Beloved Detroit Priest Takes A Step Towards Sainthood
On Saturday, Nov. 18, as many as 60,000 people will come to Ford Field in Detroit to celebrate the life of Fr. Solanus Casey. The priest who once lived in Detroit is taking a step towards sainthood.
Just a few blocks from downtown Detroit lies an old-world oasis.
The red brick St. Bonaventure Monastery was built in 1883. In the sanctuary, a holy water font adds a touch of tranquility to the daily duties of the Capuchin friars clad in iconic brown robes.
Father Dan Crosby has lived here for four years. But his arrival was really a homecoming.
“This is where I came 61 years ago to enter the order,” Fr. Crosby says. “That would have been in August of 1956.”
Crosby was 19 years old then. That was the year he met an elderly friar whose presence still resonates in him today.
Father Solanus Casey.
“I was a lowly novice, so I could not say that he was a friend,” says Crosby. “I could never call him a personal mentor...but he mentored me without his even knowing it.”
To the world, it appeared Barney Francis Casey was far off the path to greatness. His poor grades in the seminary resulted in his ordination as a “simplex” priest, unable to hear confessions or preach Catholic doctrine.
When he arrived in Detroit in 1924, Solanus was assigned as the porter, whose duty was to usher in those seeking an audience with a “real” priest.
“In fact, when he was here, he was the assistant porter,” Fr. Crosby explains. “That was demeaning! This is the role of a brother, and you’re a priest and you do that...never, ever was there any complaint or ever any impression that Solanus thought that was demeaning.”
Father Solanus gained a reputation as an extraordinarily gifted counselor and faith healer. In time, it was him the people of Detroit waited at the door to see. His visitation hours often lasted 18 hours a day.
“People would be lined up,” says Fr. Crosby. “People would say when asked, you know, ‘this is a long time to wait; why don’t you get upset?’ ‘Well, those blue, blue Irish eyes will be looking at us with the same love and attention. We’ll be the only people in the world.’ That’s what everybody felt.”
Father Solanus loved playing the violin. He wasn’t especially good at it, recalls Father Dan Crosby. But it was a common bond he had with his namesake, St. Francisco Solanus, a 16th century Spanish priest who served in Peru.
Today, his wooden tomb is adorned with an ornamental violin.
And it was there, at his burial site, where the legend of Solanus Casey took a dramatic turn.
In 2012, retired teacher Paula Medina Zarate traveled from Panama to make a pilgrimage to Solanus’ tomb. She was born with a severe genetic disease that caused her skin to crack and bleed.
At the tomb, Zarate knelt in prayer, asking favors for her loved ones in Panama.
“And when she finished praying for all these people, she got up to leave,” says Fr. Crosby. “She heard a voice inside saying, ‘well, what about yourself?’
So Zarate knelt again, this time thinking about her disease and asking for Solanus Casey’s intercession.
“And while she prayed, she felt waves going through her whole body,” Fr. Crosby says. “When she got up from the tomb, she went to her room -- she was staying here in one of our guest rooms – and scales of dead skin just came off. She was cured instantly.”
There were witnesses. Documentation. Written accounts sent to Rome. In May 2017, Pope Francis confirmed it as a miracle.
Father Solanus Casey died on July 31, 1957.
Now, 60 years later, he’ll be beatified at Ford Field. It’s the first of two steps towards sainthood. The event could draw upwards of 60,000 people.
It’s a wonderful tribute, says Fr. Dan Crosby. He’s glad the world will get a glimpse of the man he was privileged to have known, even briefly.
“We are very happy and grateful – God is so good, as Solanus would say – for this to happen,” Fr. Crosby says. “But if it never happened, that would not change the fact that we knew he was holy. He was the real thing.”