DETROIT — When Father Solanus Casey is beatified Saturday as “Blessed Solanus,” the legendary Catholic priest will become an even greater inspiration — and rarity.
The Capuchin friar will be the third person born in the United States to be beatified. The other two are Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a Sister of Charity who was born in 1901 in Bayonne, N.J., and died in 1927; and the Rev. Stanley Rother, a missionary born in 1935 in Okarche, Okla., and murdered in 1982 in Guatemala.
Casey will be granted the title of Blessed, one step from being named a Catholic saint.
By a decree of Pope Francis, Casey will be honored because Catholic officials say a Panamanian woman’s prayer at Casey’s tomb in Detroit was answered with a miracle: Her skin disease was healed through his intercession.
Nearly 70,000 people — from parishes across metro Detroit as well as Guam, Ireland, Italy and Panama — are expected to pack Ford Field downtown for the beatification ceremony and four-hour Mass. About 500 priests will be in attendance, including 235 brown-robed Capuchin friars and four red-robed Catholic cardinals.
It will be ordinary and extraordinary.
Casey, born in 1870 in Oak Grove, Wis., was a member of the Capuchin Franciscan Order of St. Joseph and helped start the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit.
“Father Solanus is, in some ways, one of the premier citizens of our city,” Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said. He added that Casey’s beatification will be a “jubilant celebration” and recognition that Pope Francis “sees great holiness in father’s life.”
The priest's beatification coincides with an upswing in national attention on Detroit, as it experiences a civic revitalization amid entrenched poverty.
“It’s a critical thing for the church in Detroit to bring hope, and Father Solanus helps with hope,” said the Rev. David Preuss, director of the Solanus Casey Center at the Capuchin monastery.
“He was not a martyr or a great preacher. He was someone who was given a menial job. He was a receptionist, but when people came to the door, he gave such loving care of them that he transformed them,” Preuss said. “Where he goes beyond us is in his depth of faith and prayer. It allowed God to use him for miraculous purposes.”
As much as he was known as a healing mystic, Casey also was an ordinary man in the years he lived at the monastery. Generations of Catholics here cherish stories of how a family member visited the humble friar at the Capuchin monastery.
Casey was known to enjoy Detroit coney dogs and the Detroit Tigers. His tomb at the monastery is adorned with the image of a violin. He loved to play it, albeit not well.
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► September 2016: Mother Teresa declared a saint by Pope Francis
“The other friars used to put their fingers in their ears,” said Brother Richard Merling, a Capuchin who as a youngster met Casey and has worked on his sainthood cause for decades.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, who heads the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will travel from the Vatican to celebrate the beatification Mass and read the papal decree. Joining him will be Cardinal Adam Maida, retired archbishop of Detroit; Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston; and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who was once a Detroit pastor and now is archbishop in Newark, N.J.
“People are making a pilgrimage, and they are using this opportunity to pray for healing for themselves and loved ones when they come to the beatification,” said Tobin’s sister, Gerarda Tobin of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. She leads the committee that is staging Saturday’s beatification Mass.
The free tickets for the beatification were snatched up within hours of their release.
Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the beatification planning “is like having a one-day Super Bowl, and we’re doing it with volunteers.”
Casey’s elevation “makes an incredible statement that this holy man ... is one of us,” O’Callaghan said.
Casey “is at the beginning of a wave” of beatifications and canonizations involving American Catholics, said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Notre Dame University professor and author of the upcoming book Citizen Saints.
In September, Rother, the Oklahoma-born missionary, also was beatified.
If Casey is deemed a saint down the road, he could be the first Irish-American male saint, Cummings said. But before Casey can be declared a saint, Catholic officials will need to attribute a future healing to his intercession.
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The Catholic Church has made 11 people saints for their work in what is now the United States. Through the decades, Catholic officials across the USA have made cases for more than a dozen American Catholics.
Saints who were born in what is now the United States:
• St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton, 1774-1821, was born in New York City; founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's; and is considered the founder of the U.S. Catholic school system. She was the first American-born saint, canonized in 1975.
• St. Katharine Drexel, 1858-1955, was a Philadelphia heiress who became concerned about conditions of Native Americans on a trip West. She later founded Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and ministered to American Indians and blacks in the West and Southwest. She was canonized in 2000.
• St. Kateri Tekakwitha, 1657-80, was born in a Mohawk village in present-day New York and converted to Catholicism at age 19 after meeting a priest. She then ran away to a Jesuit mission near Montreal, took a vow of virginity, lived a life of prayer and penance and became the first Native American to become a saint, canonized in 2012.
“It’s all in God’s time, but other factors influence it, too,” Cummings said of sainthood. “You needed influence at the Vatican to press them forward.”
Casey’s beatification is one step to the “beginning of an avalanche of American saints,” she said.
Follow Patricia Montemurri on Twitter: @pmontemurri