The Solanus legacy

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Blessed Solanus Casey, who was beautified during a Mass Nov. 18, 2017 at Ford Field in Detroit, records a note from a woman who visited him at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit in 1941. The Capuchin Franciscan friar kept dozens of notebooks filled with prayer requests and favors from the thousands who visited him each year. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Detroit)

I visited the statue at the friary in Huntington, Indiana, just before its formal blessing on July 30. It’s of Blessed Father Solanus Casey.

Statues can be displayed for devotional purposes once a person has been beatified. Father Solanus was beatified last November. His story is told by Catherine M. Odell in “Father Solanus Casey, Revised and Updated” (OSV, $18.95).

Ask people in the town of Huntington for directions to the friary, and they’ll point you the way, even though it hasn’t been a Capuchin friary for decades. The Capuchins let it go in 1978, selling the land, chapel and novitiate buildings to a Protestant church.

The Protestants were good neighbors, but much of Catholic Huntington wondered about the heritage they were losing. The friary had been home for a decade, from 1946-56, to Father Solanus. And a lot of people were sure that he was a saint.

Ordained a Capuchin priest, he was never allowed to publicly preach at Mass and hear confessions because of lousy academics in the seminary.

Instead, he was a porter — a doorkeeper — for the Capuchins in Detroit, New York and Huntington. His was a life of listening, counseling, prayer and healing. Tens of thousands would come to love him.

That ministry began in Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers, New York, in 1904.

Here’s where I come in. Well, I really don’t come in at all, but it’s when I first bump into the story.

Sacred Heart was in easy walking distance of where I was raised years later. We called it the monastery, for the Capuchins that still lived there. In my day, they chaperoned Saturday dances in the gym for high school kids. It was a different world.

Father Solanus served as the doorkeeper at Sacred Heart until 1918, when he was transferred to New York and then on to Detroit until 1946. He had gathered in Yonkers a following of many people who knocked at the door every day searching him out. The same thing would happen in New York City. And the same would happen in Detroit.

He offered healing for them and their loved ones. Cancer, mental illness, pain, marital troubles, alcoholism, hopelessness — Father Solanus counseled and prayed. And miracles happened.

Father Solanus attributed every miracle to God. When told his prayers were answered, his response was “Deo Gratias” — “Thanks be to God.”

In 1946, he was transferred to the friary in Huntington. The same thing happened in Huntington. The people found him.

Blessed Solanus is such a human saint. He was a catcher in baseball wearing his Capuchin robes, a good billiards player and lousy on the violin. When he died, I was 7 years old in Yonkers. The community venerated him though he had been gone nearly 40 years.

In his room after he died, Odell tells us, they found “a few books … a violin, pictures of the Blessed Virgin, a rosary and the red stole he used each Wednesday at the 3 p.m. healing service. It was a poor man’s holdings.”

I came to Huntington to work late in 1971 after college. They told me about Solanus Casey there — a Detroit Tigers’ fan who raised bees, saved souls and let God heal. I felt like I was following him.

A Capuchin serving in a Huntington parish — the church where I was married — urged a Catholic philanthropist to buy back the friary. It’s called the St. Felix Catholic Center now. It’s a retreat center and home to a local extension of the Father Solanus Guild.

And there is a statue out front of Blessed Father Solanus. Now formally blessed and dedicated.

Deo Gratias.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.