Capuchins, Detroiters knew Fr. Solanus’ holiness all along

Sr. Anne Hernekrath, SNJM, and James Conley, Ph.D., are pictured next to a statue of their grand-uncle, Fr. Solanus Casey, at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit. The pair spoke during an event at the center in January. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Fr. Solanus Casey’s death — and now in celebration of his beatification — the Capuchins of St. Bonaventure Monastery are continuing a series of talks about the famed friar.

Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, is pictured next to her grand-uncle, Fr. Solanus Casey, in this family photo.

Occurring the first Saturday of the month, the talks have featured different aspects of Fr. Solanus’ life, from his time growing up in Wisconsin to the lives the friar touched through his holy example as a simplex priest.

On Saturday, May 6, the Capuchins were scheduled to host the next in the series, “We Need to Remember Solanus’ Love of Our Blessed Mother,” discovering Fr. Solanus’ deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of God.

The series will conclude Saturday, June 3, with “We Need to Remember Solanus’ Love for the Poor and Sick,” and the weekend of July 29-30, the Solanus Casey Center will cap the celebration with a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the venerable Capuchin’s death.

Each of the prior events has been well-attended by those with a devotion to Detroit’s champion of the poor. True to Solanus’ form, the events feature a simple meal of soup and bread before the speaker discusses a simple man.

The talks began in January with Fr. Solanus’ grandnephew, James Conley, Ph.D., and grandniece, Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, discussing what it was like growing up in the family of the famed friar and the impact he had on their lives.

“I remember seeing him in 1948; I just graduated from high school and was discerning whether or not to go to the convent,” Sr. Herkenrath said during a talk on Jan. 7. “I had this tug-of-war in my mind over the convent. I thought, ‘Solanus seems to know these things ahead of time,’ so I asked him about it. He looked at me with his bright blue eyes twinkling and said, ‘That’s between you and God.’ From there I knew what I had to do.”

In February, the Capuchins got their turn to remember Solanus, recalling the times they spent with the friar with a whispery voice.

Many Capuchins alive today were novices when Fr. Solanus was alive, so their interaction with him was rather limited.

The story of the day came from Bro. Leo Wollenweber, OFM Cap., who passed away in 2012, but the Capuchins played a recorded video message about Fr. Solanus that played during the event.

“I remember one event, Fr. Solanus worked at the outer desk, and he was fighting this terrible cold,” Bro. Wollenweber’s video message recalled. “The office was cleared, so I told him I’d take over so he could get some rest. Then a young couple came in to talk to him, so Fr. Solanus stayed with the couple. At the end of his shift, I said, ‘Too bad you didn’t get rest.’ He said, ‘You know, before Jesus fell a third time on the road to Calvary, he consoled the weeping women.’”

Fr. Werner Wolf, OFM Cap., said as a novice at St. Bonaventure Monastery, he watched Fr. Solanus “like a hawk” to try to glean insights into the friar’s famed holiness. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Fr. Dan Crosby, OFM Cap., recalled a time when he got to witness Fr. Solanus’ holiness all by himself, even when nobody else – save God – was with Solanus.

“During my first year in the order, it was Christmas night and I made my way to the chapel to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament,” Fr. Crosby recalled. “I was in the smaller chapel, but I heard this noise coming from the big chapel. I barely opened the door to the big chapel, and there, all by himself, I see Solanus playing Christmas carols to the Christ Child on his violin. He looked so at peace, spending time with the Lord in devotion.”

But what was probably the most powerful testimonies about Solanus’ holiness came from Detroiters, during the “Detroit Remembers” event of the series in March, when people whose lives or the lives of someone they knew were touched by the holy man.

“I was 3 years old in 1933, and my aunt was expecting a baby,” recalled Sr. Theresa Tenbusch, IHM, before a packed house at the St. Bonaventure chapel. “Before the delivery, someone told my uncle there was bad news. Before he knew what was happening, he got in his car and raced to St. Bonaventure. Solanus came to the door, and before he knew anything, Solanus said he was sorry. He was there to counsel him, even before he knew what happened.”

Brooklyn, N.Y., native-turned-Detroiter Gerry Haran discovered Fr. Solanus’ story upon moving to the city. In March of 2009, a dermatologist told Haran he had cancer in his back, so he began to pray to Solanus.

The cancer continued to spread throughout Haran’s body, eventually affecting his kidneys and lungs. But one day, Haran received a call from his doctor at 9:30 p.m.

“Normally that’s not a good thing when the doctor calls you at that hour,” Haran said. “He said, ‘I don’t know what to say; the CAT scan says you have no cancer.’ I said, ‘Doc, I know what happened: through Solanus’ intercession, my cancer has been taken away.’ Praise God, now and always.”

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