Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
I’m on the road with my husband Mark headed to the Father Solanus Casey beatification in Detroit. When we met in the Peace Corps over 30 years ago, we said we were going to be writers together, although it was just a hobby. I write full-time now and we are both writing about Father Solanus for the beatification.
When we met, neither of us could we have imagined today’s world. But in this age of self-aggrandizement, God has lifted up the simple, humble Father Solanus for the world to see what real success is.
For how does a lowly man who died 60 years ago gather a crowd of 66,000 for the beatification? Father Solanus’ gift of miracles and prophecy attracted thousands and his gentleness and love, comforted all to came to see him, miracle or not. It seems everyone who knows of Father Solanus, knows at least one miracle story. The miracles have never stopped. That brings me to Beth Hool.
A Witness to Many Wonders
I met Beth at a friend’s prayer group several years ago while I was visiting family in Michigan. She is married and has five children. Her parents were among the founders of the Father Solanus Guild, which opened in 1960 to further his cause for canonization.
Both of Beth’s grandparents knew Father Solanus. In 1940, when her dad was 12 years old, his neighbor, Detroit Tiger’s second baseman Charlie Gehringer, had given him tickets to a game. The boy broke his vocal chords cheering so loudly. Specialists determined that the damage was permanent and he would never speak above a whisper again. His mother brought him to see Father Solanus who said his voice would get better on the car ride home. It did.
“When my mother was born, Father Solanus visited my grandmother in the hospital and told her to name her Dolores, for the seven dolorous [sufferings] of the Blessed Mother,” Beth said.
Dolores grew up and married and after a difficult labor for their second child, the doctor told her never to have more children or she would end up in a wheelchair. Dolores was devastated, because she wanted a large family. “My grandmother asked Father Solanus to visit her,” Beth said.
“Dolores, why are you crying?” he asked when he walked into her hospital room. When he heard why, he told her not to worry. “You will have five more children and not end up in a wheelchair,” Father Solanus said. And so it was.
Beth first began praying to Father Solanus—joining with family and friends— when she was 6 and her 5-year-old brother was not expected to live through the night after being badly burned.
“If you are in heaven why don’t you ask Jesus to let Billy live,” Beth pleaded. He got better. “I began building a relationship with Father Solanus after that,” she said.
Visiting the Sick
Beth’s mother had often called on Brother Leo [he had served as a secretary to Father Solanus] to bring Father Solanus’ relic of the True Cross and meet her at the hospital and pray to Father Solanus. One day, Beth’s cousin and three children were in a bad car accident. The oldest daughter was airlifted to the University of Michigan hospital but the two younger girls—8-year-old twins—were too weak to be moved. They were on life support and not expected to live. “My mother was in bad health by then and asked me to call Brother Leo to bring the relic to the little girls to bless them.
Sadly, the oldest girl died. After Brother Leo came and blessed the twins, they began recovering. They grew up, graduated from college and are in their twenties now.
“From that point on, people began asking me to come with relic and pray,” Beth explained. “I would bring brother Leo; he was so saintly himself.”
As Brother Leo’s health began to fail, Beth called on Brother Richard. Five years ago, they walked into a very tragic story. Rose Cipriano and her son Salvatore (Sal) were unresponsive on life support. An adopted son who was on drugs had beaten them with a baseball bat. The father was killed in the attack. The two youngest children had hid in a closet.
Beth’s son had gone to Catholic Central high school with Sal.
She obtained permission to go to the hospital with Brother Richard. “We went first to Rose’s room,” Beth said. “Brother Richard blessed her and every time he said Father Solanus’ name, Rose’s eyes fluttered. The nurse kept asking him to say the name again. Every time, Rose’s eye’s fluttered.”
After several minutes they went to Sal’s room. The nurse pointed out there was only minimal brain activity on the monitor. The left side of his body had an involuntary twitch, but nothing on the right.
Two cousins were in the room and they called Sal’s name. No response. Brother Richard put the True Cross relic on Sal’s forehead. “Sal, this is Brother Richard,” he said. “I think you’ve been down to the center with your class, I just want to give you a blessing with Fr. Solanus’ relic.”
He blessed him repeatedly but nothing happened. “It’s time for you to leave,” the nurse finally said.
Beth was sorely disappointed. There had been a long string of coincidences to get permission to come at all. “Why would you have me bring Father Solanus’ relic if nothing is going to happen?” she asked God. Then she felt heat going through her whole body. “It was overwhelming,” she said. “I felt something was coming.”
“Sal, you just got blessed with the relic of the true cross, that Father Solanus used to bless people with,” she told him. “But we have to go now.”
At that moment, Sal picked up his right hand as if to wave and suddenly, the monitor showed brain activity. Beth then heard a weak voice say to her, “There will be a change in Sal in three complete days.”
Three days later Sal could open his eyes and his improvement has been dramatic. His voice has not returned, however, so he uses a device to communicate. Rose and Sal will be at the beatification Mass and asks for people to please pray for Sal’s voice to return.
The adopted son, Tucker, is in prison now. Beth said a relative of hers who did prison ministry was told by Tucker that he is very sorry and prays the Rosary and reads the Gospel of John every day.
The Cipriano story is dramatic, but Beth said she has seen many unexpected recoveries. “Each case is very special and each one miraculous,” she said. “Even if they don’t recover, you know that God is doing some work there.”