SEATTLE – Some 300 members of Capuchin Father Solanus Casey’s extended family will be among 60,000 people expected in Detroit Nov. 18 to witness the simple priest’s beatification, the next step on the journey to sainthood.
“I’m thrilled, I’m overwhelmed and very humbled by all of this,” said Holy Names Sister Anne Herkenrath of Seattle, a great-niece of Father Solanus, who was known for his ministry to the poor in New York and Detroit.
Father Solanus was born in 1870 in Wisconsin, one of 16 children of Bernard and Ellen Casey. The couple later moved to Seattle, where they were members of Immaculate Conception Parish. Father Solanus first visited Seattle in 1913 for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and returned in 1945 for the first Mass of his nephew, Jesuit Father John McCluskey.
In November 2016, 77 members of the extended Casey family dedicated a family monument at Seattle’s Calvary Cemetery to honor Bernard and Ellen’s legacy of faith, as well as Father Solanus.
This year, Sister Anne said, relatives are coming from as far away as Ireland for Father Solanus’ beatification at Detroit’s Ford Field. The Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
“The beatification is a remarkable moment in all of our lives and one to celebrate Father Solanus, whose compassion and attribution to miraculous cures have endeared him to those in Detroit and across the world,” Father Michael Sullivan, provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, said in a press release.
Father Solanus Casey is shown in 1948 with his great-niece Anne Herkenrath of Seattle (now a Holy Names sister) and her cousins Dean Conley Jr. and Jimmy Conley. Photo: Courtesy Sister Anne Herkenrath
Compassion, healing touch
Bernard Francis Casey entered the Capuchins in 1897, taking the name Solanus after a Spanish missionary to Peru. An average student, he was ordained a simplex priest in 1904, meaning he couldn’t preach on doctrinal issues or hear confessions.
Father Solanus spent 20 years working in parishes in New York City, Harlem and Yonkers, where he was valued for his compassionate counsel and was credited with miraculous cures, according to the press release. Following his two decades in New York, he moved to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, where he served as a porter, answering the door and tending to the needs of visitors. He provided soup for the hungry, offered kind words and had a healing touch.
“All of these graces just flowed from him because of his intense union with God,” Sister Anne said. “If we respond to God’s grace, we can have the same effect on other people.”
Inspired by the example of Father Solanus, the Solanus Casey Center was established on Seattle’s First Hill in 2005 as a joint ministry of St. James Cathedral and Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. The walk-in hospitality and referral center provides services to the unemployed, people living on the streets, the working poor and people in transitional housing.
“It’s a testament of what we can become just by our simple, loving actions,” said Jonathan Prociv, the center’s program coordinator. The center emphasizes hospitality by listening to and acknowledging the needs of those who come through the door.
Father Solanus Casey pauses in the garden for this 1950 snapshot. Photo: Courtesy Capuchin Franciscans
A step toward sainthood
Father Solanus, who died in 1957, was declared venerable in 1995 by Pope John Paul II. In May 2017, Pope Francis signed a beatification decree. Father Solanus is only the second priest born in the U.S. to be beatified; Father Stanley Rother was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.
“It’s a huge step forward for Father Solanus,” said Father Larry Webber, a Capuchin priest who is the vice postulator for the Solanus Casey Guild, the organization working for Father Solanus’ canonization.
The next step for canonization, Father Webber said, is to learn of anyone who has received a favor, after the signing of the beatification decree, which meets the criteria of a miracle.
The guild is researching possible miracles, he said, but there are strict criteria. Father Webber has a simple outlook about finding that miracle needed for Father Solanus’ sainthood: “Whenever God wants it.”