as well as the dormant grief, have resurfaced. But I am calm when I see Father Solanus’s smiling face. I am calmed because of his faith and especially his trust in God’s providence.
My devotion to Father Solanus came full circle when I attended a lovely Catholic writers retreat and had the opportunity to go to Confession. The priest, whom I had never met before that day, said to me, “You need to invoke Father Solanus Casey’s intercession when you feel you don’t have time to write. He is saying to you, ‘Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie. God has all the time in the world. You just have to ask Him for it.’”
Astonished, I briefly shared with the priest about my devotion to Father Solanus, and he offered a knowing smile. I could hear Father Solanus gently encouraging me with these words, which I have since taken to heart in my daily prayers. When I feel discouraged over the constant state of elevated stress and tension in our home and family, I remember those words. When I am inspired to write but do not have the time during the day, I remember those words. Even more, I ask God to give me His time when I simply do not have enough of my own, and He always grants me some lull in my day as an opportunity to pause, pray, reflect, and often, to write.
Many argue that “there’s a saint for everybody,” but I would say that Father Solanus is a saint for everyone. I think his appeal to both rich and poor, educated and uneducated, spiritually apathetic and zealous, and young or old is because of his childlike simplicity. He didn’t fret when he endured struggles and trials, because he knew everything was a gift from God, and everything was an opportunity to become someone more than he was that day. That’s the universal application for us in our frenetic culture: to pause in gratitude for all God has given us (both the blessings and perceived misfortunes and mishaps), to embrace the present moment with a humble heart, and not to worry about what may or may not happen tomorrow. With confidence, we can pray along with Father Solanus, thanking God ahead of time for what may come our way.