Following St. Francis: How the Capuchins continue to serve in Detroit

DETROIT — Fr. Solanus Casey’s legacy is implanted in the thousands of souls who were touched by his welcoming, caring grace. But 60 years after his death, members of his community, the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin of the Province of St. Joseph — commonly known as the Capuchins — are still making an impact in Detroit. There are currently 169 Capuchins in the St. Joseph province, serving in parishes, retreat centers, schools and ministries in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana and Panama.

Here are some ways the Capuchins are still serving the city of Detroit. To learn more, visit

Simple Service Saturdays

The priest who advocated honoring God by serving others has inspired young adults in the Archdiocese of Detroit to take part in Simple Service Saturdays, a Capuchin ministry organized by Fr. Tom Nguyen, OFM Cap.

Every third Saturday of the month, young adults meet at St. Bonaventure Monastery, 1740 Mt. Elliott St., for a quick prayer session, then go out to the various Capuchin ministries to serve.

“We want young adults to understand Solanus Casey though that experience of serving others,” Fr. Nguyen said. “Whether it’s serving in the soup lines, preparing food, sitting down with the people who are there, it’s about getting to know them and sharing stories.”

Simple Service Saturdays also involves Earthworks, an urban farm that grows food to be given to the soup kitchen, and the Capuchin Services Center, a place where people in need can receive clothing and food in a supermarket-style layout.

“One of things we want young adults to know when learning about Solanus Casey’s spirituality was about opening doors,” Fr. Nguyen said. “In our Church today, how do we open our doors for a young adult to engage with people where they are?”

Tap Into Life

Another Capuchin ministry catered to young adults is Tap Into Life, a Capuchin take on Theology on Tap.

“We start by going to the bar, like Theology on Tap, but with a different dynamic with a full dimension of service, community, prayer and faith formation,” Fr. Nguyen said. “It’s faith formation, dinner, then a talk on a Franciscan topic.”

Tap Into Life meets every third Sunday of the month, 6-9 p.m. at the Solanus Casey Center.

Both Simple Service Saturdays and Tap Into Life are meant to get young adults immersed in the spirituality of Fr. Solanus, since they’re the generation that will make him a saint, Fr. Nguyen said.

“We want young adults to look at the ways Solanus’ message will transform their lives as the Franciscan spirituality changes the world,” Fr. Nguyen said. “The Simple Service Saturdays, the soup kitchen, Tap Into Life, it’s all rooted in humility and Franciscan values.”

Capuchin Soup Kitchen

Arguably the most prominent legacy of Fr. Solanus’ generation of Capuchins is the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which started in 1929 during the Great Depression. Today, the soup kitchen’s two service sites — 1264 Meldrum St. and 4390 Conner St. — dish out up to 2,000 meals a day.

Funded by private donations and staffed by volunteers, the soup kitchen allows people a chance to serve the “least among them.”

“Volunteers at the two sites go through orientation of the spirituality of Fr. Solanus and St. Francis in terms of how we serve,” said Bro. Jerry Johnson, OFM Cap., the soup kitchen’s director. Volunteers are then instructed on what’s needed throughout the day — chopping up carrots or green beans and preparing food — and serve on the food line, where people line up with cafeteria-style trays.

Bro. Johnson encourages anyone to come and volunteer – no kitchen experienced required.

“The hardest hurdle is to get here for the first time,” Bro. Johnson said. “But when they come, they think, ‘That wasn’t so bad.’ That’s the Holy Spirit inviting us to build relationships, getting people to know one another from a different aspect.”

On the Rise Bakery

On the corner of Gratiot Avenue and Rohns Street is a bakery unlike any other.

On the Rise Bakery, 8900 Gratiot Ave., is a one-year residential rehabilitation program for men returning to society from prison or treatment centers.

The men live a block down the street from the store on Gratiot, where they learn to prepare food, clean the store, take orders and follow directions, all the while attending 12-step programs to deal with unresolved issues of addiction, anger management and psychological trauma.

“We’re not trying to turn out skilled bakers, helping men learn how to live,” said Brian Talley, retail manager at On the Rise. “We have two facilities, the store here and the bake house three blocks down (on Gratiot and McClellan), where we do a majority of the baking.”

In addition to gaining work experience, Talley explains the program allows the men to address the underlying issues that led to their incarceration, primarily substance abuse and unresolved emotional trauma.

“We have meetings at the house every Tuesday, and the men are required to do three 12-step meetings a week outside the house,” Talley said. “They meet with case managers to discuss grief issues.”

Talley said the most effective part of the ministry is creating a sense of accountability for the men in the program.

“When they are finished here, the goal is they are in a position to go back out into the world and do what they need do,” Talley said. “After they get out, they’re supposed to get a job and get their own place. We keep in touch with most of them. We have dinners for reunions, and this is a meeting place so the men can keep up their relationships.”

Jefferson House

In a discrete home on East Jefferson Avenue, 12 men begin their road to recovery.

Jefferson House started in the 1970s as a halfway home for men coming out of incarceration and has since then evolved to a long-term residential program for those dealing with addiction and homelessness.

“We stated to recognize that these men were dealing with substance abuse, so it morphed into a treatment center,” said Amy Kinner, director of Jefferson House. “It’s the only completely free treatment center in the state of Michigan totally run on donations.”

The residential program not only allows the men to get off drugs, but it also pairs them with spiritual and psychological support to address the long-term issues that lead to substance abuse.

“We have weekly individual therapy, where we work with the patients to develop their own treatment plan 3-4 weeks in,” Kinner said. “They explore relationships with themselves, their values and a higher power.”

Along with in-house meetings, Jefferson House encourages residents to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and when safe, contact people in their lives they’ve hurt.

“This is a time of exploring and rebuilding,” Kinner said. “We give them time to explore all the whys and factors in the disease. You start to see them change, how they start to like themselves. You see how they start to care about themselves and grow confident in their own skin.”

Rosa Parks Children and Youth Program

The Capuchins’ Rosa Parks Children and Youth Program is for youngsters ages 5 to 16 to stimulate creativity and explore alternatives to violence.

The after-school and summer program invites children to partake in gardening, music, art therapy, dance and poetry, all the while learning peacemaking and community-building skills.

“Our goal is to do everything we can to teach them to love and care for themselves and the entire community,” said Sr. Nancyann Turner, OP, director of the program, which operates out of the soup kitchen on Connor Street.

The after-school program offers tutoring and art lessons for children and access to a library with more than 15,000 books.

During the summer, the program has between 70 and 80 students, and around 60 to 70 during the school year.

“Fr. Solanus would be so delighted with this ministry,” Sr. Turner said. “He loved to be with children. Our children have many heartaches and losses in this life. Solanus would be a wonderful uncle and grandfather-type figure in their lives. That’s what this ministry is all about, bringing love.”

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