Art Van’s founder gives Solanus Casey Center $20M

The Detroit News

Metro Detroit furniture retail giant Art Van Elslander has donated $20 million to the Solanus Casey Center.

A spokeswoman for Van Elslander, the founder of Art Van Furniture, said he made the donation to help the center expand. The center is dedicated to the Detroit Capuchin friar who gained fame for his piety, charity and humility in the 20th century.

The donation pays homage to the friendship between Casey and Van Elslander’s father, said the spokeswoman, Jaime Rae Turnbull.

“His dad was close to him (Casey),” she said.

The donation comes less than a month after the Catholic Church beatified Casey in a historic ceremony at Ford Field. Beatification puts the friar a step closer to becoming a Catholic saint.

The gift was Van Elslander’s idea, said Turnbull. He proposed it after seeing the center’s need for more space, especially after it began attracting bigger crowds after the beatification.

The center plans to use the money on a number of projects, said Turnbull. It would like to expand the site by 50 percent, and add a cafe, additional housing, gardens, outdoor chapel, open spaces and more parking.

“This is really going to be quite a destination site for the city,” she said. “It will allow hope and healing, which everyone needs.”

The center hopes to use the money to acquire city property, said Turnbull. It’s in negotiations to buy 75 city- and privately owned properties.

Finding parking was an issue even before the beatification, which has doubled the number of visitors to the center, said center officials.

The center plans to present the project to the Detroit City Council and finish the land acquisition by March, said Turnbull. If they’re successful, they would plan the expansion in the spring, she said.

The center already is working with an architect and talking to neighboring residents and businesses to discuss the expansion, said Turnbull.

“This truly will become a wonderful pilgrimage spot,” she said.

Casey, who died in 1957, is credited with miraculously curing a woman with chronic skin disease after she prayed at his tomb in 2012.

He is only the fifth person born in the United States to be beatified.