On November 18, 2017, more than 66,000 people gathered at Detroit’s Ford Field, a multi-purpose indoor stadium and home of the Detroit Lions. It was a rainy, blustery day, yet as thousands peacefully lined up at security there was not a face without a smile. It was not an athletic victory they were coming to see. They would soon be elatedly singing the entrance hymn, “This is the feast of victory for our God.”
Detroit was to have a saint: the Venerable Solanus Casey, (born Barney Casey) humble and compassionate doorkeeper of St. Bonaventure Monastery, was to be beatified. The celebrant was Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and representative of the Holy Father. Concelebrating were 4 cardinals, 28 bishops, and at least 285 priests. The familiar brown robes of the Capuchin Franciscans were everywhere. Priests, nuns, lay people of all ages all felt the excitement. It was as though grace was everywhere and the atmosphere electrifying.
Upon hearing the decree of beatification ending in the words, “… that the Venerable Servant of God, Francis Solanus (secular name: Bernard Casey), professed priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor, henceforth be called by the name of ‘blessed’ and that he may be celebrated annually on the 30th of July in the places and ways established by law,” the 66,000 people erupted in applause, not a dry eye in the stadium. The troubled but beloved city of Detroit had been given a saint.
Barney Casey was born to Irish immigrants in Oak Grove, Wisconsin on November 25, 1870. He was the sixth child in a family that would eventually have 10 boys and 6 girls. Before entering the seminary he worked as a logger, a hospital orderly, a streetcar operator, and a prison guard. In 1896, after much hesitation, Barney decided to join the Capuchins. He did not like their beards and felt unsure about the decision until the Blessed Mother told him quite specifically, “Go to Detroit.” He left the next day. Did Our Lady know that Detroit, decades later, would be a city that could use the hope conveyed by a saint right in its midst?
Finally, Barney was ordained to the priesthood July 24, 1904 as a simplex priest meaning he could say Mass, but he could not hear Confessions or preach publicly. Because of the difficulties he had in his studies it was thought that he did not have the depth of theological understanding to serve in these capacities. He took the name Francis Solano after the Spanish St. Francis Solano who loved children and played the violin, as did Barney. Because another monk had the name Francis, he was usually called Father Solanus Casey.
As a simplex priest, Father Solanus was given the duties of sacristan and doorkeeper. As doorkeeper he came in contact with a great many people who asked for prayer and advice. Eventually, 150 to 200 people a day would come to see him. Forty or fifty would come for advice and counsel, the rest for his blessing. While Father Solanus may have been lacking in academic achievement in his seminary studies, he clearly possessed a great deal of wisdom and love. He said, “I have two loves, the sick and the poor.”
Miracles and conversions began to happen regularly after Father Solanus prayed. His reputation spread throughout Detroit and beyond. Growing up in the Detroit area years after the death of Father Solanus, I had heard of him. Everyone had heard his name and knew he might one day be a saint. The uncle of a friend of mine was healed of blindness as a child, one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miracles attributed to the prayers of Father Solanus during his lifetime.
At the Solanus Casey Center, built in 2002, seven years after Father Solanus had been declared venerable, but 15 years before his beatification, people still come to the tomb of the humble, kind priest who had opened the door for so many. Little slips of paper with penciled in prayer requests regularly accumulate on the top of his tomb. People come to pray there every day, where confessions are heard every hour. It is a holy place and well worth a visit.
Paula Medina Zarate was one such visitor to the Center in 2012. She knelt at the tomb as everyone else did. She prayed for her loved ones and many others. As she was about to leave she felt called to pray for herself. She had been afflicted with a skin condition for many years and she asked for healing. Immediately, she began to feel an effect and by morning her skin was completely healed. Confirmed by two doctors, this miracle was what brought about the beatification of Father Solanus.
Father Solanus died at the age of 86 on July 31, 1957, the exact day and hour that he had said his first Mass 53 years earlier.
July 30th of this year will be the first feast day of Father Solanus Casey. The Cappuchin friars will hold a novena for nine days leading up to the feast. Join in the prayers beginning Sunday, July 22.
Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey
O God, I adore You. I give myself to You.
May I be the person You want me to be,
and May Your will be done in my life today.
I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.
If it is Your Will, bless us with the Canonization of
Father Solanus so that others may imitate
and carry on his love for all the poor and
suffering of our world.
As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,
I ask You, according to Your Will,
to hear my prayer for… (your intention)
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Blessed be God in all His Designs.”
Imprimatur: The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit
In the words of Blessed Solanus Casey, may we “thank God ahead of time.”
Copyright 2018 Rosemary Bogdan