Novena marks first feast day for Detroit's Blessed Solanus Casey

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
The faithful are expected to visit the statue of Blessed Solanus Casey inside the chapel at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit during the novena marking his feast day.

For years, followers who long had viewed Solanus Casey as a saintly figure prayed he would someday earn a distinction mirroring his role in the hearts of believers.

That happened last fall, when the revered friar renowned for his selfless giving and launching Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen became beatified, or “Blessed” — an historic occasion that moved him closer to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

It also launched another milestone. The legendary figure now has a feast day, July 30, observed in his home diocese, specific sites connected to him and religious houses associated with the Capuchin order

To celebrate, the Solanus Casey Center in east Detroit is hosting a nine-day series of prayers, called a novena, and Masses starting Sunday.  Each day focuses on praying with and for a group the site’s namesake cherished, such as the sick, the poor, neighbors and families.

Scores of disciples are expected to attend throughout the period coordinators say represents another chance to deepen ties with a local icon.

“We see this as an opportunity to connect the larger faith journey of the community and to say: 'We know that we need to be able to transform ourselves and be open to the graces of God,' ” said the Rev. David Preuss, a Capuchin friar and director of the Solanus Casey Center. “It offers us an ability to lift each other up in prayer and to do so in union with the man who has shown great holiness in his life and continues to be a great intercessor even after his death.”

The novena coincides with spiking interest in the life and legacy of the longtime doorkeeper at Detroit’s St. Bonaventure Monastery who died in 1957.

Since the November beatification drew more than 60,000 people from around the world to Ford Field, more of the faithful have flocked to Casey’s center which opened in 2002.

Pilgrims seeking to learn more about the friar’s history and stop at his tomb have traveled from as far as Asia, Europe and South America, said Richard Merling, a Capuchin brother and vice postulator who met Casey as a youth. “It’s been a little more busy. It’s surprising. It really has become quite popular.”

That’s why center staffers are prepping for large numbers of first-time visitors to attend the daily Masses and activities. 

Carol Winiarski, a center docent for the last 17 years, plans to help greet guests throughout the week — explaining tales tied to Casey while pointing out the site’s museum and “Creation Garden” featuring sculptures depicting a prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi, who inspired the Capuchins.

Like many others who credit Casey with astounding recoveries, the Eastpointe resident believes his intercession and badges bearing the priest’s picture and relic helped relatives quickly recuperate from ailments.

“He helped me in my life at a very critical time and he has continued to help me. I’m just very devoted to him and I enjoy sharing his life with everyone and hope that perhaps other people will be touched and also love him,” she said. “Father Solanus gives us courage to go through whatever trial we’re going through.”

The nine days are slated to feature a litany related to the Blessed Mother, who reportedly commended Casey to relocate to Detroit, as well as prayers to advance his sainthood and chances for worshipers to “bring many intentions they might have in their minds and hearts, asking Solanus to help them,” Merling said.

Meanwhile, the center gift shop is offering discounts of at least 20 percent off all items and Capuchin priests are hearing confessions at certain times.

Marking Casey’s first feast day “is a dream come true,” said Sally McCuen, hospitality coordinator at the Solanus Casey Center. “A feast day is a very special way for Catholics to celebrate a holy person. They are being an intercessor for us to God, so it’s a day for us to really celebrate and emulate that person, also.”