Courtships That Produced Saints: Bernard and Ellen Casey

Written By Patrick O'Hearn

Five years after Saints Louis and Zélie Martin entered the covenant of marriage, another couple would do so across the Atlantic Ocean: Bernard and Ellen Casey, who would become the parents of Blessed Solanus Casey. Connections can play a significant role in forming marriages. Besides physical attraction and virtue, which was seen in the Martins, some people are drawn to their spouse because they grew up in the same town, graduated from the same college, or shared the same nationality or religion. In the story of Tobit, Saint Raphael connected Tobias and Sarah, who were related. Bernard and Ellen Casey’s shared nationality, virtue, and great love for their Catholic faith brought them together in 1860. According to a biographer, Father Michael Crosby, “On July 4th, 1860, ‘Barney’ Casey met Ellen Murphy at a picnic in Biddeford, Maine. Her face ‘beamed with kindness’ in a way that attracted the serious Barney. After a short courtship, Barney proposed marriage. Ellen was sixteen.” Without a doubt, there was love at first sight. At the same time, Bernard had encountered virtue, which radiated through Ellen’s countenance.

It was fitting that Solanus Casey’s parents would meet somewhere simple like a picnic. After all, he joined the Capuchin order, which esteems simplicity and poverty. Both hailed from different parts of Ireland; Bernard grew up in County Monaghan while Ellen was born in County Armagh (now Northern Ireland). But the potato famine led both the Casey and Murphy families to emigrate to the United States. God’s will can unfold anywhere, even in another country.

Falling in love can get complicated, especially when family gets involved. Three of Ellen’s siblings had moved to Minnesota, which prompted her mother to follow suit (Ellen’s father had died from the famine in Ireland). Unfortunately, Ellen’s mother did not initially support her proposed marriage. Crosby declares,

“When Ellen wrote to her mother in Minnesota that Barney had asked her to marry him, Brigid Murphy— now helping to take care of Mary Ann’s twins (Ellen’s sister’s children)—recalled that Mary Ann had married when she was sixteen. Consequently, her response was abrupt: Ellen was to leave Boston immediately and come to Hastings.

When Ellen arrived her mother explained that she wanted her to enjoy the years of her youth before being saddled with family responsibilities. Brigid arranged that Ellen would live with Mrs. Ignatius Donnelly, whom she had befriended in the choir at Guardian Angels Church in Hastings. True to the pattern at that time, this was the “Irish church.” 116 Courtship of the Saints It stood a block from St. Boniface, the “German Church.” After Ellen had spent three years with the Donnellys, Mrs. Donnelly convinced Brigid Murphy to let her daughter marry Barney Casey. Thus, when the Donnellys made a trip to Boston, Ellen accompanied them.”

The twenty-three-year-old Bernard Casey and nineteen-year-old Ellen Murphy married on October 6, 1863, in a church in Salem, Massachusetts. Their honeymoon lasted only a half-day, as Bernard’s services as a shoemaker/repairer were needed for the Union soldiers during the Civil War.

The 1862 Homestead Act led Bernard and Ellen to resettle in Prescott, Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River, closer to family. Their sixth of their sixteen children, Bernard Francis Casey, named after his father, would honor his parents’ name forever as he is currently (at the time of this writing) on the path to sainthood. Bernard the son became Blessed Solanus Casey, a humble Capuchin friar, who served as his monastery’s doorkeeper for years. Many sought him for his counsel and his prayers for healing.

Interestingly, Bernard, like his father, proposed to a young girl. Her name was Rebecca Tobin, and she was sixteen at the time. Rebecca’s mother also responded by sending her away, in her case to a boarding school some forty miles away. While “the Divine Matchmaker” did not have a match for Bernard Francis Casey like his father, it is because God wanted to be His spouse in religious life. Hence both Bernard Casey Sr. and Jr. had to wait on the Lord in their uncertainty. God often keeps us waiting to prepare us for something more or to teach us patience. Both father and son show us that true love is worth waiting for, while Ellen Casey shows us the beautiful example of obedience to one’s parents. In the Caseys’ lives, Saint Paul’s words truly came to life, “We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Rom. 8:28).

This article is taken from a chapter in Courtship of the Saints by Patrick O’Hearn, which is available from TAN Books.

Patrick O'Hearn is an author and a freelance editor, previously serving as TAN Books' acquisitions editor for two years. He grew up in the Midwest and spent close to three years in a Benedictine Monastery before discerning the call to marriage. His first book "Nursery of Heaven: Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss in the Lives of the Saints and Today's Parents," which he co-authored with Cassie Everts, was released in 2019. His second book, "Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints" was released in 2021. The latter book took him over three years to write. His first children's book, "The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross" was released in 2022. He graduated with a master's in education from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a bachelor's in marketing from St. Ambrose University.