Pequannock family hopes for canonization of cousin, The Venerable Father Solanus Casey
By MICHAEL WOJCIK
PEQUANNOCK - Imagine the thrill of discovering a famous artist or politician, who has taken up a branch on your family tree. Take that a step further - imagine the double blessing of having in your family background a possible saint, especially a humble Capuchin priest, known for facilitating God-given "favors" on behalf his many dedicated believers.
Fifty years after the death of Venerable Father Solanus Casey, many Catholics continue to believe in his powers of intercession, responsible they say for miracles - from a penitent getting a better job to one-in-a-million cures. Among those believers are members of Father Casey's own family, who worship at Holy Spirit Parish here.
For years, members of the Murphy family, which include three of nine brothers, who live in Pequannock, have supported the Father Solanus Guild in Detroit, where the diminutive clergyman last served and died in 1957. The guild keeps Father Casey's inspiring memory alive by educating the public about his life and work, by providing prayer and support and by working hard on his cause for sainthood, said 70-year-old Jim Murphy, a retired Pequannock police officer.
"My father, Michael Murphy, said, "Some day, your cousin is going to be a saint," said Murphy, who was 20-years-old when Father Casey died July 31, 1957 at age 86. "It's getting close to that. It's been said that when Pope Benedict XVI comes to the United States in April, he might canonize some American saints. One of them might be Father Solanus," he said.
Over the years, Murphy family members have visited the guild headquarters and have kept tabs on Father Casey's canonization cause. Every July, several of them attend a Mass at St. John the Baptist Church, New York City, to mark Father Casey's death.
So far the Capuchins have documentation for three miracles attributed to the intercession of Father Casey, who started offering help to people in distress while serving in New York City. He would listen to their problems and out of the blue, many petitioners were experiencing God's "special favors" - anything from cures and answers to their problems. Word spread about Father Casey.
In 1924, Father Casey returned to Detroit, where he studied for the priesthood. He stayed at St. Bonaventure Seminary for 21 years as doorkeeper. He was ordained without his faculties to celebrate Mass, because the Capuchin fathers didn't think he had sufficient mental capacity. But during those years, he packed notebooks with more than 6,000 requests for aid. Hundreds of petitioners reported successes.
Finally 30 years after Father Casey's death, Pope John Paul II declared the humble priest "venerable," the first of three steps in the rigorous process toward canonization. If canonized, he would become the first American-born man so honored.
Many in the Murphy family here also count many of the prayers on behalf of Father Casey "successes." Murphy's 74-year-old brother Frank, retired from the U.S. Postal Service, said his wife Mary's colon cancer has not returned for 10 years.
"We talk to Father Solanus everyday. I believe he's a saint," said Frank Murphy, who has four children and seven grandchildren.
Another of Jim Murphy's older brothers, Bob, also retired from the Post Office, recently gave a Father Casey medal to the father of a 12-year-old local girl afflicted with leukemia. The day after, the father told Bob Murphy that his daughter didn't need an operation they all feared she might, James Murphy said.
"Coincidence? I don't know. But we believe," said Jim Murphy, a widower with five children and 11 grandchildren, whose traces Father Casey, born with the first name "Bernard," back as the grandson of his grandfather's sister, Margaret Sheils Murphy.
Then there's Jim Murphy's daughter, Colleen Murphy McMahon, a local realtor and mother of three daughters. She said her uncle Charlie, another of Jim Murphy's older brothers, and a friend with cancer wore Father Casey medals. They both lived much long than doctors' predictions, she said.
"Father Solanus was a simple man with a strong spirituality," said McMahon, who named her middle daughter, Casey, now 18 years old, after Father Casey.
Father Casey also "loved and related to the poor and the sick," said Jim Murphy, who is continuing the priest's legacy of service by organizing with his brothers an upcoming fund-raiser for the girl suffering with leukemia.
Also, Frank Murphy and brother Bob Murphy and his wife Jean serve as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist at Holy Spirit, McMahon said.
Looking forward to the pope's trip in April and beyond, Frank Murphy said, "We're all hoping Father Solanus becomes a saint. All we can do is hope."