Detroit priest known for his humility to be beatified
Father Solanus, as he was known, will be beatified Saturday at a Mass attended by 65,000 people at a stadium in Detroit where he spent much of his ministry. Pope Francis said he met the requirements to earn the title of "blessed," especially after a woman from Panama was instantly cured of a chronic skin disease while she prayed at his tomb in 2012.
Father Solanus can be made a saint in the years ahead if a second miracle is attributed to him. He'll be only the second U.S.-born man to be beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, joining the Rev. Stanley Rother, a priest killed in Guatamala's civil war, who was beatified in Oklahoma in September. One U.S.-born woman has been beatified and two others have been declared saints.
"It's a great event," Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who leads the southeastern Michigan church, said of the honor for Father Solanus. "It's hard to communicate how vivid and real the presence of Father is to our community."
Even 60 years after his death, "people don't say, 'I'm going to Father's tomb,'" Vigneron told The Associated Press. "They say, 'I'm going to talk to Father.'"
Father Solanus, a native of Oak Grove, Wisconsin, joined the Capuchin religious order in Detroit in 1897 and was ordained a priest seven years later. But there were conditions: Because of academic struggles, he was prohibited from giving homilies at Mass and couldn't hear confessions.
"He accepted it," said the Rev. Martin Pable, 86, a fellow Capuchin. "He believed whatever God wants, that's what he would do."
He served for 20 years in New York City and nearby Yonkers before the Capuchins transferred him back to the St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit in 1924. Wearing a traditional brown hooded robe and sandals, Father Solanus worked as a porter or doorkeeper for the next two decades, but his reputation for holiness far exceeded his modest title.
The unemployed shared their anxieties with Father Solanus, the parents of wayward kids sought his advice, and the ill and addicted asked him to urge God to heal them. As he listened, he took notes that were later turned into typewritten volumes of his work.
Later in life, when Father Solanus was stationed at a seminary in Huntington, Indiana, Detroiters boarded buses for a four-hour ride just to see the man with a wispy white beard. Mail piled up from across the country.
"He had a gentle presence. He left people with a wonderful feeling of peace inside their hearts," Pable said. "He would say, 'Let's just pray about this and see what God wants to do.' Some people were not healed. He told them to bear their problems with God's help."
Father Solanus, who died in 1957, also co-founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which serves up to 2,000 meals a day to Detroit's poor.
The Capuchins built a center that bears his name and explains his life story. The public is invited to pray and leave handwritten pleas atop his tomb. Father Solanus' name is invoked by many people who attend a weekly service for the sick.
Shirley Wilson, 78, said she regularly prayed to Father Solanus to help her nephew get a kidney. He got one a few weeks ago.
"It was a perfect match," she said. "I believe in miracles."
Vigneron hopes Father Solanus will inspire people to show mercy toward others.
"We need to care for the poor and give them a high priority," the archbishop said. "Father was very loving and understanding to people who came to him with their troubles."