(CNS) -- It's a great excuse for a family reunion: The Caseys are coming to
than 300 relatives of Capuchin Franciscan Father Solanus Casey will visit the
Motor City from as far away as California and Ireland to see the man many know
as "Uncle Barney" come one step closer to sainthood.
looking forward to the beatification, but I'm also looking forward to spending
time with relatives I've already met and some I've never met," Barbara LeDoux
of Sacramento, California, said of the Nov. 18 beatification Mass at Ford
Field. "We're all going to be sharing our Solanus stories with each other."
Anne Herkenrath of Seattle is organizing the pilgrimage of Caseys. The Sister
of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary has been to Detroit often for events
related to her great-uncle.
is the granddaughter of Margaret Casey LeDoux, one of Father Solanus' sisters.
LeDoux remembers Father Solanus calling her grandparents, Margaret and
Frank LeDoux, as they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1954. She
was 6 and was the flower girl for the ceremony.
She recalls playing in the
backyard with her cousins when her grandmother came outside holding the phone.
were all gathered in the backyard when my grandma announced Father Solanus was
on the phone and was going to give a blessing," LeDoux told The Michigan
Catholic, Detroit's archdiocesan newspaper. "She announced this from the balcony
of the house, and a lot of people became quiet and knelt down to receive a
wasn't until LeDoux became a young adult that it resonated that Father Solanus
was indeed a special priest.
read 'Thank God Ahead of Time,' the book by (Capuchin Franciscan Father) Michael
Crosby that they used for his cause," LeDoux said. "I began to realize many
things about my own spirituality were my heritage from his family: praying the
rosary, dedication to the Lord and the Blessed Sacrament."
in the Casey family only know of Father Solanus from what they hear from older
relatives and others who knew him. Sixty years after the friar's death, living
memory is becoming scarce.
was born in 1962, five years after Solanus died, but growing up I remember
scapulars and badges with his picture around the house," said Cissy Brady Rodgers,
whose grandmother was Grace Casey, Father Solanus' sister. "Being a child, I
remember thinking, 'Who's this bald guy who looked a lot like my dad?'"
Rodgers grew older, the significance began to dawn on her.
was 10 years old when Capuchin Franciscan Brother Leo Wollenweber, Father
Solanus' secretary, "came out to California and had dinner with Dad and me," said
Rodgers, of the Los Angeles area. "From talking to Brother Leo, I learned about
the movement surrounding Solanus' own spirituality."
the same time, Rodgers was researching meditation practices and reading the
work of Trappist Father Thomas Merton about the contemplative life when she first
felt a bond with her great-uncle.
saw it as a connection to what Solanus did during his daily devotions," Rodgers
Conley of Washington is the grandson of James Casey, Father Solanus' eldest
brother. Conley's mother, Mildred Casey Conley, was the oldest of Jim's seven
children and married and settled in the Chicago area.
of the Casey family moved west to Washington state and California, meaning any
relatives who wanted to visit Father Solanus in Huntington, Indiana, needed to
take a train to Chicago and a connecting train to Huntington, or hitch a ride
with Conley's family for the six-hour drive.
years before his death and in failing health, Father Solanus was transferred to
the Capuchin novitiate of St. Felix
in Huntington, where he lived until he was
hospitalized in Detroit for a time in 1956. He died in 1957.
would be unusual to not make one trip a year, or three or four with some
relatives who wanted to see Solanus," Conley said.
and his younger brother Jim would ride in the back seat with their parents and
whatever Casey relative wanted to come along.
Solanus was in his 70s and would come in and sit with the adults, and my mother
would tell me and my brother to go outside so the adults could talk," Conley
baseball fans, Dean and Jim Conley played catch to get away from the adults.
Once a wayward throw landed at the friar's feet.
remember seeing Solanus and what struck me was at his age he could still bend
down and pick up a baseball," Conley said. "He was slow walking around, but
seemed pretty spry for his age."
could switch from adult conversations with relatives in the lounge and then go
outside and communicate with me and my brother," Conley added. "Here is this
guy in this funny clothing and beard, spending a few minutes talking to us
kids, like he was a normal guy."
other relatives marvel at the impact their holy uncle had on the lives of others.
far as family lore, he seemed like an ordinary part of the family," said Ann Fitzgerald
of Berkley, California, the granddaughter of Margaret Casey, another of Father
Solanus' sisters. "He always seemed present because my grandma Margaret lived
with us, and she was close to him."
parents explained that Father Solanus was a special priest, and that she could
call on his intercession, but cautioned her not to take credit for anything
done on his behalf. It wasn't until she was in high school she realized Father
Solanus was a bigger deal than her parents were letting on.
I got older, I began to realize other people knew who he was," Fitzgerald said.
"I was at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, California, when I opened a
religious studies textbook about special people in the United States who were
holy, and there was Solanus."
"I can hardly wait to meet all the cousins,"
Fitzgerald added about the upcoming Detroit trip, "all these people whose lives
Solanus touched. He was an extraordinary man who had ordinary gifts, but
practiced them with such grace, honor and humility.
an honor to be related to Father Solanus Casey, and whenever I meet someone
whose life has been impacted by him, I'm just blown away."