He counseled thousands in New York and Detroit, and miracles are attributed to his intercession.
This humble friar still teaches us the holiness that lies in simplicity.
In early May 1957 Solanus Casey suffered a severe outbreak of erysipelas, and he entered the hospital, where his condition became grave. After receiving oxygen, he improved a bit, and as he came to he began singing a hymn to Mary. He was even able to joke with people.
To a nursing sister who said, “Father, throughout the years I have so often heard people speak of you,” he replied, perhaps recalling his prison-guard days, “Yes, people often speak of Jesse James, too.” Another time this same sister came to his room and asked, “How about a blessing?” “All right,” Solanus said, “I’ll take one.”
He was in and out of the hospital a couple more times, and even there his ministry continued. Patients came to him for prayers and blessings, some of which resulted in favors granted. He liked to be wheeled to the hospital chapel, and he would bless people along the way. In the chapel he attended Mass, prayed the rosary or had someone read to him from Mystical City of God. His life was much like what it had been for decades: prayer, holy reading and blessing people who sought him out.
Solanus was in a great deal of pain near his death, but he never complained. He maintained his spirituality of gratitude to the end. When asked where it hurt, he said, “My whole body hurts,” and added, “Thanks be to God.”
Like many people near death, Solanus seemed to know when the end was coming. On the day before he died, he told his friend and superior Gerald Walker, “Tomorrow will be a beautiful day.”29 He also said, “Tomorrow it will be all over. I want to go to heaven, but with all Christendom.”30 What did he mean? “I am offering my sufferings that all might be one. Oh, if only I could live to see the conversion of the whole world.”
As he had throughout his whole life and ministry, Solanus was offering himself in order to bring others to God. His words to Gerald Walker sum up his life: “I looked on my whole life as giving, and I want to give until there is nothing left of me to give. So I prayed that, when I come to die, I might be perfectly conscious, so that with a deliberate act I can give my last breath to God.”
God answered his prayer, for at the moment of his death, on July 31, 1957, Solanus suddenly opened his eyes, reached out his arms and said: “I give my soul to Jesus Christ.” He died fifty-three years to the hour after his first Mass as a priest in Appleton, Wisconsin.
The perfect self-offering of his earthly life was complete. As Solanus’s body was being prepared, it was discovered that his skin disease had disappeared. Solanus was waked first at a funeral home, where people began lining up at five o’clock in the morning on the day of the visitation, and then at St. Bonaventure Chapel, where about twenty thousand people viewed the body.
All kinds of people came: “ordinary people, rich people, women, children, priests; every class of people. There was nothing done directly or indirectly by any member of the [Capuchin] Community to encourage such a gathering. This was an entirely spontaneous outpouring of love and respect by the people who came to see him.”
The celebration of the funeral Mass took place amid an overflow crowd on the following Saturday. The public outpouring of grief and gratitude genuinely surprised some of the friars. They had not realized how many people Solanus had touched and what a profoundly holy and venerable figure they had had in their midst.