By Karla Dorweiler
Special to The Michigan Catholic
DETROIT — More than 65,000 people flooded Ford Field for Blessed Solanus Casey’s beatification Mass, each inspired by the example of Detroit’s porter in their own way.
Chris and Lynette Mollo from Ann Arbor were invited by their friend to attend. While it’s not unusual for the couple to spend their autumn Saturdays in a football stadium, this week was different.
“Usually we’re at Michigan Stadium with 100,000 people, but this is so much more meaningful,” Lynette Mollo said. “It’s a historical event and we wanted to be part of it.”
Anne Burr, a member at St. Joseph Parish in Howell, in the Diocese of Lansing, came with the Mollos and with her mother, Ruth. Anne is a Catholic revert and welcomed the opportunity to learn more about her faith and about Blessed Solanus.
“I’m trying to make up for lost time,” Burr said. “My mom prayed for my conversion for 20 years, and here I am. It’s never too late. Prayer works. Fr. Solanus teaches us that.”
Dina and Declan O’Donohue of Grand Rapids wouldn’t have missed the occasion for anything, and brought five of their six children. Dina’s grandmother was a third-order member of the Capuchins, and knew Blessed Solanus. Praying to him for healing is a family tradition, especially after Dina’s healing of a spinal tumor before she had her children.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, the beatification of someone on the way to sainthood,” Declan O’Donohue said. “Fr. Solanus is special to our family. Now what a blessing to be here.”
The Comstock family from Dimondale, Mich., came with four of their five children, ages 13 to 7.
As a mother, Michelle Comstock said she was drawn to the simple porter after reading Blessed Solanus’ biography.
“I’m inspired by his humility in the simple role that he was assigned to do, because it echoes my own life as a mom,” Comstock said. “It’s not a glamorous job, but he reminds me that I still have a role to play, and to do everything in love.”
Thanksgiving for healing
In 2012, John Marshall, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Brighton, was 12 years old when he came down with a flu that resulted in a life-threatening autoimmune response. John was in a medically induced coma for four weeks. His family prayed to several saints for intercession, and to Blessed Solanus in particular.
John’s mother, Kathie, kept his relic in the hospital room, while her sister, Annemarie, enrolled John in the Capuchin Mass Association at St. Bonaventure Monastery. When John slowly came out of the coma, the neurologist said, “Well, John, somebody must have been praying for you.” The doctor told the family it was the worst case he’d ever seen, and a condition few survive.
Today John still has some struggles due to the inflammation inflicted on his brain from his diagnosis. Still, he beat the odds, and he largely credits Blessed Solanus.
“Fr. Solanus Casey was a pure person and a very big inspiration to all of us,” John Marshall said. “I wanted to be here today because I really look up to him.”
John is now 18 and has attended a healing Mass at St. Bonaventure. The Marshall family will continue to pray to the new blessed for healing.
“I always feel peaceful when I pray to him,” Kathie said, who added that should Blessed Solanus one day become “St. Solanus,” she’d be thrilled to attend.
A sister’s perspective
Sr. Catherine Marie, OP, is a religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (DSMME), in Ann Arbor, was struck by the timing of the beatification.
“In God’s timing, here we are one year to the day after the (archdiocesan) synod,” said Sr. Catherine Marie, who attended with a 575-person contingent of the congregation, including fellow sisters, families from the order’s two schools, and friends of the community. “To see the joy of the people and all that has happened in the year with ‘Unleash the Gospel,’ it’s just beautiful.”
As a religious sister, Sr. Catherine Marie enjoyed hearing Blessed Solanus’ fellow religious brothers speak about him.
“Being in the active (versus contemplative) life, one of our biggest challenges is that we live a split life — to be living for God, but also living for His people,” Sr. Catherine Marie said. “Fr. Solanus Casey was fully present no matter what he was doing, and I treasure that example.”
Fellowship for young adults
Twelve young adults with National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries didn’t expect to have the opportunity to participate in the beatification Mass, but God had other plans. They were in the Detroit area conducting confirmation retreats and had a free day Nov. 18 before traveling to Pennsylvania for their next round of retreats, when someone gave them tickets at the last minute.
“What a tremendous gift for us to be here, to witness all of this, and to celebrate this priest and how much he trusted in God,” said 18-year-old Michelle Gura from Dallas, Texas. “It’s blowing my mind.”
The group says they will take the experience with them as they minister to middle school and high school students.
“We tell the youth they’re not alone in their faith walk, and this is a great example of that — of the universal Church we’re part of,” said 19-year-old Molly Hogan from St. Paul, Minn.
A group of 11 young men and women ages 25 to 33 from Wisconsin left at 5 a.m. on the day of the beatification to make the seven-hour drive to Detroit in time for the doors to open at Ford Field. They are part of a young adult Catholic group in the Diocese of Madison.
“I only recently learned about Fr. Solanus Casey,” Spencer Sellner said. “I admire him for the way he thanked God ahead of time for the blessings already received and those to come.”
Susan Swanke organized the trip and says she can relate to Blessed Solanus because, like him, she grew up in Wisconsin on a farm. Swanke said his humble beginnings inspire her to live a fervently Catholic life as he did.
Genny Gozo noticed other young adult groups attending the beatification that day.
“It’s great to be here and see all the other young people,” Gozo said. “I think this experience is really going to build a more close-knit group for us to take back to Madison.”