An excerpt from Father Solanus Casey: Revised and Expanded

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An excerpt from Father Solanus Casey: Revised and Expanded : The Caseys’ Homestead in America (1865-1882) (Chapter 1) By Catherine M. Odell It was the twenty-fifth of November 1870 — exactly one month before Christmas — when a newborn’s cry could be heard inside the three-room log house near Oak Grove, Wisconsin, just south of Prescott. The snow-topped cabin was perched upon a bluff high above the mighty Mississippi River, the boundary at this point between Wisconsin and Minnesota. But here, twenty-five miles from St. Paul — across the river and about two hundred miles from where the Mississippi River has its origins — the river was “modest” and not quite so “mighty.” The snug Irish Catholic family at home inside the cabin had origins far from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Barney and Ellen Casey were immigrants from Ireland to America during and after the years of Ireland’s Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. Bernard and Ellen didn’t fully know the size of this migration from their native Ireland. They knew only that they had plenty of Irish company on the crossing boats. Historians confirmed their impressions, noting later that four million Irish had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to America from 1845 to 1900. “Poor Ireland’s done” and “the country’s gone forever,” Irish immigrants told one another in this country. While the Caseys were still thinking of a name for the newborn boy on this cold day in 1870, his mother, Ellen Elizabeth Murphy Casey, was resting. She herself had also been born on a wintry day — January 9, 1844. Ellen was born in Camlough, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland. The Irish cherished County Armagh for its connection with St. Patrick. In the fifth century, according to tradition, the great St. Patrick had put up a church there. Armagh, therefore, was soaked in the traditions of the Church. Ellen had carried that well-rooted love of the Catholic faith to America as a very young child. Ellen’s father died during the potato famine that scourged Ireland from 1845 to 1850. When blight ruined the potato crop for several years in a row, the result was a nationwide disaster. On the table and as a crop the potato was the staple for this small island nation. One-fourth of the arable land of Ireland had been planted in potatoes. After her husband’s death, Brigid Shields Murphy took her children — little Ellen, her older daughter, Mary Ann, and her three sons, Patrick, Owen, and Maurice — across the Atlantic to America around 1852. The family came first to the Boston area, where Brigid had relatives on the Shields side of the family. But soon thereafter, the family made its way to Portland, Maine. There, Brigid and her two older sons went to work in the textile mills. At the time, they had few alternatives. Like most of the Irish who came, the Murphys had almost no money left once their passage was paid for. Even with jobs, grinding twelve-hour days and six-day weeks provided little more than a subsistence income. Ellen and Mary Ann boarded with a Portland housewife in exchange for light housekeeping chores. The baby, three-year-old Maurice, was cared for by a family friend. After almost ten years of scrimping and hard labor, Brigid had money enough to move west to the region around St. Paul, Minnesota. Patrick and Owen, young men by then, had already found work there. Mary Ann had married and moved there as well. Ellen, however, stayed behind to live and work in Biddeford, Maine. Now almost grown-up, she was a petite, lovely young woman with straight facial features and deep-set blue eyes. At a Fourth of July picnic in 1860, sixteen-year-old Ellen met Bernard James Casey, the brother of her friend, Ellen Casey. A tall, handsome, dark-haired young man, Bernard told Ellen that he’d come from County Monoghan three years earlier. In turn, she told him about her background in Armagh. No doubt they both laughed when they realized that though County Monoghan and Armagh were neighboring counties in the north of …