Author Father Groeschel visits his Franciscan roots
By Joyce Duriga
Our Sunday Visitor
On a chilly winter day blanketed in snow, a 72-year-old Franciscan friar made the journey from New York City to the small town of Huntington, Ind., to visit the friary where his journey with the Capuchins began.
Father Benedict Groeschel, co-founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, visited the former St. Felix Friary, now home to Good Shepherd Church of the United Brethren in Christ, as a side trip to a visit to Our Sunday Visitor last month.
The friary visit was a walk down memory lane for Father Groeschel, who came to the friary in 1951 at age 17.
For those accompanying Father Groeschel, it was a glimpse into the life and spirituality of Father Solanus Casey, the well-known Capuchin mystic who lived at the friary while Father Groeschel was a novice. Father Groeschel spent nine months at St. Felix and completed his novitiate at the orders' friary in Detroit.
Memories of Solanus
Memories and stories of Father Solanus Casey filled Father Groeschel's visit. The priest entered the old friary through the former St. Felix Church and remembered serving Mass for Father Casey there.
Father Groeschel stood in the spot where the ambo used to be -- the church is now cleared of the altar, ambo and the pews -- and recalled a ferverino, or instruction, that Father Casey gave one day. Father Casey did not have the faculties to preach, so he was only permitted to give short instructions during Mass.
"I remember him saying 'If we want to rise with Christ we must be ready to die with Christ.' And everybody in the whole church was crying," he said.
Father Groeschel walked from the church through the first floor halls accented with Latin sayings painted on the walls -- such as Deus Meus et Omnia, the motto of the Franciscan order that translates to "My God and My All."
Calming the bees On the friary's first floor is the former novice recreation room. While peering out a window in this large room, Father Groeschel explained how the land surrounding the friary had a working farm with animals and crops. The novices joined the friars and brothers in working on the farm after their morning classes.
The farm also consisted of a 30-acre apple orchard and a group of beehives whose inhabitants pollinated the trees. The beehives were the topic of another memorable Father Casey story.
One day, Father Groeschel, then a Capuchin brother, was out in the orchards with the novice master and noticed the bees swarming. Father Groeschel was told to go and get Father Casey, who regularly cared for the bees.
Once the friar arrived, he headed straight into the swarm of bees without the normal protective hats and nets that every other person donned before any work with the bees.
"He started to talk to the bees. 'All right now. Calm down. All right,'" Father Groeschel recalled the friar saying. "And they started to calm down and go back into the hive.... I was absolutely in total shock," Father Groeschel said.
Once the bees returned to the hive, Father Casey took out his harmonica and began to play for them.
A man in ecstasy
Inside the friars' chapel on the second floor of the building, Father Groeschel recounted a story of finding Father Casey in the chapel very late one night.
Father Groeschel said he was passing the chapel and thought he heard something inside. He turned on the light and there was Father Casey on his knees in front of the altar. The friar was in ecstasy -- a state of deep prayer and communion with God where the person can be impervious to sound, light or movement.
"It was the only time in my life that I've seen anyone in ecstasy," Father Groeschel said.
"He had no idea that the lights were on. And he didn't move. His arms were extended. And it was late at night. And he did not know I was there. I put the lights out and I watched him. It's 55 years, and I still get goose bumps when I talk of it," Father Groeschel said.
It was inside this chapel that Father Groeschel shared some stories of God healing people through Father Casey. One in particular involved a Jewish boy who was afflicted with a life-threatening condition. His mother brought him to the Huntington friary after hearing of the friar's healing power.
"When Father Solanus cured somebody he didn't do it immediately," Father Groeschel explained.
"He said, 'When you go home, I'll offer the Mass for him tomorrow and he'll be all right.'" And the boy was. Several weeks later, the boy walked into the friars' chapel, fully recovered.
"I remember seeing him," Father Groeschel said.
Living with a saint
Those who knew Father Casey and those who experienced the power of God through him said he possessed many spiritual gifts, including healing and the ability to see the future.
Why does God give some people these gifts?
"Because of their simplicity," Father Groeschel explained. "This man was absolutely simple. He had practically no ego.... I knew Mother Teresa and I knew Father Solanus, and I would be very hard pressed to say who was more saintly."
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Joyce Duriga is the associate editor of Our Sunday Visitor (www.osv.com), a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.
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