By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
Dec. 8, 2001
St. Mary's High School began in 1884 and lasted until 1969. War heroes, women mayors, priests, physicians, FBI agents, bankers, attorneys, farmers, sheriffs, nuns, and cropdusters graduated from St. Mary's.
It is time, don't you think, to start a Distinguished Alumni Club?
My first nomination for membership is Father Marion Casey.
In addition to Father Casey, there were other good priests from Waverly, as well.
Father Bill Walsh was among them. He had served as an Army chaplain in World War II, and died tragically young. His family had run a grocery store in Waverly before we O'Learys ever moved there.
The first I knew of Father Walsh was when Bishop James P. Shannon, who tried to teach me English in my college freshman year at Nazareth Hall, came up to me and gave me a memorial card from Father Walsh's funeral. Father Walsh had died in 1948 at the age of 42.
Bishop Shannon said to me, "O'Leary, I hear you're from Waverly. Don't forget this man, ever. He's the best there was."
Bishop Shannon had been an assistant pastor at the Cathedral, the same place where Father Walsh had had his first assignment.
The work at the Cathedral for young priests in those days was enough to kill anybody, but Father Walsh died from the effects of the war. At the time of his death, he was director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for the Archdiocese.
I never met Father Walsh, but I was lucky enough to know Father Casey personally. At one point during my own strange odyssey, he even offered me a place to stay with him and his mother. She was his housekeeper at the time when he was pastor of three parishes near Belle Plaine.
I was still in high school the first time I ever saw Father Casey. He had brought Dorothy Day to his parish to give talks. The Ed Burns family of Hollywood Township had invited me to go hear her.
Who was Dorothy Day? What can you say about a person who devoted much of her life to being with people most of us would cross the street to avoid? Who went to Mass every day until her legs couldn't take her that far?
She died Nov. 29, 1980, at the age of 83, and is now widely regarded as a saint. She is surely the most influential person there ever was on the shaping of the Catholic Church in America.
As a journalist, she saw the church as the home of the poor, and so became a Catholic herself and went on to found the Catholic Worker movement.
Father Casey was one of her earliest allies. The newspaper she founded, along with the houses of hospitality all over the country, is called "The Catholic Worker" and is still going strong.
Father Casey was also close to another big name at the Catholic Worker, Ammon Hennacy, who called himself a "Catholic Anarchist."
Ammon had hitchhiked all the way from New York City to Minnesota one time so that he could be received into the church by Father Casey.
In Ammon's book, "The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist," he is rich in praise for our own Father Casey, the only "real priest," Ammon says he had ever encountered.
Ammon had served time in prison during World War I as a conscientious objector, something almost unheard of at the time. He knew Father Casey to be a man like himself, a man of principle and convictions.
One time, when Ammon was picketing, someone asked him if he hoped to change the world. He replied, "Nope. But, I'm going to make damned sure it doesn't change me."
Father Casey graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1926. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Paul in 1934, and is still working. He was hired a few years back as Catholic Chaplain at the age of 87, when he returned to Ivanhoe, Minn. after having spent seven years in St. Paul.
He works at Divine Providence Care Center. He is now 93. His mother lived to be over 100, and his sister, Lily Benson, is still going strong in Washinton state, after spending many years in St. Paul, in Nativity parish. She will turn 107 next March.
He stays connected St. Mary's Parish, not only because his nephew, Jack Reinert, and most of Jack's family live around Waverly, but because Father Casey has the same fond memories of Waverly all the rest of us have. His name turned up most recently as a contributor to the Steeple Repair Project for St. Mary's Church. (Who says I don't have spies?)
As a high school student I benefited from his donation of a telescope to St. Mary's School. I got to see my first closeup of the moon. Sister Augusta told us that it wouldn't be long before we visited the moon ourselves, and this was over 20 years before it happened.
I saw a million stars and the mountains of the moon from the roof of St. Mary's School that night, all thanks to Father Casey.
After his ordination he went on to teach college English at Nazareth Hall, and then, became pastor of many different parishes.
I suspect he was sent to some of them as a troubleshooter. One of his assignments was as pastor in Hutchinson. Overall, in his 67 years as a priest, he influenced the lives of so very many people, a short piece like this can't begin to cover the ground.
What I remember best about him was his very sharp intellectual commitment to social justice issues. He has a passion for equality, and for helping the poor, just like Dorothy Day.
Like Dorothy Day, his example is everything, but he is no mean orator either.
His speech at the reception for him at the time of his ordination in 1934 was reprinted in full, first in The Waverly Star, and later, in St. Mary's Parish history published for the centennial in 1984. Here is an excerpt:
"Now and then, we read of the great receptions that are given for authors, inventors, explorers, adventurers like Charles Lindbergh and great leaders, how they are greeted with noisy acclaim, showers of confetti, a long parade . . . but that is as nothing compared to the warm and deep sincerity which the people of Waverly have expressed for me . . . I should be the boldest imposter if I were to refer the honors which you pay to myself rather than to the priestly character which I, through no merits of my own, now possess . . . "
I submit that Father Casey was no imposter.
Father Casey went on, in detail, to thank the various people, Catholics and Protestants, who helped to organize the celebration. Most of all, he expressed his love for Waverly and what a great launching pad it had provided him.
I remember learning from him that Christianity means seeing Christ, in the least, among us or not seeing Him at all.
I like to think I got that also from the nuns who taught us at St. Mary's High School, the same place Father Casey first acquired his vision.
He also got his social conscience from his family. His father, John Casey, was an attorney who thought his job was seeking fairness and justice for his clients, whether they could pay him or not. The Casey family, even with a professional for a father, led a simple life.
One time, as the story goes, Mr. John Casey, attorney at law, was returning from Buffalo in an open buggy after trying a case there.
It started to rain on the way home, so Mr. Casey removed his one and only suit and stuffed it under the wagon seat to keep it from getting ruined.
Clad only in his long underwear, he sat upright with great dignity, steering their one and only horse down Main Street in Waverly, and nobody laughed.
Father Casey probably gave away that horse to a poor family a long time ago.
If you want to send Father Casey a card of congratulations upon my selection of him as the first recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, he can be reached at:
Father Marion Casey
312 E. George St. #G
Ivanhoe, MN 56142
More nominations for membership in our Distinguished Alumni Club will be more than welcome. You may win a subscription to the Howard Lake-Waverly Herald.
And if you want to read the Catholic Worker, which often mentions Father Casey, you can just send for it at:
The Catholic Worker
36 East First Street
New York, New York 10003
Subscription rate is 25 cents a year.
This is the same price it has been for the last 68 years, "a penny a copy."
Or you can write or e-mail me and I will subscribe for you:
Corpus Christi, Texas 78412
"I want to thank you, Lord, for being close to me so far this day. With your help, I haven't been impatient, lost my temper, been grumpy, judgmental, nor envious of anyone. But I'll be getting out of bed in a minute and I know I will really need your help then."
Origin unknown, as forwarded to me in an e-mail by Margaret Tucker.
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