DETROIT — “Unprecedented” and “Catholic Super Bowl” are some of the words being used to describe the Nov. 18 beatification of Father Solanus Casey in Detroit, the city where he served the poor as a Capuchin friar for 21 years.
“The beatification of Father Solanus Casey is an incomparable grace for the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit and for the whole community of southeast Michigan,” Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said.
When Father Casey died there July 31, 1957, more than 20,000 mourners came to view his body at St. Bonaventure Monastery, and 8,000 attended his funeral Mass, overflowing onto the streets.
Born Bernard Francis Casey on a Wisconsin farm to Irish immigrant parents Nov. 25, 1870, the sixth of 16 children, Father Casey failed in his studies at a seminary in Milwaukee. After praying a novena to the Immaculate Conception, he said he heard the voice of the Blessed Mother tell him to “go to Detroit.”
He arrived at the Capuchins’ monastery in Detroit on Christmas Eve 1887 and in 1904 was ordained a “simplex” priest (without faculties to hear confessions or preach homilies). He took the religious name “Solanus” after St. Francis Solanus, a 16th-century Spanish saint with the gift of miracles.
This quiet, unassuming priest became renowned for his gifts of miracles and prophecy. People would line up for blocks to see Father Casey, who was always ready to listen and encouraged everyone to “thank God ahead of time.”
Even in semi-retirement at St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, busloads of people came from Detroit on Sundays to meet with the beloved Capuchin priest. Father Casey returned to Detroit for medical treatments in 1956 and died from erysipelas, a skin disease, at the age of 87.
Although it has been 60 years since his death, the love for this humble priest has not waned in Detroit. There will be 66,000 pilgrims attending his beatification Mass — which will be broadcast live on EWTN at 4pm Nov. 18 — at Ford Field, the home of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions.
According to Gerarda Tobin, chairwoman for the Father Solanus Casey Beatification Committee, the stadium has seating for 60,000, and another 6,000 chairs will be set up on the field. “For Tiger baseball games, there are usually 30 buses,” she said. “We have 400. A consultant we hired who has worked on the Super Bowl told me: ‘This is unprecedented!’”
Tobin explained that 27,000 tickets were distributed to 164 parishes and Catholic schools and groups where people entered lotteries for them. Another 24,000 were given to the Capuchins who serve in 104 countries, and 10,000 were made available to the general public. Those tickets sold out in four hours. Among the attendees will be 350 Casey family members from 13 states and Ireland.
Tobin’s 94-year-old mother is going, and so is her neighbor’s 96-year-old father.
“My mother grew up across the street from a man whose eyesight was healed,” she said. “As a young man, Clarence Umlauf was losing his eyesight and the doctor said there was nothing that could be done about it. His parents took him to see Father Solanus, who said: ‘Do not worry about your eyes; your prayers have been answered.’ His vision returned, and the following week his doctor said: ‘These are not the eyes I saw last week.’”
Two years ago, Tobin’s brother was diagnosed with stage-4 liver and colon cancer, the most advanced form of the disease. Today, he is cancer-free. “No one can tell me that Father Solanus did not intervene,” she said.
It is the miracles that have drawn so many to Father Casey. At St. Bonaventure, he served as a doorkeeper, just as he had done at three previous assignments in New York. He also worked in the soup kitchen and visited the sick in hospitals.
He counseled people to accept God’s will since not everyone received the favors they asked for, but many did.
Of the 6,000 entries of prayer requests Father Casey entered in his log — only a fraction of the total requests — he recorded 700 cures and reported on many conversions and resolutions to problems.
Capuchin Father Larry Webber, one of the two Capuchin vice postulators to the cause, explained that he has 12 drawers full of thousands of reported favors attributed to Father Casey’s intervention. In the spring of 2013, Father Webber said that several of the strongest cases were sent to Rome for review by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The case that was approved was the healing of an incurable skin condition that occurred at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit in September 2012. Father Webber was there that day. He explained that Paula Medina Zarate was visiting from Panama. She had worked at the Capuchin mission there for many years and had come to Chicago and Detroit to visit some of her Capuchin friends.
While on a tour of the center, Zarate asked why there were papers on top of a table. She learned they were prayer intentions and that it was not a table, but the tomb of Father Casey. In 1987, his body was exhumed and found incorrupt, although water had seeped in and rotted the insides of the coffin. His body was moved into a crypt in the chapel of the Capuchin monastery adjoining the Solanus Casey Center, where it is now.
“She [Zarate] filled out 14 or 15 papers for other people’s intentions,” Father Webber said. “The friar showing her around told her it was time to go to lunch. But then she heard a voice say: ‘What about you? What do you need?’”
Zarate was overwhelmed and knelt back down, telling God she was sorry for not thinking of herself. Then she prayed for the intercession of Father Casey to heal the very painful genetic skin condition she had suffered from since birth. When Zarate continued to the cafeteria for lunch, she soon felt strange and excused herself to her guestroom.
“In her room, all these scales of skin were falling off her, and there was baby skin under it,” Father Webber said. “She was stunned and went back to the cafeteria and explained what happened.” A report was filled out that day. Ultimately, five doctors determined there was no natural explanation for the healing.
According to Father Webber, there have been many dramatic healings attributed to the intercession of Father Casey that did not meet the Vatican’s strict guidelines for miracles. He gave two examples.
A little child was having 20 seizures a day, the friar said. His father came to the tomb, crying and praying. From that time on, there were no more seizures. A doctor said that could happen on its own so that case was ruled out for consideration as an official miracle.
In another case, a dying grandmother was on life support in hospice. She had been very devoted to Father Casey during her life, Father Webber said. Right before they disconnected her from life support, they put a badge with a relic of in her hand and prayed for her. She suddenly opened her eyes and was fine and able to walk out of the facility.
“A nurse had said: ‘That can happen,’ so it was ruled out,” Father Webber said. “It has to be something even an atheist would say is impossible.”
Brother Richard Merling, the other vice postulator and director of the Father Solanus Guild, met Father Casey as a young boy.
“I had an older brother who had a serious leg injury from a car accident, and it was going to be amputated,” he said. “My mother told us to go see Father Solanus. He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right.’ The next day the doctor confirmed that.”
Brother Richard said favors attributed to Father Casey are reported weekly.
“Just walking through the center, people tell me things like, ‘I was terribly sick and got ahold of his relic badge and started praying and got better.’ Or someone will tell me they had a broken arm and the next time they saw the doctor there was nothing wrong with it.”
For Father Casey to be canonized a saint, there needs to be one more miracle that occurred after the Pope signed the decree for the beatification. According to Father Webber, the wait may not be long.
“We already had two dramatic cases worthy of investigation since then,” he said. “The stories of favors from the intercession of Father Solanus are constant.”
Register correspondent Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.
She is covering Father Casey’s beatification this week for the Register.
This story was updated after it was posted.