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Solanus Casey's presence extends to Metro Detroit cemeteries

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In troubling times throughout their lives, the devout have long turned to Solanus Casey, the Detroit-based Capuchin friar whom many believe has healed or helped countless people.

Now, there's another connection to the revered icon nearing sainthood.

This month, officials are dedicating two new statues of the beloved Capuchin Soup Kitchen founder in special sections at cemeteries in Southfield and Brownstown Township where some devotees' cremated remains could also be placed.

In November, the Mt. Elliott Cemetery Association plans to unveil a columbarium on Detroit’s east side for cremains, atop which stands a life-size Casey figure.

Coinciding with religious officials reviewing new reports of miracles believed to be tied to him, the efforts highlight the former doorkeeper’s looming legend in the area he called home before his death more than 60 years ago.

“People want to have their final resting place by Father Solanus,” said Mark Gracely, who oversees the Mt. Elliott cemetery. “They just hold him in such high regard and respect. This is just another added thing that they can be closer to him.”

The life-sized statue of Blessed Solanus Casey is slated to be unveiled at Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit on Nov. 1.

The projects progressed as Catholics locally and around the globe prepared for Casey’s beatification in 2017. He was elevated to “Blessed” in the Roman Catholic Church, which moved him closer to becoming a saint. 

The act also granted a feast day, July 30, which is observed in his home diocese, at specific sites connected to him or religious houses associated with the Capuchin order.

Casey’s advancement inspired plans for the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, said Bob Hojnacki, director at Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, a ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The nonprofit manages the properties and has launched an endowment fund named after the friar.

Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Donald Hanchon recently blessed and dedicated the Casey section at Holy Sepulchre in Southfield. It includes an outdoor garden and reflection area as well as a bronze statue of the revered figure atop a pedestal, Hojnacki said.

The Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township has a similar section and marked  a dedication ceremony on Friday, he added.

While it’s not uncommon for Catholic cemeteries to house representations of saints or prominent figures in the faith, one centered on Casey has particular resonance, Hojnacki said. “We feel a lot of people want to be around that feature when they are laid to rest.”

A dedication for the Casey statue was held this month at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.

That guided plans for the Mt. Elliott columbarium, which had long been in the works but acceleration after the beatification, Gracely said. “Father Solanus has such a big following, it just made sense to do something in his name.”

The Mt. Elliott Cemetery Association commissioned a Wisconsin-based artist, Gianfranco Tassara, to create a statue resembling Casey.

Facing nearby St. Bonaventure Monastery, where the friar served for years, the piece depicts him bearing bread on a plate, “symbolizing not just feeding the poor, but nourishing the souls of people who came to see him,” said John Agrusa, community liaison with the cemetery association.

Casey’s service and selflessness endeared him at the monastery and beyond. And the many blessings or miracles believers attribute to his intercession is why scores of visitors visit the nearby Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, which features the icon’s tomb as well as two statues.

That’s where a Panama woman with an incurable skin condition visited in 2012. After her illness disappeared, the Vatican determined the healing was a miracle, securing the beatification.

Another miracle must be officially confirmed to secure sainthood.

“We do have several cases we’re looking at in a structured way that we think have possibility of being the kind of thing that Rome looks for,” said the Rev. David Preuss, a Capuchin friar and director of the Solanus Casey Center, which last month welcomed 13,000 visitors. “But to reach that level of certainty is difficult.”

Though the verification process is lengthy, Preuss said, hope remains that another miracle could someday originate in Casey’s home turf. “There is no expiration date on becoming a saint.”