I am a Catholic through and through, right from the beginning, all the way through 16 years of elementary, high school and college; 27 years (and counting) of marriage and family life; and a professional life largely spent working in the Catholic Press in New York. The religion runs deep with me, in ways in which I am not always even consciously aware.
The Church is a place where I find comfort, a sense of belonging, a valid and sustaining belief structure and a personal experience of God through the Mass, the sacraments and the other people who share a worshiping community that dates to Jesus’ time among us.
There is, however, one element of our Catholic faith that has always seemed to elude my understanding—sainthood. I should clarify that the elusiveness does not involve any teaching about the canonization process or the great mystical nature of some saints’ lives and ministries.
It is a little more elemental than that. Many Catholic friends and colleagues have their favorite saints, whom they often follow with devotion and love. Two recently canonized saints, St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta, both have legions of devotees, as do St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who are both known for their works of service and holiness in New York.
While I admire all of those saints, I don’t have a deep personal connection with any of them. There is one future (hopefully) saint with whom I do feel a bond. We wrote about Capuchin Franciscan Father Solanus Casey in our last issue when Pope Francis announced that his cause for beatification has been approved and that Father Solanus will be beatified later this year in Detroit, where he spent most of his long priestly ministry.
My interest in Father Solanus stems from back to back columns I wrote in late 2009 and early 2010. The first one was sparked when he was inadvertently left out of a series we published about New Yorkers whose causes for canonization were open. After all, Father Solanus served here in the archdiocese for 20 years near the beginning of the 20th century, the bulk of that time at Capuchin-run Sacred Heart parish in Yonkers as well as shorter tenures at Our Lady of Sorrows in Lower Manhattan and the former Our Lady Queen of Angels in East Harlem. He also served at St. Michael’s parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
So, Father Solanus was a New Yorker. That’s the first reason I like him. If that were the only connection, I never would have written the second column. That one was sparked when I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver’s license.
As I advanced to the window for my eye exam, I glanced down at the clerk’s workspace and saw a sheet of paper with a picture of Father Solanus, with his name neatly hand-printed, and a typed quote of his before me. It read, “Man’s greatness lies in being faithful to the present moment.”
I could not resist asking the clerk about her Father Solanus trove. She explained that she had recently seen a television program about him and that she admired his gentle manner. She thought it had a lot to do with his willingness to listen to others, and she said she tried to follow his example in that regard.
At that time, I squirreled away some Father Solanus materials of my own, holy cards sent by a few readers along with booklets about the Capuchin Franciscan priest. In subsequent years, I’d add a bit more from time to time. I looked around for them this past week when I knew I was writing this column and found them tucked away in a drawer in my bedside nightstand.
Father Solanus often shows up in unlikely places where I least expect to encounter him. Capuchin Franciscan priests and others who know much more than I do about his life say that my experience is not unique. I look forward to more surprises in the future.