DETROIT — Father Solanus Casey was a Capuchin monk who, for many Detroiters, is synonymous with kindness and giving, due to his long ministry in Detroit from 1924 until his death in 1957.
To prepare for the 60th anniversary of Casey’s death on July 31, the staffs of the Solanus Center and the Solanus Guild are planning a seven-month period of prayerful remembering. This will be done through a series of presentations on the life of Casey and the various ways he attempted to help others — particularly the people of Detroit.
“July 31, 2017, will be the 60th anniversary of Father Solanus’ death, so we thought we should prepare for that by letting people ahead of the anniversary realize the different facets of why Father Solanus was so significant,” said Father Dan Crosby, a fellow Capuchin and one of the organizers of the upcoming series. “In December, we started out by presenting a play that was developed by people in Wisconsin, where he grew up, that gave people an overview of his life. Each Saturday, we will have presentations about Father Solanus. We talk about his family, we talk to members of the Capuchin order who knew and worked with Father Solanus, or we will feature families which were helped by him throughout his ministry.”
Each free presentation will begin at noon and conclude at approximately 2:30 p.m. at the Solanus Center, which is located at 1780 Mount Elliott St. in Detroit. Reservations are preferred and the center can be contacted at (313) 579-2100.
Crosby, who knew and worked with Casey during his final months, said what set Casey apart was his lack of superficiality and his willingness to take action.
“I lived with Father Solanus during the last year of his life here at St. Bonaventure (Monastery),” said Crosby. “So many times he proved he was not that image of a holy person who just sits around and prays all the time. Solanus was wholly holy from the inside out and lived his life as such. He exuded peace and joy and really was the genuine article. There was nothing flashy about him.”
The remaining presentations will take place on the first Saturday of each month: March 4, April 1, May 6 and June 3. A Mass also will be celebrated on July 31 to mark the anniversary, but the time and place have yet to be determined.
Father David Preuss will be leading the presentation on Saturday, March 4. This one will focus on those in the community whom Casey affected in life and by his legacy.
“For me, the challenge will be that there are so many people out there who shared how Father Solanus affected their lives, and how they’ve been blessed by his presence in the past and his intercession in the present, it could not possibly be constrained by one single day,” said Preuss.
Casey was instrumental in helping those around him weather the storm of the Great Depression and the often challenging times beyond. His work with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit is well-known, but what those who knew the man point to is how his greater legacy was the personal way he talked with and helped those dealing with hardships and troubles.
So many people were affected by Casey that the day of his death was declared an official day of mourning in the city, more than 20,000 people attended his funeral, and he is in consideration for sainthood by the Catholic Church.
“Father Solanus reached into the lives of people and gave them words of strength, words of faith and words of challenge. People can still understand how God has a relationship with them through this attitude,” said Preuss. “His work with the poor and the soup kitchen is an ongoing blessing. A lot of this work was already going on when he joined in, but he added a new level to it, and our generation is trying to continue the work he did.”
“His take on the Gospel was very much in line with St. Francis, the founder of our order, the Franciscans. That attitude focuses on Jesus being alive and within our brothers and sisters,” added Crosby. “What motivated Solanus was the presence of Jesus in others, especially in the poor. This attitude was personified in the soup kitchens, which he founded, which have helped so many people in the Detroit area since the Great Depression.”
Crosby said that hearing about the life of Casey could inspire others to follow in his footsteps or inspire them to reassess how they can help others in their daily lives. Taking in these presentations could not only be insightful, but beneficial.
“Father Solanus was as approachable and genuine as anyone can possibly be,” said Crosby. “When I come in contact with people who have those same qualities, I am motivated to get beyond the surface of religion and go toward the inner core to discover the peace, joy and hope that come from that. I think you can’t help but be inspired by this man who truly loved Jesus and loved others. We’re hoping these presentations communicate that.”
Preuss said that beyond educating others about Casey, the presentations are a celebration of Casey’s life — one that was shaped by kindness and service to all.
“Father Solanus was the receptionist at the office door. Because of that, all kinds of people of every shape, size and description came through that door, and they saw there was a man there who cared for them who was also a holy person,” explained Preuss. “Because of that, they would tell him their problems and they would ask him to pray for them. Prayers were answered. Solanus realized, truly humble person he was, it was not him, it was the grace of God, and because of his faith, he was not surprised when miracles happened.”