Detroit’s cold soaking rain (“holy water” as many called it) this past Saturday, November 18th, wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the spirits of the more than 60,000 that had come from around the U.S. and other countries, who stood in umbrella-topped lines, and who waited patiently to file past security checks and into the light of Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
It was a record-breaking crowd for the stadium and the atmosphere was one of reverent anticipation and excitement as folks settled into their seats to await the beginning of Mass and the beatification of the Venerable Servant of God Solanus Casey.
“When I saw the procession of cardinals, bishops and priests at the beginning of the beatification Mass, it brought tears to my eyes,” said Beverly Sapian, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Trenton, Mich. and member of the Secular Franciscans who meet at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit each month. “It was a powerful experience to see so many clergy and 60,000 joyful people celebrating Father Solanus’ beatification.”
So many of those attending had their own personal stories or knew of someone who had encountered the humble Capuchin friar, who served as the doorman of St. Bonaventure Monastery for 20 years in Detroit.
“I have taken my two daughters to St. Bonaventure’s with me on a number of occasions to visit Father Solanus’ tomb and the Solanus Casey Center,” said Diane Dudek, a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Garden City, Mich. “My mother used to take my four sisters and me to Father Solanus’ gravesite in the courtyard of St. Bonaventure’s to pray for my father who had heart problems.”
Her mother, Irene Pasuszka, 85, and a parishioner at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Dearborn Heights, Mich., sat next to her daughter and said she was confident that her prayers and those of her children, invoking the intercession of Fr. Solanus, were instrumental in getting her husband, Ted, through many of his health problems, including several heart attacks and three open-heart surgeries. He passed away 13 years ago.
“Fr. Solanus played a big part in my husband’s recoveries,” she said. Irene’s association with Fr. Solanus began many years before.
“My mother took my sister and me on a streetcar to visit Fr. Solanus when I was just five,” she recounted. That was back in 1937 and she regrets that she cannot remember the encounter with the holy priest. But to this day she wears one of the relic badges of Father Solanus close to her heart.
Br. Richard Merling OFM Capuchin and vice-postulator for the cause read a biography of Fr. Solanus life and extolled the life and virtues of the humble friar at the beginning of the Rite of Beatification. He had met the future Blessed as a teen when his brother was experiencing a medical crisis.
“Father Solanus spent his life in the service of people at the monastery door” he said. He met thousands of persons from every age and walk of life. In time of trouble and sorrow they sought his prayers and advice.
“Many people believed he had the gifts of healing and prophecy,” Br. Merling continued. “They attribute favors to his prayers. He constantly showed his love of God by loving all of God’s people.”
Fr. Solanus, ordained a “simplex priest” because of his poor grades, could celebrate Mass but was not allowed to hear confessions or preach doctrinal sermons, yet drew thousands of people who sought his kind counsel and gifts of prophecy and healing. He died at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit at the age of 86 on July 31, 1957.
The huge crowd, so quiet and reverent at times that you could hear a pin drop, clapped loudly as Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and representative of Pope Francis, read in Latin the Apostolic Letter declaring Fr. Solanus blessed.
The applause grew louder after Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron read the decree in English, stating that by the authority of the Church, “the venerable servant of God, Francis Solanus, known in the world as Bernard Casey … a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor, henceforth be called by the name of ‘Blessed.’” Blessed Solanus’ feast day was announced as July 30, the anniversary of the eve of his death.
Immediately after, Paula Medina Zarate of Panama, the woman who experienced a miraculous healing of her serious, chronic skin condition at the tomb of Fr. Solanus in 2012, processed to the altar with the reliquary constructed of a wooden cross and a dish that was used to serve meals at St. Bonaventure Monastery during the time Fr. Solanus lived there.
“When I saw her carrying the reliquary during the procession, I started to cry,” said Fr. Ronald Richards, JCL, pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Canton, Mich. “It was just so moving.”
Two years ago Fr. Richards was asked to be the Promoter of Justice for the cause of the beatification of Fr. Solanus. “It was a position,” he said with a smile, “that used to be called The Devil’s Advocate.”
Because, he added, “It is not an easy process to prove a miracle. You must prove that there is no other explanation for the cure to have taken place. There could be no medical explanation or intervention.”
It was Fr. Richard’s job to bring forth people who could legitimately talk about events that had happened to them with regards to the intervention of Fr. Solanus.
“That all had to be verified by medical doctors who had been involved in the case,” he said.
Fr. Richards was also present at the opening of Fr. Solanus’ casket on Aug. 1 this year, almost exactly 30 years since the body was exhumed and examined in 1987 and found in remarkable condition before being moved into the building just outside the sanctuary of St. Bonaventure. This time, first- and second-class relics were taken from the body for the purpose of veneration by the faithful.
“It was incredible,” said Fr. Richards who is not allowed to talk about what he saw. “It is hard to describe.”
Fr. Richards feels incredibly blessed to have been chosen to be a part of the beatification process. Although he has attended a number of beatifications and canonizations while in Rome, he said, “This one was very special. This was one of our own. He is right here in Detroit.”
It was very special for Beverly Sapian as well. She was 13 when Fr. Solanus died in 1957.
“I remember my neighbor telling me that a holy priest from Detroit died and many people were attending his funeral,” she said. “I never dreamed that one day I would have the opportunity to attend Fr. Solanus Casey’s beatification Mass. I am very happy and thankful that I could participate in this beautiful ceremony.”
At the end of Mass, Archbishop Vigneron expressed his sincere gratitude to all those involved in bringing the beatification to fruition, from the organizers to the choir, from the volunteers to the workers at Ford Field, from the security staff to Cardinal Amato.
“Finally, your Eminence, when next you speak with our beloved Holy Father Pope Francis, please let him know that we are grateful beyond measure that he has judged our beloved fr. Solanus worthy of the rank of Blessed,” said the archbishop. “Assure his holiness of our filial affection and loyalty. And tell him that we are committed anew to imitate Blessed Solanus by witnessing to the good news of Christ’s mercy.
“The field hospital of mercy is open here in Detroit!”
It will take just one more miracle for Blessed Solanus Casey to be canonized a saint. He is now the second American-born male to be declared blessed. Missionary priest, Blessed Stanley Rother, was beatified in Oklahoma City in September. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is currently the only American-born saint.
• The Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Solanus Casey was read by more than 60,000 voices at the end of the Beatification Mass on Nov. 18.
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
And as Fr. Solanus would remind us, “Thank God ahead of time.”