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FORUM: Meet 'the Doorkeeper': Solanus Casey, a Man Without Ego

A Catholic Hall of Famer for sure, and quite the contrast to the gaggle of egotists that bombard us daily with their ‘I think’ wisdom

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This reflection is contributed by Larry Peterson of the Catholic Writers’ Guild.

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The 2016 election (more than a year away) has already worn me down. The pundits include the greatest thinkers of our time. I know this because virtually all of the TV and radio commentators, campaign officials, editorial writers, government officials, TV talk show hosts, comedians and, of course the candidates are always saying, “I THINK…this” or I THINK…that.” Those folks sure do a lot of thinking. And I know it must be important thinking because the ones doing all the thinking are doing it on TV, radio, in print or somewhere in cyber-land. It MUST be important, right? Wrong!

They are all experts in everything you can think of and, filled with their own sense of grandiosity, they vilify, name-call, and besmirch those with an opposing viewpoint or philosophy. They even attack their opponent’s families. Then you hear the great Machiavellian disclaimer of, “Hey, that’s politics.” You know what, I have my own phrase for all of it: rude, obnoxious, self-gratified egomania. I’m so over it.

I decided to begin a search for someone sans EGO. I was sure it would be almost next to impossible. But guess what? It was not. We Catholics celebrate the great feast of All Saint’s Day on November 1. The saints are members of the Catholic Hall of Fame (I call it that). They are the best of the best, the crème de le crème, the most selfless of the unselfish. These are the people who loved God unconditionally and, in some cases, failed many times before they got it right. But they all invariably emptied themselves for others before they died, many times giving their lives in doing so.

Let me tell you about one of them who was a quiet, uncomplicated  man who never aspired to be anything more than a simple priest. His name was Bernard Francis Casey, and his family and friends called him Barney. There are many guys and gals like Barney in our Catholic Hall of Fame and they, like Barney, were ‘ego-less.’ This was not a birth defect. Their secret simply was knowing how to love God with all their mind, heart and soul. That led them to love others more than themselves. It was NEVER about them.

Barney was born in Oak Grove, Wisconsin, back in 1870. He was the sixth of 16 kids of Irish immigrant parents. When Barney was a boy he contracted diptheria, and it left him with a permanently raspy-sounding voice. (Barney would never have qualified for American Idol). Barney felt the call to the priesthood but, at the age of 16, he hit a detour. He had to go to work to help the family and worked at jobs in Minnesota and Wisconsin as a lumberjack, a prison guard, a streetcar operator and a hospital orderly.

Barney Casey always did whatever job he had to the best of his ability, wanting to serve his God in all things. Five years later he was able to enter St. Francis High School Seminary in Milwaukee. He spent five years there before being able to move on and join the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Upon his acceptance he took the name of Solanus after St. Francis Solanus, a 17th century missionary.

Solanus Casey was finally ordained a priest at the age of 33. He had to study extremely hard to reach that goal, and when he was finally ordained he was given the title “Sacerdos Simplex,” which means “simple priest.” This meant he was not permitted to preach or to hear confessions. He never complained; he took joy in just being a “simple priest.”

Father Solanus Casey lived in Detroit, and his main job at the monastery was that of “doorkeeper.” Father Casey, wanting to the absolute best at whatever God chose for him, became the finest doorkeeper that ever lived. He did this for well over 20 years and also became known for his service to the sick and the advice and consultations he would have with visitors. People began attributing cures and other blessings to his interaction with them or others.

Father Solanus Casey: a man who opened and closed doors for people. A man who had no ego and was happy to serve God in the simplest of ways. A man who, because miracles have been attributed to his intercession, was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II in 1995. This is the first step toward canonization as a saint. Father Solanus Casey died in 1957.

Father Casey is the first man born in the USA to be on the road to full sainthood. And all he did was humbly and happily open doors for people and talk to them if they wanted. A Catholic Hall of Famer for sure, and quite the contrast to the gaggle of egotists that bombard us daily with their “I think” wisdom. Solanus (Barney) Casey has recharged me. It might be nice if all of today’s bloviating pundits could hear or read his story.

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