Chicago-based friar succeeds Bro. Richard Merling and Fr. Larry Webber, who guided Blessed Solanus' beatification efforts
CHICAGO — Fr. Ed Foley, OFM Cap., is no stranger to Blessed Solanus Casey.
When he joined the Capuchins in 1966, the first house where he lived was the St. Felix Friary in Huntington, Ind., the same home where Blessed Solanus spent the later years of his life before dying in Detroit in 1957.
Fr. Foley heard stories about Blessed Solanus as the doorkeeper at Detroit's St. Bonaventure Monastery, ready to answer the door for whoever was knocking, with a simple spirituality accessible to all.
Now, 53 years after joining the Capuchins, Fr. Foley is the man to take up Blessed Solanus’ canonization cause, taking over for Bro. Richard Merling, OFM Cap., and Fr. Larry Webber, OFM Cap., who were co-vice postulators when Fr. Solanus was beatified in 2017.
“I’ve been involved with Solanus’ cause for quite a while,” Fr. Foley told Detroit Catholic. “I chaired the committee that built the Solanus Casey Center, coordinated the liturgy for the beatification, and I’ve known Fr. Larry and Bro. Richard and the work they’ve being doing, doing a great job getting Fr. Solanus to beatification.”
Fr. Foley, who is based in Chicago as the Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality and professor of liturgy and music at the Catholic Theological Union, said he will be commuting monthly to Detroit and will be relying on staff already working on the process to document potential favors attributed to Blessed Solanus’ intercession.
“We’re currently pursuing many leads; people send us reports of all sorts of favors,” Fr. Foley said. “It’s a long process, but we’re looking at them. We can’t discuss them, because of canon law and the need to respect people’s privacy.”
As vice postulator, it is Fr. Foley’s job to gather information about potential favors and send them to the Capuchins' general postulator in Rome, Fr. Carlo Calloni, OFM Cap., who will analyze any potential miracles before sending them back to the Archdiocese of Detroit for analysis, involving more physicians and the submission of another report to Rome.
From there, Rome will decide the potential miracles' authenticity before making a recommendation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who, in turn, make a recommendation to the pope.
In the meantime, Fr. Foley said the focus now is on documenting all instances of favors requested of Blessed Solanus.
“We’re trying to document how many people have left notes on the tomb of Solanus,” Fr. Foley said. “Last month, there were already 3,500 notes on his tomb since the beginning of the year. We’re looking to develop prayer and devotional materials, responding to people’s request for information, relics and documents to support a devotion to Blessed Solanus Casey, developing prayer resources and trying to pursue the potential favor that Rome would call a miracle.”
The late Bro. Leo Wollenweber, OFM Cap., was the first vice postulator for Fr. Solanus’ cause in 1974, after serving as Blessed Solanus’ secretary when he was a porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery. Bro. Wollenweber served as vice postulator for 38 years, eventually being assisted by Bro. Merling.
In 2012, Fr. Larry Webber was appointed co-vice postulator along with Bro. Merling.
Moving forward, Bro. Merling has been tapped to lead the Solanus Casey Heritage Project, in which he’ll work alongside Capuchin archivist Junia Yasenov to analyze and catalogue items in the Solanus Casey Center museum and Capuchin archives, with items Blessed Solanus owned perhaps one day being used for public veneration.
Fr. Webber is leaving Detroit for Montana, in a new ministerial role with the St. Labre Indian Mission in Ashland, Mont.
As Fr. Foley takes over the cause, he understands just why this humble doorkeeper draws such tremendous devotion, years after his death.
“He was known as a healer, no question of that; those stories and that part of his gift were very clear early on,” Fr. Foley said. “But he was so approachable; he was not pretentious. He answered the door, and from a Capuchin perspective, the Capuchins are a community of brothers, some who are ordained, but it’s not a clerical community. But Solanus was ordained, but ordered not to preach, and he had such humility to accept his vocation with such joy and peace in his life.”
As the faithful continue to pray for Blessed Solanus’ canonization, Fr. Foley said if the humble friar were to be counted among the saints of the universal Church, it would be a gift both to the Capuchins and the world.
“I think for many followers, Solanus’ canonization would just confirm what they already believe,” Fr. Foley said: “that Solanus was a man of holiness. For him to be named a saint would then in some ways extend the devotion to him to the universal Church.
“It would be a great thing for the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Fr. Foley continued. “There have been no male saints born in the United States; only two American-born men to be beatified. For him to be a saint, it would be a great honor for the archdiocese, for the Church in the United States and the world. The ripples would be tremendous.”