Hundreds gather to pray, celebrate friar’s legacy at St. Bonaventure, Shrine basilica
DETROIT — Thousands of Catholics across the Archdiocese of Detroit and beyond celebrated the first feast day of Blessed Solanus Casey on July 29 and 30, a testament to the impact of the Capuchin friar beloved by countless faithful for his humility, faith and healing touch.
Blessed Solanus, who was beatified last November in a historic Mass at Ford Field, was a cause for celebration during special Masses at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, where he lived and served for much of his life, and at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak.
“It was one of the happiest times of my ministry as archbishop to be able to celebrate the beatification in November and now our first public celebration where in the sacred liturgy we gather by the authority of the Holy Father, the pope, to invoke Fr. Solanus’ intercession and publicly venerate him as a hero of the faith,” Archbishop Vigneron said July 30 during his homily at the Shrine basilica.
More than a dozen Capuchin priests attended both Masses, as well as archdiocesan clergy and hundreds of lay faithful. Paula Medina Zarate, the Panamanian woman whose miraculous 2012 healing from a genetic skin disease was recognized as the miracle needed for beatification, was also in attendance, as well as members of the Casey family.
The special Masses concluded novenas celebrating Blessed Solanus’ impact on the city of Detroit, inviting the faithful to pray for the intercession of a local saint known for healing thousands through his faith in the power of God’s love.
Pam Bielaczyc, a member of Transfiguration Parish in Southfield who attended the July 30 Mass at the basilica, was one of those touched by Blessed Solanus’ intercession.
“He’s part of our family because of a healing that took place with my mom’s younger brother. He had a bad ear problem, and my grandma took him to Fr. Solanus when he was about 2 years old, and he never had the ear problems again,” said Bielaczyc, who was there with her husband, Bob, and mother, Rosemary Spanier.
Blessed Solanus was born in Oak Grove, Wis., in 1870, and after working various odd jobs as a teenager, entered the Capuchin order at St. Bonaventure Monastery in 1904. Ordained a “simplex priest” due to his struggles in seminary, he nevertheless developed a reputation for holiness through his near-daily contact with visitors as the monastery doorkeeper, or porter.
Throughout his life, Blessed Solanus was renown for his quiet, reverent advice, and countless faithful would often seek his counsel and prayers for various ailments. Many claimed to be healed after visiting the friar, who was known for telling people to “thank God ahead of time” for their blessings.
Reflecting on the Gospel of the day, the parable of the mustard seed, Archbishop Vigneron compared Blessed Solanus to a “living parable” for today’s Church.
“In parables, Jesus uses something very ordinary and earthly in order to communicate what is heavenly,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Usually, there is kind of twist in the parable, where you think it’s going one place before it veers off all of a sudden.”
“Fr. Solanus is this parable,” the archbishop continued. “Here was an ordinary man, not without native intelligence, but because of circumstances never able to master the whole range of theology needed to become a confessor and a preacher. But he was very humble and very at peace with his own littleness. And in that littleness, being in some sense just this mustard seed, he became a doorway to heaven for our community, the place in which in our community, heaven was united to earth.”
In addition to Detroit, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments also granted special permission this year to celebrate the feast in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where a young Fr. Solanus worked as a teenager and where two of his brothers served as priests, and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., where he lived in old age.
Blessed Solanus’ feast is on July 30, rather than the anniversary of his death on July 31, because St. Ignatius of Loyola’s feast day is celebrated worldwide on July 31.
For nine days leading up to the feast day celebration, special prayers and intentions were offered at St. Bonaventure Monastery, with each day focused on a special cause dear to Blessed Solanus’ heart.
For instance, July 22, the first day of the novena, was focused on Blessed Solanus’ love of music, followed by days of prayer for the poor, neighbors, the sick, religious and consecrated life, families, youth and the Church itself.
Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap., director of the Solanus Casey Center, said God’s will for Blessed Solanus is unfolding in Detroit and across the globe, noting the unexpected nature of the healing of Medina Zarate, who before visiting the center in 2012 had never even heard of the friar.
“Mother Teresa is a saint for India, but she certainly became a worldwide figure, didn’t she?” Fr. Preuss added. “Solanus is our local saint, and when he’s ready for the world stage, God will take him to the world stage.”
After Mass at the Shrine, several hundred faithful lined up to venerate a first-class relic of Blessed Solanus — a bone from the friar’s right thumb — and to leave prayer intentions at the spot near the altar where the friar once prayed.
“He’s such a gentle, peaceful soul, and he just inspires me to imitate him,” said Dayna Kozak of St. John Parish in Fenton, visiting the Shrine with her friend, Vito Montanaielli.
“Looking at him, I just see simplicity,” Montanaielli said. “The fact that he was so close to God in just the most natural way, I want to be able to do the same thing,”
Parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit are invited to sign up to receive the relic and accompanying prayer cards, signage and materials, which will be made available as a traveling exhibit on an ongoing basis.