Monument honors Solanus Casey and his parents’ legacy of faith

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
Members of the extended Casey family braved the rain Nov. 5 to dedicate a family monument at Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery. Photo: M. Laughlin Members of the extended Casey family braved the rain Nov. 5 to dedicate a family monument at Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery. Photo: M. Laughlin

SEATTLE - Bernard and Ellen Casey passed along something priceless to their 16 children: their Catholic faith. The couple’s legacy includes three sons who became priests, including one — Father Solanus Casey — who has been declared venerable.

“The faith has been a very important part of our lives,” said Holy Names Sister Anne Herkenrath, a great-niece of Father Solanus.

Father Solanus Casey
Father Solanus. Photo: Courtesy solanuscenter.org

Born in Ireland in the 1840s, Bernard and Ellen Casey embarked on a journey that led them to Boston, and then Wisconsin, before they settled in Seattle, where they attended Immaculate Conception Parish.

To honor both the couple’s legacy of faith and Father Solanus, 77 members of the extended Casey family braved the rain Nov. 5 to dedicate a family monument at Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery. Some traveled from as far away as Florida and Washington, D.C.

“We are reminded that the first and best teachers of the faith are parents and family,” said Richard Peterson, the archdiocese’s director of Catholic Cemeteries.

The couple and nine of their children are buried near the location of the granite monument. The memorial displays a 1913 photo of the extended Casey family, taken on the occasion of Bernard and Ellen’s golden wedding anniversary. The inscription reads: “Legacy of faith and prayer of the Bernard and Ellen Casey family in the Seattle area.”

On the monument’s opposite side, a bronze statue of Father Solanus faces his parents’ graves. Inscribed are two of his favorite sayings: “Thank God ahead of time” and “Blessed be God in all his designs.”

Casey dedication attendeesAt the Nov. 5 monument dedication were, from left, Father Solanus Casey’s great-niece, Sister Anne Herkenrath; St. James Cathedral’s pastor, Father Michael Ryan; and Capuchin Brother Richard Merling and Capuchin Father Larry Webber, postulators for the sainthood cause of Father Solanus. Photo: M. Laughlin

Life of service to the poor

Bernard Francis Casey was born Dec. 18, 1870, in Wisconsin. Before entering the seminary at age 21, he worked a variety of jobs: logger, hospital orderly, streetcar operator, prison guard. When he joined the Capuchins, he was named Solanus after a Spanish missionary to Peru.

Father Solanus had been an average student and so was ordained as a “simplex priest,” meaning he couldn’t preach sermons or hear confessions, according to Capuchin Father Larry Webber, who is helping with Father Solanus’ cause for canonization. “He just accepted whatever happens, with gratitude to God,” Father Webber added.

Father Solanus spent nearly 20 years serving parishes in New York, including Harlem, Yonkers and New York City. He often served as porter, the public face of the monastery. “Solanus spent his life with the poor answering the door and taking care of their needs,” Sister Anne said.

Father Solanus Casey with Sister Anne and cousin
Father Solanus. Photo: Courtesy solanuscenter.org

He became known as a healer and a counselor to monastery visitors. He encouraged them to enroll in the Seraphic Mass Association (now the Capuchin Mass Association). By submitting their names and providing a small donation, even a quarter, people would be remembered in the prayers of Capuchin missionaries worldwide, Father Webber said.

“He tried to stress the importance of the power and prayer of the Mass,” Father Webber added.

Father Solanus eventually was transferred to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. There, he continued his work as porter and visiting the public. Eventually, word of his presence spread and the number of monastery visitors swelled from 30–50 each day to about 200 daily, Father Webber said.

Father Solanus died in 1957; in 1995, Pope John Paul II declared him venerable, a step on the path to sainthood. Webber and Capuchin Brother Richard Merling (who both attended the Nov. 5 dedication) are postulators for Father Solanus, responsible for keeping the process to sainthood moving forward.

People still benefit from Father Solanus’ intercession, Father Webber said, and they contact the Solanus Casey Guild to report favors received through that intercession. Every year, tens of thousands of people visit Father Solanus’ grave in Detroit.

His name is known in Seattle, too: The Solanus Casey Center, jointly operated by St. James Cathedral and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, serves the poor from its First Hill location near downtown Seattle.

Watch Sister Anne Herkenrath discuss her great-uncle and the Casey Family Memorial.

Casey FamilyMembers of the extended Casey family and other friends attended the Nov. 5 memorial dedication. Photo: M. Laughlin