DETROIT — Detroit’s beloved Father Solanus Casey has been beatified, with Pope Francis calling him “a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor.”
“The life of our ‘Blessed’ is an exemplary page of the Gospel, lived with human and Christian intensity. It is a page to read with dedication and emotion … and to imitate with fervor,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who read the Latin-language letter from Pope Francis officially declaring the priest to be “Blessed.”
“In raising this Capuchin to the altars, Pope Francis points him out to the whole Church as a faithful disciple to Christ, the Good Shepherd,” the cardinal said in his homily. “Today, the Church and society still need the example and the protection of Father Solanus.”
“Brother and sisters, let us repeat together: Blessed Father Solanus, pray for us,” he told a crowd of 60-70,000 gathered for the Nov. 18 beatification Mass at Detroit’s Ford Field stadium.
Beatification is the final step before possible canonization. Blessed Solanus Casey’s feast day will be July 30.
The Capuchin priest was born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin Nov. 25, 1870, and given the baptismal name Bernard Francis. He worked various jobs before entering the Franciscans.
He was ordained a “simplex priest,” meaning he could say Mass but not preach publicly or hear confessions. He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929. He served as porter, that is, doorman, at Detroit’s St. Bonaventure Monastery.
At the Mass Saturday were many bishops, priests and 240 Capuchin friars; and about 350 members of the Casey family were present, from both the U.S. and Ireland. There were also many poor people in the congregation.
Paula Medina Zarate, the Panamanian woman whose 2012 cure from illness was attributed to Blessed Solanus’ intercession, bore a relic of Solanus Casey in the opening procession.
Capuchin Brother Richard Merling, director of the Solanus Casey Guild, spoke at the beginning of Mass. He recounted Blessed Solanus’ last words: “I am offering my suffering that all might be one. If only I could see the conversion of the whole world. … I give my soul to Jesus Christ.”
Cardinal Amato said the beatification was an historic event for the Detroit Archdiocese, for the Capuchin Franciscans and for the American Church. He compared Blessed Solanus to Blessed Stanley Rother, the missionary priest beatified in September in Oklahoma City.
While Blessed Stanley died a martyr in Guatemala in hatred of the faith, “Blessed 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 of God through serving one’s needy neighbors,” said the cardinal. He did not see the poor as an obstacle, but as a way to light his path to “the splendor of God.”
“Faith, hope and charity were for him the seal of the Trinity in our souls,” Cardinal Amato said. “Their practice was the effective antidote to atheism, despair and hatred that pollutes human society.”
The cardinal said Solanus Casey’s Irish family had “profound Catholic convictions” that made faith for him “a very precious inheritance for facing the difficulties of life.”
Blessed Solanus had a sense of the presence of God’s providence, “not only in prayer, liturgy and study, but also in the daily events of family life.” The cardinal noted Solanus’ prayer in front of the tabernacle, his devotion to Mary, his recitation of the Rosary and his reception of the sacraments, which gave him “security and courage to face the future.”
“His favorite sons were the poor, the sick, the indigent and the homeless,” said the cardinal. “He always fasted in order to give them their own lunch.”
There was a time when Solanus’ Depression-era soup kitchen ran out of food when hundreds were still hungry. The priest simply came forward and prayed the Our Father, and, soon, a baker knocked at the door with a large basketful of bread and other supplies.
“When the people saw this, they began to cry with emotion,” said the cardinal. “Father Solanus simply stated: ‘See? God provides. No one will suffer if we put our trust in divine Providence.’”
The cardinal also acknowledged a “defect” in Solanus’ life: He was a bad musician.
“For this reason, after his first failure in the community, with simplicity and humility, in order not to disturb his neighbors on Sunday evening, he went to the chapel and played Irish religious songs in front of the tabernacle,” Cardinal Amato said. “The Lord listened to him patiently, because our Blessed was lacking in music, but not in virtue.”
At the close of Mass, Father Mauro Johri, general minister of the Capuchin Franciscans, said the beatification is “a day of celebration for Capuchins throughout the world.”
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit asked Cardinal Amato to thank Pope Francis on behalf of the archdiocese’s faithful.
“Please let him know that we are grateful beyond measure that he has judged Father Solanus worthy of the rank of ‘Blessed,’” the archbishop said. “Tell him we are committed anew to imitate Blessed Solanus by witnessing to Christ’s mercy. The ‘field hospital of mercy’ is open here in Detroit.”
The close of the Mass included prayers for the canonization of Blessed Solanus.