“Be the ‘Sun’ you were created to be and you can then, like the Sun, touch the whole world without census or receipt only because you are living your life … the difference between you and the Sun in the sky is that after your life here is ended, you will be watching Life.”- Father Casimir (Feb. 1974, Honduras)
Father Michael Casimir Cypher was a Conventual Franciscan Friar, priest and missionary. With Franciscan joy and simplicity, Fr. Casimir served the poor and downtrodden on mission in Honduras until he was arrested, tortured and martyred on June 25, 1975 by the Honduran military.
He was the first U.S. citizen to suffer martyrdom for the Catholic faith in the 20th Century. Friar Casimir was not political. Yet, in an act of political violence he died serving the poor and the innocent. He died serving Jesus Christ.
The Bishop of Olancho, Honduras has begun the process for the canonization of Father Casimir.
For more information, prayer cards or to report favors granted through his intercession, please contact the Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Bonaventure Province, 6107 N. Kenmore, Chicago, IL 60660 or by emailing: Casimirfirstname.lastname@example.org.
About Father Casimir ~
Father Michael Cypher was born in 1941, the 10th of 12 children from a farm family in Medford, Wisconsin. He attended St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Illinois and joined the Conventual Franciscans Novitiate. He graduated from Loyola University in Chicago and was ordained a priest in 1968. As a student, novice and seminarian he was noted for his great kindness, humor, generous spirit and simple nature. Many of his contemporaries noted how reminiscent of St. Francis he was. He loved nature and all of God’s creation penning poems and whimsical stories that carry canticle like feel to them. After serving as a simple parish priest in Illinois and California, Fr. Casimir opted to go the missions in Honduras.
For many years, Conventual Franciscans and other Catholic missionaries had come to Honduras to serve the campesinos (peasants) with the sacraments, education, medical care, food and the Gospel. Friar Casimir Cypher, OFM Conventual, chose to be one of those missionaries.
While in Honduras, Father Casimir served as the parish priest and teacher for the campesinos families and their children. He served in one of the poorest regions of Honduras, which itself was one of the poorest countries in Latin America (a distinction shared by Haiti and El Salvador). Conditions and daily life were extremely difficult for the campesinos. Olancho province where Fr. Casimir ministered suffered from unnavigable and seasonably unusable roads, little or no medical care for families or education for children other than that provided by the missionaries. At that time, approximately half of the child born in Olancho died before age five, a troubling statistic that bears witness to the difficulties the people faced.
It was in those poor conditions that Fr. Casimir brought the love of Christ with Franciscan simplicity and Gospel joy to the people. He offered the sacraments, ran the parish and school and served the poorest people as best he could. As Fr. Casimir served the people, political strife was emerging throughout the country.
On June 25, 1975 five thousand poor and landless campesinos began a six day “Hunger March” from Olancho, Honduras to the nation’s capital demanding action on promised land reforms from the military-led government.
Para-military groups under the control of wealthy landowners and the Army moved to stop the marches, they attacked the campesinos, raided the residence of the Bishop (himself a Franciscan), attacked rectories, seminaries and civil institutions tied to the reform movement.
Father Casimir was not a revolutionary. He expressed no political views and did not participate in the marches.
While driving a beaten down truck to a repair shop, shots rang out in the square near where Fr. Casimir was. He left his truck on foot to head to the plaza where the trouble was taking place.
Fr. Casimir rushed in to help the injured and dying with Last rites, prayers and first aid attention. Soldiers and armed personnel carriers surrounded the square. There, Father Casimir was seized.
It is believed he was mistaken for another priest, who served as the head of a local institute. In the end, Father Casimir was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was innocent. And, like the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem, he was simply mistaken for another.
Father Casimir was seized, stripped and beaten in the center of the square. Even as he was being humiliated by his captors he walked around the chaos at center of the plaza in a priestly fashion absolving the living and blessing the bodies of the slain.
Father Casimir, another priest and several women were arrested. That night they were taken to detention facility – an abandoned farmhouse – where they were summarily judged guilty without trial, tortured and mutilated. That night several peasant prisoners were baked alive in a large communal oven on the grounds. And after numerous tortures, the priests were shot in the head. The priests’ bodies were thrown in a dry well with living victims. The well was dynamited and the area bulldozed to conceal the crime.
Several religious sisters and campesinos witnessed the crimes and reported what they had seen. An outcry arose throughout the land, and with pressure from the Conventual Franciscans, the Catholic Church in the US and Honduras, and the US State Department, an official investigation was launched, the well discovered and the bodies exhumed.
Father Casimir’s body was taken to the Cathedral at Gualaco where his remains are buried today. Thousands of people from throughout Olancho province processed to the church and paid their respects to their “santito,” or little saint.
Father Casimir’s tomb remains a place of pilgrimage for the people of Honduras. The poor of Olancho and the cities come to pay their respects to “Casimiro” today. He is fondly remembered by the people he served and his life’s witness is credited with inspiring new vocations in the diocese.
In one of his homilies, Father Casimir said –
“There is beauty in life if we only worry about living completely and just being truly what God meant us to be. We miss it when we worry about not being really great, about accomplishing things we cannot accomplish. When we want God to make us greater than we are, we become smaller, because we neglect what we have and what we are already … When you look into eternity, don’t look on forever, you will stumble over your own life. Look for eternity in those who near you right now. For your eternity begins today; it begins this moment. It begins right now…”
Casimir, like St Francis, lived and preached a holiness of the “ordinary.” The simple acts of kindness and goodness and love that we do each day, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Wiping tears from a child’s face, holding the hand of a friend in need, offering a hug. Seemingly simple acts that are truly holy actions, because they are done selflessly, with love and grace – for one another.
Each of us has that moment, when in the ordinary acts of kindness, or duty, View Pagewe are called to be extraordinary – no matter where that leads, even if that leads to the foot of the cross and maybe death.
Father Casimir lived simply with the people of Olancho. He taught the children. He laughed with them. He played. He shared in their everyday, ordinary lives, their struggles, their victories, their tears and smiles. And in the course of the ordinary, when the shots rang out, he turned the “holy ordinary” to the most grace filled extraordinary … and there with other innocents, found his cross – and his life.
The Bishop and the people of Olancho Honduras have not forgotten the outstretched arms and smiling face of Father Casimir and have begun the process for his canonization. Whether Father Casimir becomes a saint is secondary to the fact that his life and death speaks to each of us in our own ordinary and everyday lives as we wait for the extraordinary moments to come along.
Pax et bonum.