Exhumation to precede Detroit priest’s beatification
Legendary Detroit Catholic priest Solanus Casey’s remains are set to be exhumed ahead of the ceremony during which he moves closer to becoming a saint, officials confirmed Friday.
Pope Francis announced in May that the renowned founder of Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit who died in 1957 would be beatified.
A confirmed miracle is elevating the priest to “blessed” from the “venerable” status Pope John Paul II granted him in 1995 for a life of uncommon virtue serving God — the first step in canonization or sainthood in the Catholic church. A second is needed to make Casey a saint.
The Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph recently announced that a beatification ceremony is scheduled to take place Saturday, Nov. 18 at Ford Field. During the event his relics are slated to be on the altar, the Archdiocese of Detroit said in a statement.
Officials must exhume Casey’s remains much like in 1987, when his body was moved from the Friar’s cemetery at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Mt. Elliott in Detroit into what is now the Solanus Casey Center.
Once the casket is retrieved from the vault, Archbishop Allen Vigneron is set to ceremonially break a seal before three medical professionals examine the remains to officially identify those as Casey’s and report on the condition. Church officials then attest to the collection of relics, which could possibly include bone fragments, hair and/or clothing, the archdiocese said.
The act is considered private; details on the time and location are not being released, archdiocese and Capuchin representatives said Friday.
The process is exciting for those involved in the bid to declare Casey a saint.
“Personally, to be able to be present and see his actual remains is an experience that most of the faithful never have,” said Fr. Larry Webber, a vice postulator with the Capuchin order who presented the case for beatification to the Vatican.
The upcoming exhumation is intended to find first and second-class relics, Webber said.
“A first-class relic would be something that is actually a part of the blessed or saint’s body; skin, bones, blood and hair all would be first-class relics,” said Robert Fastiggi, professor in systemic theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. “Second-class relics are clothing or items used by the blessed or saint during his or her life.”
Once secured inside vials, the collected relics head to Rome to be catalogued and prepared for distribution alongside authentication documents. They are expected to be returned to Metro Detroit before the beatification Mass.
Meanwhile, the body will be reinterred in a new tomb at the Solanus center, which opened in 2002, the archdiocese said.
The development is another step in a high-profile process to honor Casey, who spent more than 20 years serving in Detroit.
Born Bernard Francis Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin, he was ordained in 1904 and belonged to an international community of friars who model themselves after St. Francis of Assisi, “whose mission was to proclaim that the Good News is available to all people, especially those shunned by society,” according to the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph.
Casey ministered in New York, Harlem and Yonkers before reaching Detroit in 1924. He helped form the Capuchin Soup Kitchen about five years later, according to the guild that works to keep his memory alive.
The priest tended to the poor, offered a listening ear and “became a much-loved and sought-after counselor,” the guild reported. “... Sick people sought his blessing and remarkable cures began to take place.”
Center officials said the Vatican is examining many miracles associated with Casey and Capuchin associates continue to collect documentation of healings attributed to his intercession.
The one approved as a miracle involves a woman who visited Casey’s tomb years ago.
“She was at the tomb praying for her family and when she finished praying, she heard a voice say to her: ‘Well what about yourself; what do you need?’ ” said Msgr. Ronald Browne, judicial vicar for the Detroit archdiocese who worked on the miracle investigation completed this year. “And the next thing she knew, she was feeling warmth on her leg where her skin disease was very prominent. She rolled up her slacks and looked down, and the skin disease was crumbling off.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints verifies that a miracle can be attributed to the intercession of a canonization candidate. Once a second miracle is verified, the group recommends to the pope that Casey be canonized.
Meanwhile, Capuchin officials believe Casey is the second American-born male to be beatified. Tickets for his ceremony at Ford Field are expected to be available next month.
“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ,” Vigneron said in a recent statement.