Local woman reflects on Fr. Solanus Casey Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
solanus casey casket
Audrey Lukes from Sun Prairie prays at the tomb of Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap,  at his final resting place in Detroit. The Capuchin priest and Wisconsin native will be beatified on Saturday, Nov. 18, at a Mass at Ford Field in Detroit. (Contributed photo/Audrey Lukes)

SUN PRAIRIE -- If you mention the name “Shorty” to anyone who has lived in Sun Prairie for the past several decades, they’ll probably know exactly who you are talking about.

His wife, Audrey, will talk about the man who was more than six feet tall, “very athletic,” worked for the county, was a war veteran, went dancing with her all the time, and ran to work every day.

He and his young family met a big challenge when in 1955, at age 31, he was stricken with polio and was paralyzed from the chest down.

Audrey said they had to “change our whole lifestyle”.

This world lost Shorty, also known as Norman Lukes, nearly six years ago at the age of 87.

At the time of his passing, his life, and that of his family, served as an example of faith in God and walking with the Lord, facing life’s challenges.

More than 300 miles away, on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Detroit’s Ford Field, another man, who lived to roughly the same age of 86, will be taking the next step toward canonized sainthood.

More than 70,000 people are expected to attend the beatification Mass for Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, in a venue more commonly known as the home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions.

What is the connection between Shorty and Father Casey?

The connection is faith in the Lord and a brief encounter with each other toward the end of Venerable Father Casey’s life.

Seeking healing

Throughout his priesthood, Father Casey -- a native of Oak Grove, Wis. -- gained a reputation for being the Lord’s instrument in many healings.

A friend of the Lukeses, who had a cousin in Father Casey’s Order, arranged a visit to the St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Ind., where the Capuchin had been assigned up to a year before his death in 1957.

“We were sure that maybe [Shorty] would get to walk again,” said Audrey. “Or at least be in better condition than he was.”

Unfortunately, Father Casey’s illnesses were beginning to build up at that time, and they could not personally meet him.

The Lukeses were instead asked to give a personal item for Father Casey to touch.

They gave him one of Shorty’s handkerchiefs, which the venerable Capuchin touched, and it was returned to them.

While Father’s Casey’s time on earth came to an end, the blessings for the Lukeses would continue, which Audrey attributes to the intercession of Father Casey.

“I’m sure that Father gave us all this courage,” she said.

Meeting life’s challenges

Stricken with polio, Shorty was unable to get around, much less work, for a time.

Once his condition improved, and he began to have some mobility, he faced another challenge, namely the phrase, “we don’t hire cripples”.

Many businesses didn’t have accessibility for, or serve said “cripples” either, but that didn’t stop the active couple that once frequented all the area dance halls.

“It’s not easy,” she said about dealing with the discrimination.

“We would not let this stop us from being social,” Audrey said. “We decided that we needed to be accepted.”

The Lukeses were blessed with a caring community of friends and neighbors.

They helped Shorty go back to school and later work for the state as a certified draftsman for the Department of Transportation for nearly 30 years.

He and Audrey raised two daughters, Alexis (“Lexy”) and Kay.

“He was very involved with anything that they did,” said Audrey. “We were very fortunate to have those kids.”

The Lukeses were active parishioners at Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie.

Along with all the blessings, there were struggles, too.

Shorty had to undergo many medical procedures, including hip replacements, physical therapy, and always dealing with pain.

Along with getting around town everywhere in his wheelchair, he was also able to drive on occasion, with vehicles with a device to accelerate and brake using his hand.

“I’m sure that Father [Casey] gave us all this courage,” Audrey said. “We could not have done it without him.”

Faith in God and prayer

A couple of years following Shorty’s death, through the help of Sr. Lorene Haas -- a Dominican Sister who taught in Detroit and is now living in the Sauk City area -- Audrey was able to travel to Father Casey’s final resting place and venerate his remains.

He is entombed at the St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

While praying, she left a note on the tomb with the prayers for which she wanted Father Casey to intercede, as is custom.

“You’re allowed to stay there as long as you want to pray,” she said.

Audrey will not be attending the beatification Mass, but she’ll still be praying and being thankful for Father Casey’s intercession.

“I don’t understand how people can get along without faith in God,” she said.

She also wants people to be aware of the struggles people with disabilities faced years ago, and still do now, and how by the grace of God, these struggles can be met.

“We’re all part of God’s plan,” she said. “God has been good to us.”

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