Revered Detroit friar becomes Blessed Solanus Casey

Mark Hicks, and Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The words on the lips of some 60,000 worshipers echoed across Ford Field: “Blessed Solanus Casey.”

Cardinal Angelo Amato gives the Lord's Prayer during the beatification of Father Solanus Casey at Ford Field on Saturday November 18, 2017.

That marked an historic moment countless devout and many in the Catholic Church had been awaiting for years. Casey, the revered friar renowned for his selfless giving and launching Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen in the early 20th century, was beatified.

Once a doorkeeper from humble beginnings, he now is officially known as “Blessed” and, if the Vatican attributes another verified miracle to his intercession, could one day become a saint.

To the faithful who traveled from across the country and around the world on Saturday, the ceremony is just one more stop on the way to claiming a status they never doubted.

“Our great-grandparents said there was no one more saint-like,” said Steven Selden of Macomb Township, who was with his wife Cathy. “He’s already a saint to us.”

That’s what spurred thousands to reach the stadium to honor Casey, who died in 1957 at age 86 and spent many years serving at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Detroit’s east side.

Last spring, after Vatican authorities officially confirmed an unexpected healing was a miracle attributed to Casey’s intercession, Pope Francis announced the friar would be elevated to Blessed in the Roman Catholic Church.

The local legend long associated with miraculous healing is only the second American-born male to earn this distinction, following the September beatification of the Rev. Stanley Rother, who died in 1981, church officials and experts say.

“For decades, countless faithful have awaited this moment which has been the object of so many requests,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the region’s Catholics, told the audience.

With the beatification, Casey now has a feast day, July 30, observed in his home diocese, specific locations linked to him and religious houses associated with the Capuchin’s order.

Throughout the emotional Mass, Vigneron and other religious officials praised Casey as a pious, charitable servant and disciple of Christ.

“He constantly showed his love for God by loving all of God’s people,” said Richard Merling, a Capuchin brother and vice postulator who met Casey as a youth.

Near a massive portrait of Casey clad in a familiar brown habit, Capuchins and church officials stressed how numerous followers sought his counsel and prayers they believed worked miracles — curing sickness and transforming lives.

“Through him God moved powerfully again and again and again,” said the Rev. Michael Sullivan, provincial minister for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph.

That was illustrated in the case of Paula Medina Zarate, the Panama woman whose incurable skin condition miraculously vanished after stopping at Casey’s tomb in 2012. The Vatican determined the healing was a miracle, securing the beatification.

During the ceremony, Zarate appeared visibly moved while carrying Casey’s relics in a procession with friars — closing her eyes and bowing reverently near colorful flowers.

Others in the diverse crowd of clergy and families beamed as scriptures were read and Cardinal Angelo Amato, a Vatican official and papal representative, presented the beatification decree.

The observance was spiritually uplifting for Daron and Linda Gifford, Detroiters who long have attended St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Troy.

For years, Daron Gifford had heard stories about recoveries attributed to Casey, and like others in Metro Detroit, kept “holy reminders” of him: badges bearing the priest’s picture, final words as well as special fabric.

“He was a great listener and had a great heart and was a great healer,” Gifford said. “We strive to be like him. That would be the ideal, but we’re not very good at it.”

Shirley Wilson, a lifelong Catholic from Detroit, credits visits to Casey's tomb with serenity in her life and solace during troubles.

“I believe in miracles," she said while standing in the stadium with her daughter. "It’s history in the making.”

Two sisters from Rochester waited in the rain for half an hour to enter Ford Field.

“This is a once in a lifetime event. We hope to get a special blessing today,” said Jackie Lenore, 56. “I went to the celebration of Pope John Paul II at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987 and that was so amazing, I knew I had to come to this.”

Her sister Cindy Anselmino said she was born one week before Casey died.

“We absolutely believe in miracles and are hoping for one,” she said. “I believe everyone here today has some kind of miracle in their heart for someone else.”

Many said they came to also pray and seek healing for loved ones.

“I pray for my niece who has Crohn’s disease,” said Kim Belz of Northville.

Belz came with her former colleague, Nancy McCalley-Branstetter.

“I worked at Fox 2 many years ago and I was always assigned every story on Father and felt like I got to know him,” she said. “I pray for many things today, including relief for those in overseas conflict.”

Jennifer and Jorge Rivera of Warren attended the beatification because “he’s like our family saint.”

“My grandmother was healed through a session and stories have been passed down on how he wasn’t above others,” said Jennifer Rivera said.“I spent my first internship at his soup kitchen.”

Jorge Rivera said they are praying for personal healing for members of their family. “This isn’t an opportunity you receive everyday,” he said.

The significance of the ceremony was apparent even to Shandia Manns of Detroit. The 30-year-old does not identify as Catholic but attended with her best friend, who is.

Witnessing history with a diverse crowd that spanned many age groups was “monumental,” she said afterward. “It was just a great, uplifting experience to be a part of something so special. It’s a great way to appreciate the foundation Father Casey created and how many people have followed him and stood behind his practices and beliefs. It was beautiful.”