Preaching during friar's second feast day, Cardinal Tobin urges faithful to pray fervently, seek God's plan above all else

DETROIT — A violin softly strummed “Ave Maria” as the chapel began to fill. Priests prayed over pilgrims kneeling on the stone floor. Fingerprints smudged the glass protecting the casket of a beloved friar, and prayer requests overfilled a small wicker basket nearby.

It was a familiar scene at St. Bonaventure Monastery.

On July 30, the only difference in the celebration of Blessed Solanus Casey's life was the calendar. It was the porter's feast day — his second since being officially proclaimed a blessed by the Church in 2017 — and hundreds were on hand to celebrate. 

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Newark, N.J., a Detroit native, marked the occasion with a special Mass alongside several Capuchin priests, members of the Casey family and lay faithful from across Metro Detroit and beyond. 

While Blessed Solanus, a Capuchin priest who died in 1957, was known throughout the Midwest as a miracle man, it was his union with God — and steadfast belief in the power of prayer — that made him such an influential figure, Cardinal Tobin said.

Members of the Casey family, Capuchins and lay faithful listen to Cardinal Tobin's homily July 30 at St. Bonaventure Monastery. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“Growing up in Detroit, our neighborhood was full of stories about Fr. Solanus,” said Cardinal Tobin, the former pastor of Detroit’s Most Holy Redeemer Parish and a member of the Redemptorist order. “A fellow down the street swore he received the gift of his sight because of Fr. Solanus.”

Cardinal Tobin, who grew up the youngest of 13 children in southwest Detroit, explained that the man was a working husband and father whose eyesight was failing at a young age.

“He came to see Fr. Solanus, and he said, ‘Father, please help me. How can I support my family if I go blind?’” Cardinal Tobin said. “Fr. Solanus looked at him and said, ‘Tomorrow at 7 o’clock, when I celebrate the Eucharist and lift the host, your sight will be restored.’ And it was.”

Many received physical healing through Blessed Solanus’ intercession, but his greater ministry was helping people to accept God's will — even when God's will was difficult, Cardinal Tobin said.

In another instance, two religious sisters had visited Fr. Solanus to seek healing for one of the sisters' cancer, the cardinal recalled. 

A woman kneels to lay her head on the glass covering over the tomb of Blessed Solanus Casey July 30 at the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit.

“Fr. Solanus had never met either of the sisters. He went right up to the sick sister and said, ‘God has heard your prayer. You’re cured,’” Cardinal Tobin said. “Then, he turned to Sr. Raimunda, who was just there for the ride, and said, ‘But Jesus will ask you to suffer with him.’”

While the first sister was healed, Sr. Raimunda soon developed a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis that lasted for three decades, deforming her fingers and hands until she could no longer teach, Cardinal Tobin said.

“She lived in the same room, in the same bed, for nearly three decades,” Cardinal Tobin said. “As a young priest, I used to say Mass at the foot of her bed. I saw how she couldn’t hold a rosary with her thumb. She would rub her swollen knuckles on each bead as she prayed. But she’s arguably the happiest woman I’ve ever met.”

Though she loved teaching, she came to realize that Jesus' mission for her was to be united with his cross. 

“'I'm doing what he wants,'” Cardinal Tobin recalled Sr. Raimunda saying. “She came to know God’s will because of Fr. Solanus. What he revealed to her is what God’s plan was — and God’s plan is always good.”

Cardinal Tobin encouraged those in attendance who were praying for a favor to “ask them all,” he said. “But in the end, when God’s plan is revealed, pray that He helps you say ‘yes.’”

A woman kneels in prayer during Mass. Hundreds of faithful offered their intentions July 30, as prayers were made for the canonization of Blessed Solanus.

Trust in God's divine will

As someone who has suffered with rheumatoid arthritis for 26 years, Dave Zoltowski of Livonia said Cardinal Tobin’s homily resonated.

“I know that God is letting me suffer for the same reason as the sister his grace spoke about: to save souls,” Zoktowski told Detroit Catholic

Zoltowski did receive healing through Blessed Solanus' intercession — not for his arthritis, but during a scary incident earlier in his life. As a young man living in Detroit in 1987, Zoltowski began to experience “the worst abdominal pain of my life” and wanted to go to the hospital.

“My mom said, 'Let's visit Fr. Solanus' tomb first,'” Zoltowski said. 

Reluctant, but at the urging of his mother, Zoltowski went, and knelt over the tomb with his abdomen touching the wooden cover. 

“As I knelt there, I said, ‘There is no way he’s going to …’ and all of a sudden, the pain was gone,” Zoltowski said. “I knelt down and I cried, and I said, ‘God, forgive me for doubting you.’ I didn’t think I was worthy.”

A friar kneels in front of a statue and relic of Blessed Solanus Casey inside the chapel at St. Bonaventure Monastery.

Regardless of whether healing comes, Blessed Solanus’ utter trust in God is a model of holiness everyone can follow, said Patricia Ellis of Grosse Pointe.

“He is an instrument of God’s peace,” Ellis said. “In this world of many challenges, we all need to reflect on his life and be more like him.”

Being more like Blessed Solanus is a personal mission for Caleb Cunningham, a third-year theology seminarian for the Diocese of Baker, Ore.  

“As people have said, he was just a normal guy,” Cunningham said. “We think of saints as people who are all pious, but people came to him for healing and comfort and prayers because of his close union with God.”

Cunningham already bears a striking resemblance to Blessed Solanus, and for good reason: he’s a distant nephew of the Detroit saint.

In town for the feast day, Cunningham said he and other family members began to learn more about the blessed friar’s great humility and holiness around the time of the beatification.

“As people have said, he was just a normal guy,” Cunningham said. “We think of saints as people who are all pious, but people came to him for healing and comfort and prayers because of his close union with God.”

While many are drawn to Blessed Solanus for his healing touch, it’s Blessed Solanus' humble submission to God that makes him a saint, Cunningham said.

A St. Solanus Casey — should God will it — would be “another amazing saint for us to follow in his footsteps,” Cunningham said. “His deep relationship with God is something we’re all called to in this life.”

Video by Paul Duda and Joe Pelletier, Detroit Catholic