DETROIT (CNS) -- The remains of Father
Solanus Casey were exhumed Aug. 1 as part of the canonical process that precedes
the saintly Capuchin Franciscan friar's beatification Mass in November.
The purpose of the exhumation,
according to the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of
Detroit, was to both officially identify the body and to collect relics that
will be used to venerate Father Casey after he is beatified Nov. 18.
Detroit Archbishop Allen H.
Vigneron presided over the private exhumation service, which was limited to a
handful of individuals, including three medical professionals who were on hand
to examine the remains and report on the condition of the body.
"Presiding at the process for
opening the tomb of Father Solanus and confirming the identity of his earthly
remains was a time of significant personal prayer for me," Archbishop Vigneron
said afterward. "I especially give the Lord Jesus thanks for the gift of
Father's service to our community, above all to the least among us, and for his
example of loving our neighbor with nothing less than the sacrificial charity
of Christ himself.
"This day is a clear milestone
on our path to Nov. 18 and Father Solanus' beatification at the Mass to be
offered in Ford Field," he said. The stadium in downtown Detroit will be
configured to accommodate 60,000 people for the ceremony.
"God is sure to give great
blessings to all of us through this confirmation of Father Solanus' holiness.
For this, 'let us thank God ahead of time,'" the archbishop said, repeating Father
Casey's oft-quoted refrain.
Capuchin Franciscan Father Michael
Sullivan, provincial minister for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, was
among the few Capuchins present for the solemn occasion.
"It was an honor and a joy for
me to be prayerfully present," Father Sullivan said. "For me it was an occasion
to pray for all the friars, especially the sick and those who minister here in
Detroit as well as for vocations to our way of life. I am deeply grateful for
all the ways God continues to work through the presence and ministry of the
The Aug. 1 ceremony marks the
second time Father Casey's body has been exhumed -- the first was in 1987, when
his remains were moved from the friars' cemetery to their current resting place
in the north transept of the St. Bonaventure Monastery chapel.
The exhumation also took place
one day after the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Father Casey's death July
A priest known for his great
faith, humility and compassion and for his ministry as spiritual counselor,
Father Casey worked for two decades in the Harlem section of New York City.
In 1924, he was transferred back
to Detroit, where he joined the Capuchin order, and began working as the porter
-- or doorkeeper -- of St. Bonaventure Monastery. He also helped establish the
Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929 to feed the hungry during the Great Depression, a
work that continues in Detroit today. He was declared venerable in 1995.
Exhumation of the body of a
sainthood candidate is part of the formalities of the beatification process and
includes very strict guidelines, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Larry Webber,
who along with Brother Richard Merling, also a Capuchin Franciscan, who has
served as vice postulator of Father Casey's sainthood cause since 2012.
After permission was received
from the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes -- as well as local civic
officials -- to exhume the body, the metal casket in which Father Casey was
buried was raised from its resting place the evening of July 31, but remained
unopened until the next morning.
Leading a prayer, Archbishop
Vigneron broke the wax seal that was left on Father Casey's casket when it was
last opened under then-Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka, and two witnesses who were
present at the 1987 exhumation helped verify the body. Medical examiners were
then asked to report on its condition.
Church officials then oversaw
the collection of first- and second-class relics -- including pieces of bone,
hair or clothing -- which were secured inside vials to be sent to Rome, where
they will be cataloged, authenticated and prepared for distribution. The body
was then reinterred in a new casket, along with an authentication document
signed by those present, before Archbishop Vigneron led a closing prayer.
Father Webber called it a "very
powerful spiritual experience" to be able to see and venerate the remains of
"Many mixed feelings filled the
hearts of our Capuchin community today," Father Webber said. "We are well aware
that Father Solanus is now part of something greater than just our Capuchin
community. He belongs to the whole church, and we pray that his eventual
canonization might make him another model of holiness in following Jesus Christ
in the universal church."