Capuchin friar, miracle worker remembered more for how he served God and others in humility, archbishop says during Mass
DETROIT — God is glorified by the humble, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron told a small congregation July 30 during the feast day of Blessed Solanus Casey at St. Bonaventure Monastery, the place where Detroit’s beloved friar lived and work as a doorkeeper, praising God through his willing humility.
Blessed Solanus died on July 31, 1957. His beautification cause commenced in 1976, and in 2017, was realized when he was declared “blessed” in front of 60,000 people at Ford Field. His feast is now celebrated the day before the anniversary of his death.
Leading up to the feast day, the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph hosts an annual novena and tours of the Solanus Casey Center, where Blessed Solanus is entombed.
Despite being known as a miracle worker, it was Fr. Solanus’ great humility that makes him a saint, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Vigneron reflected on the paradox of the paschal mystery embodied in the life of Fr. Solanus: that Christ became powerful by dying on the cross and being crushed by the Roman Empire, just as Fr. Solanus endured his own measure of humility and through it, glorified God the Father.
“He was willingly humbled in his advancement to the priesthood,” the archbishop said in his homily, referring to Fr. Solanus’ ordination as a “simplex” priest. “Because of his difficulties in studies, he was by all accounts to be limited in his priestly ministry, not able to do the ordinary things that so many priests do: preach in public, hear confessions. So what was left to him was to be the doorkeeper, to be, in that sense, humble in his service.
“It is often observed that through what seemed to limit him in his priestly ministry, his priestly ministry blossomed,” the archbishop said.
Fr. Solanus lived out the proclamation made at every celebration of the Eucharist, Archbishop Vigneron said: “It is truly right and just, proper in our celebration always and everywhere to give you thanks, heavenly Father.”
He did this by oft repeating his now-famous phrase, “Thank God ahead of time,” the archbishop said.
“What a powerful way to capture this truth that it is good always and everywhere to thank God,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “As we come here to St. Bonaventure, where he ministered, here to his tomb, Father can serve us still as a priest, teaching us always and everywhere to give God praise and thanks. We can go to Fr. Solanus today (and say), ‘Father, teach us to pray.’”
For the Capuchin friars ministering today, the celebration of Fr. Solanus’ life is a reminder of why they continue to serve the needy in Detroit, said Bro. Bob Malloy, OFM Cap., pastoral director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
“For me, it is just a reminder of why we’re here (in Detroit) and why we are at the soup kitchen: to focus on humility and serve people that come to us — not only to serve them, but to allow them to serve us with their goodness and their love,” Bro. Malloy said. “It is a mutual ministry.”
Among those present were a contingent of Fr. Solanus’ family members, including Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, Fr. Solanus’ great-niece who traveled from Seattle to celebrate the feast of her grandfather’s brother.
Sr. Herkenrath, 91, remains struck by how “normal” Fr. Solanus was and similar to his fun-loving and gracious 15 brothers and sisters. She fondly remembers the first time she met him during a family gathering.
“I was a skeptical 15-year-old, and as soon as I saw him I thought, ‘Oh, he is as normal as everyone else,’” Sr. Herkenrath said. “He was so normal, and that converted me right then and there. He was wonderful. That’s one of the things that has stood out with me: that you can be holy and close to God and still be normal.”
After Mass, the Capuchins presented Archbishop Vigneron with a second-class relic, a book in which Blessed Solanus wrote. In addition to Fr. Solanus’ tomb, a first-class relic is housed in the St. Bonaventure Chapel, and another relic is available for parish veneration through the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Prayer for the canonization of Blessed Solanus Casey
O God, I adore You. I give myself to You.
May I be the person You want me to be,
and May Your will be done in my life today.
I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.
If it is Your Will, bless us with the Canonization of
Father Solanus so that others may imitate
and carry on his love for all the poor and
suffering of our world.
As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,
I ask You, according to Your Will,
to hear my prayer for… (your intention)
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Blessed be God in all His Designs.”
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit