Beatification allows Detroit to show gratitude, thanksgiving for Blessed Solanus

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron greets his brother bishops as they leave the locker rooms for the opening procession of the beatification Mass of Blessed Solanus Casey on Nov. 18 at Ford Field. (Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)

DETROIT — It is not often a football stadium is filled with so many people watching every move with such devotion, such admiration and such solemnity.

But at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, more than 60,000 Catholics waited with such reverence as Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, read aloud the apostolic letter from Pope Francis, proclaiming Fr. Solanus Casey, “Blessed Solanus Casey.”

The stadium roared to applause after Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron read the proclamation in English, signifying one of Detroit’s own, was now among the beatified.

For the clergy on the field, the sight of such devotion and jubilation was much to behold.

“It was just so moving seeing all those people praying in the stands, especially when you realize the devotion and the faith that motivate the people to come out on a rainy day and be part of such a joyful, beautiful, faith-filled celebration,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., archbishop of Boston.

Left to right, Capuchins Fr. Larry Webber, Bro. Richard Merling and Fr. Michael Sullivan smile as Mass begins. To the right is Paula Medina Zarate, whose favor through Blessed Solanus’ intercession advanced the cause to beatification. (Jeff Kowalsky | Special to The Michigan Catholic)

As a fellow Capuchin, Cardinal O’Malley was inspired that one in his ranks became the second American-born male blessed.

“It’s very encouraging to see the first American to be beatified in our community (the Capuchins). It’s a great honor for us,” Cardinal O’Malley told The Michigan Catholic following Mass.

“His availability and his closeness to people and love for the poor is what inspires people. The homeless, those who have great problems and challenges in their lives. He was so present to them.”

Fellow Capuchin Bishop Pablo Ervin Schmitz Simon, auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields, Nicaragua, said Fr. Solanus’ beatification shows one does not have to be a bishop or achieve fantastic accomplishments in far-away lands to become a saint. Just be where God puts you and be open to His plans.

“It’s very humbling to see Solanus beatified,” Bishop Simon said. “It makes one think that one does not have to be a bishop to become a saint. One can be a porter, a simple friar that accepts God’s call as it was.”

People across Detroit – especially in Ford Field – were recounting stories to one another about healings through Blessed Solanus’ intercession. Many were seen wearing the Tau Cross associated with the Capuchin order, or wearing bright red-framed glasses, similar to ones the holy friar wore during the later years of his ministry.

“His simplicity of life and ability to listen to other people is so attractive,” Bishop Simon said. “He always had time for other people. He also had such concern for the poor and an ability to listen to other people. He was just listening to them, letting them bring their joys and complaints. But he was bringing God to them, and a good ear to listen.”

Since Pope Francis announced May 4 that Fr. Solanus would be beatified, so many people have recounted their own stories of healing, or the stories of a family member who credits a healing to the intercession of Fr. Solanus Casey.

Before Mass, Agana, Guam, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a Detroit native and former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, recalled his family’s own Blessed Solanus healing story.

“My grandmother used to talk about having been cured by Fr. Solanus,” Archbishop Byrnes told The Michigan Catholic. “She was having trouble with her first pregnancy, with my aunt Rita. Fr. Solanus grabbed her by the forearm, and said, ‘She’s going to be alright’ — he said ‘she,’ and the baby was a ‘she.’ My grandmother said my aunt had a birthmark where Fr. Solanus had grabbed her. So now that’s part of our story.”

Just about every Catholic family in the Archdiocese of Detroit – and many more families in the state of Michigan and throughout the country – has their Solanus story.

It is that common devotion to a man of such humility, such piety, such acceptance of God’s providence, that made the beatification Mass a dream come true for so many.

Bishop Bernard Harrington, former Bishop of Winona, Minn., and former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, was a student at St. Cecilia School in Detroit when Fr. Solanus came to visit the class.

Even as a second-grader, Bishop Harrington was told this weird-looking friar with a beard was something special.

“I’ve always known the stories, I’ve known people cured by him,” Bishop Harrington said. “When he visited my class, I don’t know what he said – I was 10 years old. But he got up and clapped, so we all stood up and clapped.”

As Bishop Harrington got older, he learned more and more about Fr. Solanus from the men in women in Detroit whose lives were impacted by this blessed doorkeeper.

“You just keep hearing the stories over and over and over,” Bishop Harrington said. “And as you hear the stories, you become more convinced. In the last 10 years I was thinking, ‘When is this going to happen?’
Because so many have been touched and healed by him.”

When Cardinal Amato read the papal announcement proclaiming Fr. Solanus Casey beatified, a sense of relief came over Bishop Harrington.

“It was a time of rejoicing and happiness, and above all, a time to thank God it took place,” Bishop Harrington said. “And we are looking forward to the canonization. I’ve been waiting in anticipation for this, and it’s everything I expected it to be.”

Blessed Solanus’ beatification is a blessing for the Church universal – and certainly every place Fr. Solanus ministered or had roots feels the impact of his beatification.

Bishop John Quinn, Bishop Harrington’s successor in the Diocese of Winona and another former Detroit auxiliary, said he couldn’t be more proud to call himself a Detroiter.

“It’s been a day of huge blessings; to know we have a blessed who I know will become a saint,” Bishop Quinn said after Mass. “Fr. Solanus was a Detroiter who loved this city, who cared for its people.”

In in his episcopal ministry in Minnesota, a place where the Casey family has roots, Bishop Quinn often hears of people attributing healing and favors to Blessed Solanus.

“I’ve heard many people in Minnesota who’ve prayed to him for intercession,” Bishop Quinn said. “I was a little boy and I would heard about him; my parents would talk about him. My father would go to the Capuchin monastery to get Mass cards, and he’d bring me along with him.”

During the Mass, Bishop Quinn said it was so inspiring to see so many people whose lives were touched by Fr. Solanus in the stands of Ford Field.

“It was really an uplifting experience to see so many people of faith who love the Lord and are ready to express their faith,” Bishop Quinn said. “To see Ford Field filled, and the Eucharist in the center, is an abundance of God’s grace.”

The beatification Mass stirred up a memory Bishop Quinn had of his father and him going to St. Bonaventure Monastery to pick up prayer cards. That’s when the future bishop met the man who was a future blessed.

“It was 1956, I was in the sixth grade, and he was right there, at the door,” Bishop Quinn said. “My father told me, this is Fr. Solanus, and one day he will be a saint.”

Bishop Quinn’s father isn’t right … yet. But he is one step closer.