On Saturday, November 18, 2017, tens of thousands flocked to Ford Field in Detroit for the beatification Mass of a humble friar who was doorkeeper of his community’s houses for over a half-century.
70,000 souls witnessed the beatification ceremony of Fr. Solanus in the city’s NFL stadium Ford Field. Tickets for the Mass of beatification were gone within hours of their public availability last month.
English, Chaldean, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese were used in the ceremony, reflecting the multicultural makeup of the Archdiocese of Detroit, which has about 1.3 million Catholics. Cardinal Angelo Amato, acting as papal legate, celebrated the Mass. Before Mass the formal beatification took place: Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit made the request for the beatification. Br. Richard Merlin, O.F.M. Capuchin, read a brief biography of the Servant of God. Then Cardinal Amato, in the name of the Holy Father, read the Apostolic Letter of Beatification in Latin. The picture of Bessed Solanus was solemnly unveiled and its relics, brought in procession, were incensed and venerated.
Who is Fr. Solanus?
Father Solanus Casey, born Bernard and called "Barney", was one of sixteen siblings raised on a farm in Oak Grove, WI. He joined the Capuchin religious order in 1897 after being deemed academically insufficient for Milwaukee's diocesan seminary. Eventually ordained a priest seven years later in 1904, he was prohibited by his superiors from giving homilies at Mass and hearing confessions.
He served for 20 years in New York City and nearby Yonkers before the Capuchins transferred him back to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit in 1924. Wearing the traditional brown hooded robe and sandals, Fr. Solanus worked as a doorkeeper this community’s house during twenty more years but his reputation for holiness far exceeded his modest title.
"He had a gentle presence. He left people with a wonderful feeling of peace inside their hearts," Fr. Martin Pable, 86, a fellow Capuchin told The Associated Press. "He would say, 'Let's just pray about this and see what God wants to do.' Some people were not healed. He told them to bear their problems with God's help."
Later in life, when he was stationed at a seminary in Huntington, IN, Detroiters boarded buses for a four-hour ride just to see the man with a wispy white beard. Mail piled up from across the country. Miracles were claimed during his life, credited to his prayers.
Even 60 years after his death, "people don't say, 'I'm going to Father's tomb,'" Archbishop Allen Vigneron told The Associated Press. "They say, 'I'm going to talk to Father.'"
Father Solanus, who died at 86 in 1957, also co-founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which serves up to 2,000 meals a day to Detroit's poor. His cause for sainthood opened within a decade of his death.
Pope John Paul II declared him Venerable in 1995. One miraculous cure approved by the Vatican to the prayers of Venerable Solanus advanced the Cause to beatification and the title of “Blessed”: Paula Medina Zarate, a teacher from Panama, was instantly cured of a genetic skin disorder while she prayed at his tomb in 2012. The next approved miracle will advance the Cause finally to sainthood.
Father Solanus Casey is the second American-born male to be beatified by the Catholic Church as the final step before sainthood. Fr. Stanley Rother, a priest killed in Guatemala's civil war, was the first U.S-born man beatified last September in Oklahoma City, OK.
Per custom for the newly-beatified, the Pope will mention today's event and offer a brief word on Fr. Casey's example at Sunday morning's Angelus.