Early in the morning on November 17, about 100 people from the Diocese of La Crosse were boarding two coach buses to prepare for a pilgrimage to see a saint in the making. Although the sun had not yet risen and eyes were still working on opening, the excitement of the groggy pilgrims was evident. Soon we would be on our way to Michigan, the location for the Beatification Mass of Father Solanus Casey, a Wisconsin native and humble servant of the Lord.
I knew very little about Fr. Solanus as I boarded the bus that morning, he was not a man whose story I had heard. I was going because this was a celebration of a path I hope to follow in, one we should all want to travel, the journey to sainthood. Although I knew nothing about Fr. Solanus at the start of the trip, as the weekend went on, he became a true inspiration and a dear spiritual friend.
Born into humble beginnings to a family of farmers in Wisconsin, he left the farm to work and help his family financially when they suffered misfortune with their crops. It was during his time away from home that Fr. Solanus heard his calling to the priesthood. He followed God’s call and, due to difficulty with learning German, was eventually ordained a priest but was not allowed to preach sermons or hear confessions. His assignment became a sacristan and secretary, also known as a porter.
Fr. Solanus’ story rang a chord with my heart. How often do we see ourselves as inadequate and use that as an excuse to say no to God’s calling in our life? We say we are too young or too old, too uneducated or too shy, we always seem to be able to find an excuse. Fr. Solanus gives us a model of true humility. He knew what God wanted, and even though it didn’t turn out like he might have expected in the beginning, he said yes, and with a humble heart he loved. He loved God and he loved his neighbor, and for his great trust and devotion to our Lord he was gifted with prophecy and healing, a beautiful testimony for how God can work in our lives if we let Him, if we stop saying we are “too” something and realize we have everything we need in Jesus.
The pilgrimage to Michigan contained many moments for us to allow God to work in us. Friday gave us the opportunity to grow in patience. Starting off with Mass at the Basilica of St. Josaphat when we arrived in Milwaukee and a wonderful lunch after, the rest of the travels for the day were filled with rain, crawling traffic in Illinois and even the excitement of the storage doors on one bus opening on the interstate. This extra time on the bus allowed for additional fellowship and an increased gratitude when we finally made it to the hotel at 2am.
Saturday allowed for a day of celebration for the life and work of Fr. Solanus, culminating in the Beatification Mass at Ford Field. In the morning we headed into Detroit to go to St. Bonaventure Monastery and the Fr. Solanus Casey Center. Pilgrims were able to pray in the chapel as well as at Fr. Solanus’ tomb and also see mementos from his life on earth.
Saturday afternoon found us braving the rain to get into Ford Field, and although many of us were soaked, and literally dripping wet, by the time we made it to our seats, nothing could dull the atmosphere of what was about to take place. Over 60,000 people were at Ford Field, including hundreds of priests. Mass was presided by His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Amato. The experience is one I will never forget.
Early in the morning on Sunday we said goodbye to Michigan as we headed west to Indiana to celebrate Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in Michigan City. This beautiful church houses over 200 relics, one of my favorites being that of St. Maria Faustina. Still tired from our early wakeup call, my soul was alive at Mass as the sun began to fill the church from one of the many stained glass windows. As the pilgrimage was drawing to a close, I was filled with appreciation that I was able to take part in this faith-filled weekend.
Fr. Solanus is not quite finished on his journey towards being declared a saint, but his cause for canonization now has even more people praying for him, including me, no longer a stranger to the example of this man. An example that calls us to be exactly who God created us to be, nothing more and nothing less. As Pope Francis has said, “ask Jesus what He wants from you and be brave!” Fr. Solanus was truly brave in accepting his vocation and his humble service to God’s people.