Thousands attend beatification of Father Solanus Casey, now 1 step from sainthood

The ceremony was expected to be the largest Catholic service in Michigan since 1987 when Pope John Paul II presided over Mass in Pontiac.

Father Solanus Casey beatification attendees share their stories about the beloved Detroit priest.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

A group of nuns waits in the stands before the Beatification of Father Solanus Casey at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday November 17, 2017. Father Solanus Casey is only the second American-born male to be beatified by the Catholic Church as the final step before sainthood.(Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)Buy Photo

Inspired by the legacy of Father Solanus Casey, thousands flocked to Detroit’s Ford Field Saturday afternoon for the beatification Mass of a late priest that they said inspired and blessed their lives.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for 14 years,” said Lily Flask of Livonia, who believes Casey’s intercession helped save her husband from heart problems in 2003. “I prayed every day to him. … I had to be here today.”

Flask and her husband Salvino were standing outside Ford Field waiting in line for what’s expected to be the largest Catholic service in Michigan since 1987, when the Pope presided over Mass at the Silverdome in Pontiac.

“It’s going to be a special day,” Flask said. 

Flask was of several Catholics who say that Casey’s blessing has helped them cope with illness. 

Eleeno Sammut, of Detroit, said that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, but after praying to Casey, it went away. 

“Thank you, Fr. Solanus,” Sammut said. “I pray to him every single day. I believe in him. I’m a believer.”

Casey died 60 years ago in Detroit, but his memory continues with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and the memories of his humble, simple life dedicated to prayer and the poor.

People gather at Ford Field in Detroit on Nov. 18, 2017, for the beatification Mass of Father Solanus Casey, the late Catholic priest. (Photo: Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press)

 

After today’s Mass, which starts at 4 p.m., Casey will be one step closer to becoming a possible Catholic saint. In 1995, he was declared “Venerable” and after today’s ceremony, he will be given the title of “Blessed.” Only two other Catholics born in the U.S. have that title. 

The program today will be done in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Chaldean, and Vietnamese, reflecting the multicultural makeup of the Archdiocese of Detroit, which has about 1.3 million Catholics. It will be a simple, yet elegant service, reflecting the personality of Casey, said Edward Foley, a Capuchin friar from Chicago who is coordinating today’s liturgy.

The Calleros family of Oakland Township goes on Catholic pilgrimages outside of Michigan, including when Pope John Paul II was canonized at the Vatican. And so to have a beatification ceremony right here in metro Detroit is special.

“To have it here in Detroit is a blessing,”  said Francisco Calleros.

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Janie Graves, 64, of Royal Oak was set on attending the beatification rain or shine.

Graves’ son, Jason Graves, 30, is a Capuchin deacon who will be at the altar saying Mass at the beatification and will take his vows in January, Janie Graves said.

“We’re just joyed to be here to be witness of this,” said Janie Graves, who was in attendance with her husband David Graves, 59, and daughter Catherine Graves, 26.

Catherine Graves said that today means a lot for her brother because Father Solanus was also a Capuchin.

“I think that this is a wonderful thing for the whole country because Solanus was such a person of the people, he was so relatable,” Catherine Graves said, adding: “He was really just a person of the people. So I think that’s why there’s such a great turnout here today.”

For Father Greg Mirto, of Houston, today isn’t the first time he’s paid respect to Casey  in Detroit.  

In 1999, he made a pilgrimage to Casey’s  tomb, where he prayed and asked for help in building his church. The next year, construction began on St. William Catholic Church in Fort Lupton, Colo., Mirto said.  

“And the church has been built so I came back to give thanks to the Lord for Father Solanus,” Mirto said.

Samaher Manju, 38, of Troy said that she shares a connection with Casey because of his love of prayer.

“He loved people, he loved God, and he loved the poor,” Manju said. “So I want to come and honor that. … We want to continue his work, his prayers, for the whole world, the state of Michigan, the city of Detroit.”

Kevin Coupe, of Kansas City, MO shows a badge he made with a second class relic while waiting for the Beatification of Father Solanus Casey at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday November 17, 2017. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Kevin Coupe, 49, of Kansas City, Missouri, had a photo of Casey with symbols of the Detorit Tigers, Lions, and a fiddle, which represented Casey’s love of playing Irish songs on his violin.

“He was a poor man, a humble man,” Coupe said of Casey. “In the world today, people need to be humble.”

Kevin Coupe, of Kansas City, MO talks while waiting for the Beatification of Father Solanus Casey at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday November 17, 2017. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Coupe had expected to travel to Detroit three years ago to visit the Solanus Casey center and the monastery where Casey stayed at. But he unexpectedly suffered a back injury and was unable to make it. He knew he had to be here today, walking one mile from his hotel to Ford Field. 

“He knew life was full of disappointments,” Couple said of Casey. “That’s why people are so drawn to him.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo