Detroit Business Owner Donates $20 Million to Franciscans

by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  December 19, 2017   

Donation to expand Solanus Casey Center for increased number of pilgrims

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DETROIT ( - Art Van Elslander is donating $20 million to allow more pilgrims to venerate Detroit's own future-saint.

Art Van Elslander, the owner of the Art Van furniture stores in Michigan, Ohio Illinois and Indiana, is giving $20 million to help Detroit Capuchin Franciscans expand their visitor center for Bl. Solanus Casey — a friar who worked miracles in Detroit.


Elslander commented in an email to Crain's Detroit Business that he remembers his father visiting Bl. Solanus at the friary on Mount Elliott Street "when he needed help and guidance."

He continues, "Father Solanus still offers that hope to so many through the work of the center and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and I am privileged to honor his legacy in a way that will benefit the entire community."

Since the beatification of Detroit resident and Capuchin friar Fr. Solanus Casey on November 18 more pilgrims have been visiting the friary.

It was renovated in the 1990s to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims visiting the friary to pray at the holy man's tomb. Afterward called the Solanus Casey Center, the new building constructed next to the existing friary and church included a gift shop, more bathroom facilities for visitors, a museum and theatre where the video of Casey's life is shown and rooms for daytime retreats, confession and counseling.

The Franciscans note, however, that since the beatification there has been an increase of pilgrims and parking has become insufficient.

The friars have been attempting for three years to acquire land around the present friary and visitors' center but have been at a stand-still until Elslander stepped in with his donation.

When Mr. Van Elslander gets a project in his head, it moves faster than anything we could imagine ... in three weeks, we were able to tack some of them down because of (him.)

They are expecting to expand the current facilities by nearly 50 percent, adding an outdoor area for Mass, more area for visitors, a cafe and more parking.

The center's director, Fr. David Preuss, comments the money will allow the Capuchins to accomplish "some of the things we could only dream about in the past." He adds,"When Mr. Van Elslander gets a project in his head, it moves faster than anything we could imagine ... in three weeks, we were able to tack some of them down because of (him.)"

Blessed Solanus Casey, named Bernard (Barney) by his parents, was born in Wisconsin in 1870 in Oak Grove, Wisconsin. He was a devout and simple man who was called to the priesthood. He had difficulties with his studies, however, because the seminary classes at the time were in German and Latin.

After he was asked to leave the seminary, he joined the Capuchin Franciscans. Although he was ordained a priest, he was not allowed to hear confessions or preach publicly. Casey, however, still saw his ordination as a gift and became even holier.

He was appointed to be the friary porter — the person who would greet guests at the door. As a result, however, he was able to counsel and pray with more people than he would have had exposure to otherwise.

Father Benedict Groeschel, the founder of the Capuchin Friars of the Renewal (CFR) who died in 2014, knew Casey when he was a young novice. He recounted the time when he went into the friary chapel and saw Casey in ecstasy, commenting, "He had no idea that the lights were on. And he didn't move. His arms were extended. And it was late at night. And he did not know I was there. I put the lights out, and I watched him. It's 55 years, and I still get goosebumps when I talk of it."

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Groeschel explained that God works miracles through Casey and people like him because of their simplicity, adding, "This man was absolutely simple. He had practically no ego ... I knew Mother Teresa and I knew Fr. Solanus, and I would be very hard pressed to say who was more saintly."

Casey died in 1957 and was buried in the friars' graveyard. His body was exhumed in 1987 under the authority of Cdl. Edmund Szoka, at the time the archbishop of Detroit, and his body was found to be largely incorrupt despite standing water being in the casket.

The body was moved to the side of the sanctuary where it has been made available for veneration by the faithful.

Before the beatification ceremony, the body was again examined and first-class relics were taken, including bones and hair. He was put in a new habit and a new coffin which is now visible at the center.


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