Father Solanus Casey beatified in Detroit

With a congregation of more than 60,000 present in Detroit’s Ford Field, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey was beatified during a Mass celebrated there on Nov. 18 by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Joining Cardinal Amato as principal concelebrants were three other cardinals — Detroit’s archbishop emeritus Cardinal Adam J. Maida, Boston’s Capuchin Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, and Detroit native Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSSR, archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, whose sister, Gerarda, oversaw much of the event’s planning. Rounding out the total of more than 30 present bishops — many of whom were from the Detroit province — were Detroit’s Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The arena was filled with palpable excitement as Father Solanus Casey was declared officially blessed by Cardinal Amato’s reading of Pope Francis’ decree, which remembered the newly declared blessed as “a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor.” Archbishop Vigneron read the English translation of its official Latin text, in which it was disclosed that the liturgical memorial of the new blessed is set for July 30 — on the eve of his July 31 anniversary of death. After the readings of the decree, a large, wood-encased image of Blessed Solanus Casey was unveiled.

Large portions of seating on the main floor of the arena were occupied by members of the Casey family as well as priests and brothers from Blessed Solanus Casey’s religious family of the Capuchin Franciscans.

With his beatification, Father Solanus Casey joins three other American beati: Louisiana’s Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, New Jersey’s Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich and Oklahoma’s Blessed Stanley Rother.

Another U.S. beatification

Cardinal Amato’s trip to the Motor City for Father Casey’s beatification was his second to the United States in as many months. That is because the United States has had the unusual opportunity to celebrate two beatifications this year, which are also the first two of native-born American priests.

The Nov. 18 beatification of Father Solanus Casey was preceded by that of Father Stanley Rother — also the first officially declared martyr born in the United States — who was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.

In his homily in Detroit, Cardinal Amato said that while Blessed Stanley Rother was killed in Guatemala in 1981 in hatred of the Faith, “Blessed Francis Solanus Casey attained holiness, here, in the United States of America, ascending every day the steps of the ladder that takes one to the encounter with God through love of one’s needy neighbors.

“Others, above all the poor,” Cardinal Amato continued, “were seen by him not as a weight or an obstacle to his climb to perfection, but as a way to the light of the splendor of God.”

Also in his homily, Cardinal Amato noted that despite his life of heroic virtue, Blessed Solanus Casey had “one little defect” — that “in the judgment of his fellow-friars, in fact, Father Solanus was a bad musician.” Cardinal Amato noted that “in order not to disturb his neighbor, on Sunday evening he went to the chapel with his violin and played Irish religious songs in front of the tabernacle. The Lord listened to him patiently because our Blessed was lacking in music, but not in virtue.”

Cardinal Amato concluded his homily by stating, “In raising the American Capuchin to the honors of the altars, Pope Francis points him out to the whole Church as a faithful disciple of Christ, a good shepherd. Today the Church and society still need the example of the works of Father Solanus.”

Pope Francis' Apostolic Decree
During the beatification Mass, Pope Francis’ decree declaring Solanus Casey blessed was read in Latin by Cardinal Angelo Amato and in English by Archbishop Allen Vigneron. The decree states:

Miracle worker

Father Solanus Casey was known as a miracle-worker during his life. And his beatification had been awaited by thousands who have been involved in continuing his work and seeking his intercession since his death in 1957.

As is the custom during the rite of beatification, a relic of the newly beatified person is presented for veneration. In fact, it represents the first time their relics are venerated in the name of the Church. The first-class relic of Blessed Solanus Casey was carried in procession by Paula Medina Zarate. Despite his reputation for working miracles in life, it was in 2012 that the Panamanian woman was cured miraculously of a rare skin disease through his intercession.

Zarate’s skin disease had been treated for many years, progressively getting worse. Forcing her early retirement, the Capuchin missionaries she knew in Panama invited her to the United States as a means to help her settle into the new reality of her life.

It was a chance trip to Detroit that put her in touch with the legacy of Father Solanus Casey. Learning of his reputation for holiness and miracles, she visited Father Casey’s tomb seeking his intercession in the lives of her family and friends. Notably she did not seek his intercession for herself. But before she left the tomb, she heard a voice asking, “And you, what do you need?” It was then that Zarate asked to be healed of her skin disease.

Immediately she felt heat moving throughout her body. It wasn’t long before she noticed that her skin was continuing to flake away — but this time without blood and also with pinkish new skin underneath. She spent the rest of the day crying tears of joy knowing she had been cured through the intercession of then-Venerable Solanus Casey.

Following the usual course of investigations overseen by the Church in response to the report of such a miracle, Zarate was sent through a battery of tests and examinations. Eventually, the Capuchins collaborated with the Detroit archdiocese to compile the report, which was sent to the Holy See in 2015 and approved by Pope Francis on May 4, 2017.

Ford Field
Clergymen process during the beatification Mass of Blessed Solanus Casey. CNS photo via The Michigan Catholic

Casey’s legacy

Blessed Solanus Casey is remembered for his work among the poor and forgotten — most notably in his ministry as monastery porter at Detroit’s Capuchin St. Bonaventure Monastery. From his office he offered spiritual counsel to all who sought him — often the forgotten and marginalized. They desired the help of his prayers and received blessings from his miraculous deeds. During the Great Depression, Father Solanus Casey was instrumental in establishing a soup kitchen to serve the needy of Detroit — a ministry that continues today.

The closing of the beatification Mass was an opportunity for all involved to be reminded that the work toward Blessed Solanus’ canonization now commences. The arena’s congregation joined in seeking the intercession of the new beatus by reciting together the prayer for his canonization. There was also a newly composed hymn sung in his honor.

Before the Mass celebrating Father Casey’s beatification, a large area of the arena was dedicated to the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many priests were hearing confessions there for at least two hours. In his lifetime, Blessed Solanus Casey was unable to hear confessions because he was not deemed intelligent enough by superiors at the time, which caused him much suffering, though he bore it with joy. Yet despite that fact, hundreds of participants at his beatification received God’s mercy that day — brought there because Father Casey’s legacy of holiness and virtue reverberated in their own lives.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.