DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - A beloved son of Detroit has become the third American-born Catholic to receive the title "Blessed."
On Saturday, some 65,000 people braved biting winds and cold rain to bear witness to Church and city history: the beatification of Capuchin Fr. Solanus Casey.
With Cdl. Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presiding, the Mass at Ford Field drew the world's attention to the Motor City and to the Church.
In Latin, Cdl. Amato announced that Pope Francis was bestowing on Venerable Solanus Casey the title "Blessed."
Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit followed, reading the decree in English: "[T]he venerable servant of God, Francis Solanus, known in the world as Bernard Casey ... a humble and faithful disciple of Christ, tireless in serving the poor ... henceforth be called by the name of Blessed."
With that, a life-size portrait of Bl. Solanus Casey was unveiled, drawing sustained applause from the faithful.
The son of Irish immigrants, Bernard Casey was born on November 25, 1870, on a farm in Pierce County, Wisconsin, along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Deeply devoted to the Faith, his parents taught him obedience and piety at an early age, and in 1891, he entered St. Francis Seminary High School in Milwaukee.
Over time, Casey discerned God was calling him to the Capuchin Order, and on Christmas Eve, 1896, he arrived at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. Two weeks into the new year, he was invested as a Capuchin novice and given the name "Solanus."
Academically, Casey did not excel. But he was distinguished by his piety. Described as "a model of religious observance, ever faithful to the holy vows of poverty, chastity and obedience," he was found worthy of ordination to the priesthood. On July 21, 1898, he made his simple profession of vows at St. Bonaventure Chapel in Detroit; he then returned to Milwaukee to continue his studies at St. Francis Monastery.
On July 21, 1901, he took his solemn profession of vows at St. Francis Monastery, and on July 24, 1904, he was ordained a priest a St. Francis Church in Milwaukee.
Father Solanus Casey was assigned to ministry in New York, and for the next two decades, he devoted himself to the faithful there.
In 1924, he returned to Detroit. Appointed to the Capuchin Friary of St. Bonaventure, he quickly developed a reputation among the city's people for his remarkable virtues.
"Ever available to the poor, the sick and the troubled souls, he brought comfort and help to persons from every age and walk of life. He was ready and willing to listen to anyone, anytime."
The humble priest was also an example of holiness to non-Catholics, showering them with love while steadfastly living and proclaiming the teachings of the Faith — an example that led to many conversions.
Roused by Fr. Casey's concern for the poor during the Great Depression, the Capuchins of Detroit founded a soup kitchen to serve the city's needy.
During World War II, he gave comfort to throngs of worried families seeking prayer for the return of loved ones from battle overseas.
In 1945, Fr. Casey was transferred back to New York. Less than a year later, his superiors sent him into semi-retirement at St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Indiana, where he spent the rest of his life praying and ministering to troubled souls.
By1956, after a lifetime of sacrifice and intercession, Fr. Casey was in failing health and returned to Michigan.
In his final days, the holy priest reflected on the many souls outside the Church and the greater number apart from God. "I'm offering my sufferings that all might be one," he disclosed. "If only I could see the conversion of the whole world."
On his deathbed, Fr. Casey's last words were "I give my soul to Jesus Christ."
He died on July 31, 1957, at the age of 86 and is buried at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.
In the years after his passing, multitudes appealed for his sanctity to be officially recognized. In 1966, Capuchin Provincial Fr. Gerard Hess delivered to Rome an account of favors attributed to Fr. Casey's intercession, both during his life and after his death.
After many years of gathering additional information, in 1992 a positio documenting Fr. Casey's life and work, complete with testimonies to his virtues, was delivered to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
It was unanimously approved and on July 11, 1995, and Pope St. John Paul II decreed Fr. Solanus Casey a man of "heroic virtue," conferring on him the title "Venerable."
On May 4, the Vatican declared it was recognizing a miracle attributed to his intercession. In a statement issued by the archdiocese of Detroit, Pope Francis announced that Fr. Casey had "passed the rigorous test assigned to the process of Sainthood, by being elevated from Venerable to Blessed by the Roman Catholic Church."
Afterward, Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap., director of Detroit's Solanus Casey Center, told The Michigan Catholic the miracle involved a woman being healed of an incurable genetic skin disease.
While visiting friends in Detroit, he said, the woman made a pilgrimage to Ven. Casey's tomb.
"She knew the Capuchins and decided to come to Detroit — to the tomb," Fr. Preuss disclosed. "She came here because she had a whole list of people she wanted to pray for. So she prayed for them, and a voice in her head said, 'Pray for yourself.' And she was instantly cured."
Doctors in Detroit, in her home country and in Rome were unable to explain the phenomenon.
Now beatified, the final step toward Bl. Solanus Casey's canonization is Vatican approval of a second miracle attributed to his intercession. "There were five doctors to whom she explained her condition and her former physician," Father Preuss noted, "[A]nd they all said they had no explanation why this should have gone away."
Detroit's Fr. Solanus Guild has issued a Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Solanus Casey and is compiling reports of miraculous accounts for the cause.
In the meantime, the faithful the world over will be praying for his advancement and intercession: "Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us."