The Beatification of Father Francis Solanus is an historic event for the Archdiocese of Detroit, for the Order of Franciscan Capuchins and the American Church. It is, in fact, the second Beatification of a priest born in America, after that of the missionary Stanley Francis Rother, which took place last September twenty-third in Oklahoma City. While Blessed Stanley Rother died a martyr in Guatemala, killed in hatred of the Faith, Blessed Francis Solanus Casey attained holiness, here, in the United States of America, ascending every day the steps of the ladder that takes one to the encounter with God through love of one's needy neighbors. Others, above all the poor, were seen by him not as a weight or an obstacle to his climb to perfection, but as a way to the light of the splendor of God.
Witnesses affirm that "love, faith and trust were the three points that he always preached to people." Faith, hope and charity were for him the seal of the Trinity in our souls. Their practice constituted the effective antidote to atheism, despair and hatred, that pollute human society. The preaching of Father Solanus was not a sterile and disincarnate announcement; it was accompanied rather by the concrete practice of faith, hope and charity in his every-day life.
As long as there is a scintilla of faith – he used to say – there can be no discouragement and sorrow. Coming from an Irish family of profound Catholic convictions, faith was for him a very precious inheritance for facing the difficulties of life. The sense of the presence of the Providence of God was alive not only in the formal moments of prayer, liturgy and study, but also in the daily events of family-life. And so, when the young Bernard Casey entered the Capuchins becoming Francis Solanus, he passed from one community of faith to another.
Father Solanus lives by faith. His person seemed to be surrounded by a supernatural halo. He always used to pray, above all in front of the tabernacle. Prayer was his constant practice of piety. He had a son's devotion to Mary and recited the Rosary with devotion. Reception of the Sacraments gave him security and courage to face the future.
His profound faith allowed him to receive others as a brother, independently of their race or religion. Rabbis and Ministers of at least sixteen Protestant congregations visited him often for discussions and advice. One day, a Protestant minister asked Father Solanus if he would pray for his seriously ill son. "Certainly", the Capuchin answered: "Only God can heal your son, but I will pray for him." Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit noted: "Father Solanus practiced ecumenism long before Vatican Two."
The new Blessed exhorted, in fact, non-Catholics to live their faith authentically, even if for him Catholicism was the only true religion. During his apostolate in Yonkers he often repeated a paradoxical affirmation, made by Robert Hugh Benson, son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, who converted to Catholicism and became a priest and a successful writer: "The Catholic Church promises much, but in my experience she gives ten times more. If you place on a balance-scale, life with success outside the Church, and life with the greatest lack of success in the Church, I would choose the second a thousand times over."
Father Solanus lived, and taught to have, great confidence in God and in His Fatherly Providence. Confidence is the soul of courage for facing even the most adverse situations. The prayer Deo gratias was frequently on his lips. Actually, he exhorted people to thank the Lord before making every request; this in order to commit Him all the more to answering it. He used to say that confidence in God produces serenity and joy, and takes away trouble and sorrow. Trust in God dispels darkness and opens the horizon of hope in eternal blessedness in heaven.
Father Solanus exhorted people to exercise charity, saying: "God loves us, let us also seek to love God." His priestly apostolate was distinguished as the practice of charity towards neighbor. The testimony of Booker Ashe, a Capuchin Friar, who had known Blessed Solanus in the fifties, is meaningful: "I am the first black member of the Capuchin Order in the United States, and I think that he was ahead of his time for the way in which he treated me. I noticed nothing racial in his behavior. He saw all people as human beings, images of God. All the rest was secondary. He did not pay attention to race, color or religious creed."
His favorite sons were the poor, the sick, the emarginated and the homeless. He always fasted in order to give them their own lunch. He spent hours upon hours patiently receiving, listening to, and counselling the ever growing number of people who came to him. Practically speaking, the greater part of his time as Porter was dedicated to others: from nine o'clock in the morning until nine at night, almost without interruption. When they asked for him while he was eating, he went immediately, saying: "Food is not so important as is to seek to help others."
There is one little defect in his life. In the judgment of his fellow-Friars, in fact, Father Solanus was a bad musician. For this reason, after his first failure in the community, with simplicity and humility, in order not to disturb his neighbor, on Sunday evening he went to the chapel with his violin and played Irish religious songs in front of the tabernacle. The Lord listened to him patiently because our Blessed was lacking in music, but not in virtue.
During the great depression of nineteen twenty-nine, in order to help the many who were suffering from hunger, with the help of benefactors he created the kitchen for the free distribution of soup to the poor.
One day there was no more bread and there was a long line of more than two-hundred people waiting for something to eat. Father Solanus approached and began to recite the Our Father. A little bit later knocking was heard at the door and the baker appeared with a large basket full of bread. He had also brought a truck-load of God's gifts. When the people saw this they began to cry with emotion. Father Solanus simply stated: "See, God provides. No one will suffer want if we put our trust in Divine Providence."
Thus, Father Solanus responded to the Word of God: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt. 25:40). The life of our Blessed is an exemplary page of the Gospel, lived with human and Christian intensity. It is a page to read with edification and emotion, and to imitate with fervor.
In raising the American Capuchin to the honors of the altars, Pope Francis points him out to the whole Church as a faithful disciple of Christ, a good shepherd. Today the Church and society still need the example of the works of Father Solanus.
Blessed Father Solanus, pray for us!