Column: A piece of Stillwater’s ‘blessed’ history

Michael Izen


I have only been a resident of Stillwater for two years, but I quickly fell in love with the beauty of the area — the river, the hills, the homes and the history.

A piece of that rich history made the news earlier this year when Pope Francis announced the beatification of Father Solanus Casey, a man who lived in Stillwater in the 1880s and worked as both a lumberjack and a prison guard.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, to Irish immigrants in Oak Grove, Wis., “Barney” moved to Stillwater as a teenager looking for work. His initial connection to our city was his uncle, Fr. Maurice Murphy, who was pastor of the Church of St. Michael. Murphy’s sister Ellen was Casey’s mother. She was always close to her brother and helped him raise the money to build the current St. Michael’s, rowing up and down the St. Croix getting donations from the households along the riverbank.

It was during that time that Barney Casey received the Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Michael’s. The 15-year-old broke into the lumberjack trade when he was hired by the boom boss to work on the catwalks over the water. Armed with a peavey, Casey’s job was to feed the logs into the mills. Back then, the Stillwater mills would produce more than a hundred million feet of lumber in a year.

At the age of 16, Casey took a job as a handyman and relief guard at the Stillwater State Prison. During this time he befriended the notorious criminals Jim and Cole Younger. These two brothers are best known for their ill-fated bank robbery attempt in Northfield, with Frank and Jesse James.

The friendship Casey cultivated with the Youngers is evidenced by the fact that one of them made him a small wooden chest in shop class. It is reported that Casey also learned how to drive a streetcar in Stillwater, but ended up taking his first full-time job as a motorman in Appleton, Wis., at the age of 17.

As a young adult, Casey answered the call to the priesthood and joined the Capuchins in Detroit, Michigan. Ordained as Solanus Casey, he became known for his ability as a spiritual counselor, his love for the poor and his care for the sick. He co-founded a soup kitchen in Detroit in 1929, and throughout his priesthood physical healings were attributed to his blessings and prayers.

On May 4, 2017, Pope Francis acknowledged a miracle attributed to Casey, clearing the way for his Beatification on Nov. 18 of this year at Ford Field in Detroit. A busload of parishioners from St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s will be traveling to Detroit for this blessed event. In fact, a select group has been invited to perform a play in honor of Fr. Casey on the night before the Beatification Mass.

Beatification, or being named blessed, is the third step of four on the path to canonization. We pray for and await that final step when we will be able to refer to the Venerable Solanus Casey as a saint, and celebrate in just one more way, the historical beauty of Stillwater.

Father Michael Izen is pastor of St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s Catholic churches in Stillwater.


  • Christopher John Hagen

    Awesome connection between our Stillwater and the global Catholic Church.