My friend and colleague, Barbara Jean Daly Horell (B.J.), is the grand-niece of the recently beatified Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap. (her grandmother was Fr. Solanus’ sister!). You may not know much about Fr. Solanus, but you may have heard that his Beatification Mass in November was held at Ford Field in Detroit and that the stadium was filled to capacity.
After B.J. attended the Beatification Mass along with many members of her extended family, I asked her to share her thoughts with us about what it’s like to be related to someone who has been declared “Blessed.” As you will see, her reflections point outward, as all authentically Catholic things do. Blessed Solanus Casey may be related to her by blood, B.J. explains, but in the heart of Christ, he belongs to the whole human family.
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One of my favorite “days of Christmas” is the Feast of the Holy Family. My three children were all baptized on the Feast of the Holy Family. Every year we celebrate with gifts and special foods, and we lift up the holy family as our model for the new year. Of course, we walk in holiness no more, and maybe no less, than most Catholic families of our generation. But we have been gifted with one special grace. We were raised into a kind of “heart-knowing” of one who is unequivocally holy: my granduncle, Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM, Capuchin.
Fr. Solanus died five years before my birth, so there are many who speak with more authority about Fr. Solanus than I: my cousin Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, for example. She is a Casey of my own generation, whom I know and love. She was privileged to have met Fr. Solanus face-to-face, as God spoke to Moses. I am more like one of the crowd of underlings in the Book of Exodus, struggling with brazen calves but still hoping to be true, as my granduncle was true.
Fr. Solanus deeply loved his huge Casey family. He kept close to his parents and siblings, even from Detroit when most of them had resettled in Seattle. Family letters through the years, though, show the comfort he continued to draw from his mother in particular. Two lines of a poem he wrote speaks to me of his love for his parents: “Everyone needs someone, knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you.” And it’s true that from Solanus’ holy parents he came to his unshakeable devotion to Our Mother Mary, a love relationship which only deepened what has been called his “astonishing familiarity” with Father, Son and Spirit.
The family connection goes both ways, though. So as lately born as I was, I still grew up knowing Fr. Solanus with a profound “heart connection.” Really, he looked so much like my Jesuit uncle (his nephew) Fr. John McCluskey, who literally bounced me on his knee (and I have pictures to prove it!). Of course, the family resemblance went more than skin deep. When my mother and her siblings gathered in our home, the joy of the Casey clan echoed as if from the far away farmstead in Wisconsin, where Fr. Solanus was born and grew in holiness. It is said that my mother’s first word was “Whoopee!” This characteristic family joy accompanied a deep Irish mysticism that resonated God’s presence in the household as plainly and palpably as my fingers can feel my keyboard as I write. The prayers passed down to us were the same prayers said in voices that would be as familiar to Fr. Solanus as they are to me. We were cherished by our elders, who were themselves cherished by Genevieve, who was the cherished youngest child of the Bernard Casey family. Grandma surely picked up her Celtic mysticism from the “bricks and boards” of the old Prescott farmstead. Or so it seems to me. In November, when more than 350 Caseys gathered in Detroit to witness Fr. Solanus’ beatification, I felt at home among familiar strangers.
But the “graced connection” to Fr. Solanus was passed not primarily by common voice or tradition. It was always passed more fully by the heart and the spirit. Even though Fr. Solanus firmly “belongs” in my family, he never belonged to us in any way that excludes others. Fr. Solanus experienced his holy, joy-filled family and manifested that love with all. Fr. Solanus had a deep appreciation for the preciousness of every single person he met. I’m told that he had a way of being wholly present in every single moment and situation, so that his visitors didn’t mind waiting hours to meet with him at St. Bonaventure’s door.
Yes, I think Fr. Solanus cared for and was loved as family by almost every single person he ever met. In his final hours, a time when words reveal the heart so clearly, Fr. Solanus was overheard to say, “I can’t die yet. Not everyone loves Jesus!” This saying reminds me of St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Philippians 1:23-24).
Anyone who shares Fr. Solanus’ simplicity of faith, presence of mind, generosity of soul, and joy of heart, is part of his family. This is no more true of me than it is of Paula Medina Zarate, the Panamanian catechist whose 2012 healing at the tomb of Fr. Solanus resulted in his beatification. It is no more true of my mother than of Brother Richard Merling, tireless vice-postulator of Fr. Solanus’s Cause, who always offers us a welcome and a smile. It is no more true of my cousin Sr. Anne than of Mary, the Fr. Solanus Guild volunteer who opened her home to me when once I was stranded in Detroit. It is no more true of the cardinals who celebrated liturgy on November 18 in Ford Field than of the homeless and poor who brought the gifts to the altar that day. As all are known by Jesus, all are welcome to live in the heart of Blessed Solanus Casey.
Blessed Solanus lived a life that was not his own, but Christ’s, in kinship with “his two loves, the sick and the poor.” In his lifetime as now, Fr. Solanus desires nothing more than to walk with his family in faith. I invite you to get to know my Granduncle Barney. His presence “can’t die” because “not everyone loves Jesus yet.” Let this be the legacy of Blessed Solanus Casey and his whole extended, not-necessarily-by-birth family, among whom I am so grateful to be counted.
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B.J. Daly Horell is the Director of the Hartford Catholic Biblical School. She has a Masters from Harvard Divinity School with a concentration in Scripture. B.J. is also a trained spiritual director.
To learn more about Fr. Solanus Casey, click here.
For a USA Today article about the Beatification Mass, click here.
To view a short video of B.J.’s aunt, Sr. Anne Herkenrath, talking about Fr. Solanus, click here.
Click on the pictures below for a larger view.