The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 9, 2001 Issue
Local News

Capuchins seek Casey Center help

Venerable Solanus Casey celebrated his first Mass at St. Joseph in Appleton

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

Each year, more than 55,000 pilgrims visit St. Bonaventure Friary in Detroit to pray at the tomb of Fr. Solanus Casey, Capuchin.

In 1995, this extraordinary priest was declared "Venerable"-the first step toward formal declaration of sainthood in the Catholic Church. As the canonization process continues, the numbers of visitors to Fr. Casey's tomb are expected to increase. To accommodate the interest in his life and legacy, construction is under way for a $13 million, 41,000 square-foot Solanus Casey Center. Completion is scheduled for spring of 2002.

"The Solanus Casey Center will send Solanus' message of a deepening love of God and neighbor to everyone, especially the sick and poor," said Fr. Larry Abler, OFM, Cap. "This message will reverberate from every stone in the building and with every step that the pilgrims take."

Fr. Abler visited St. Joseph Parish, Appleton, last weekend, to tell the story of Fr. Casey and seek support for the new center. Fr. Casey celebrated his first Mass as a priest at St. Joseph's on July 31, 1904. He was born Bernard Casey near Prescott, Wis., overlooking the Mississippi River, in 1870.

Fr. Casey was a simple man and simple priest. Because of struggles with his studies, he nearly was not ordained and, following his ordination, was not allowed to preach formal sermons or hear confessions. Yet he had a profound effect on the world.

Fr. Casey offered a ministry of prayer and welcome. When he prayed with people, the sick would get well, the poor would prosper, the drunk would become sober and the unfaithful would restore their love of God.

In addition to his prayers and consolation, Fr. Casey, who served as porter of St. Bonaventure Friary, provided food to the hungry. During the Great Depression more than 5,000 people a day came to the friary to eat. Fr. Casey, with the help of the Secular Franciscans, founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, located at the friary, in 1929. Today it feeds more than 2,500 people daily.

"The soup kitchen has never been closed for more than three days in a row since it opened," said Fr. Abler. "Solanus started by making sandwiches and feeding people at the front door. People who came for food asked him to pray for them. This simple man touched so many people. He was even featured on the show Unsolved Mysteries. It was amazing."

When Fr. Casey died in 1957, approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. After his death, people continued to request his intercession. The Capuchins were asked to continue his work and oversee the process of his sainthood.

"We actually dragged our feet on the canonization process," said Fr. Abler. "It likely would have gone on in spite of us because of the affection people have for him. We would love to see it happen soon."

The Solanus Casey Center will include a gathering space, quiet space for reflection, an auditorium, a museum, a learning center, dining and kitchen areas, a religious book and gift shop, hospitality, first aid and comfort facilities, and renovated living quarters for friars. The tomb of Fr. Casey will remain in the friary chapel.

"We hope that everyone who visits the new center will be changed by the experience," said Fr. Abler. "Solanus was so devoted to the poor, the hungry and foreign missions. We hope that people come and stay for a while. We hope they ask themselves, 'How socially aware am I? How can I become more aware of the needs of my brothers and sisters?' The new center will share Solanus' life with future generations."

To contribute to the campaign or for more information, write to Father Solanus Casey Campaign, 1820 Mount Elliott Avenue, Detroit, MI 48207-3496 or call (313)579-2100, ext. 147.

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