Father Solanus Casey exhumed ahead of beatification Mass

Aug 7, 2017
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Ned McGrath, Director of Public Affairs
Father Solanus CaseyIt is custom in the Catholic tradition that prior to the official beatification ceremony/liturgy, the local bishop for the individual named oversees the process of procuring relics. This is all done in communication and coordination with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. There are specific directives under Church (Canon) law that must be followed.

In Detroit, this occurred on August 1 for Fr. Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest who served here from 1924 to 1946. Fr. Solanus was previously exhumed 30 years ago when his body was moved from the Friar’s cemetery at St. Bonaventure Monastery on Mt. Elliott in Detroit into what’s now known as the Solanus Casey Center. At that time, verification was needed to confirm the body being reinterred was indeed that of Solanus Casey. Then-Archbishop Edmund Szoka presided over that process.

There are three steps to sainthood: being declared Venerable, being declared Blessed, and finally, being declared a Saint through canonization. Fr. Solanus was declared Venerable in 1995; Pope Francis announced on May 4, 2017 that he would be named Blessed; and his beatification Mass will be celebrated at Ford Field on November 18, 2017. The relics of Fr. Solanus will be on the altar.

For quotation and media usage, below is series of comments on the process followed by a summary of the exhumation process.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Vigneron“Presiding at the process for opening the tomb of Fr. Solanus and confirming the identity of his earthly remains was a time of significant personal prayer for me.  I especially give the Lord Jesus thanks for the gift of Father’s service to our community, above all to the least among us, and for his example of loving our neighbor with nothing less than the sacrificial charity of Christ himself.  This day is a clear milestone on our path to November 18 and Fr. Solanus’s beatification at the Mass to be offered in Ford Field.  God is sure to give great blessings to all of us through this confirmation of Fr. Solanus’s holiness.  For this, ‘let us thank God ahead of time.’”

Fr. Larry Webber, OFM Capuchin and Vice-Postulator for Cause of Fr. Solanus. Fr. Webber presented the case for beatification for Fr. Solanus to the Vatican.

Father Larry Webber“Many mixed feelings filled the hearts of our Capuchin Community today. We are well aware that Fr. Solanus is now part of something greater than just our Capuchin community. He belongs to the whole church, and we pray that his eventual canonization might make him another model of holiness in following Jesus Christ in The Universal Church.

“Today was a great gift for all of us. In opening the tomb of Fr. Solanus we pray that his generosity, his humility and his Holiness might also once again have been opened for us as pathways to imitate him, especially in his care and love for the poor and suffering of our world.

“Personally, to be able to be present and see his actual remains is an experience that most of the faithful never have. Most of us were not present when it happened in 1987, and to have it happen again as we prepare for beatification is a chance to venerate his remains in a special way.

“The exhumation is done for several reasons. Thirty years ago, it was done to recognize the body, to evaluate how the body was, but there were no relics taken at that time, because Fr. Solanus hadn’t yet been made Venerable. Now, as his beatification has been announced, another exhumation has been announced, and the purpose of this exhumation will be to take relics which will be used in the Church.

“The purpose of the exhumation, in brief, is to remove first-class relics, but they will also be removing some very important second-class relics. For instance, when he was exhumed 30 years ago, the habit that he wore when he was first buried was taken off and a new habit was placed on him. That old habit, which would be considered a second-class relic, is in the coffin. So that would then be able to be used as a second-class relic, as well as any other materials that were in the coffin.

“The only thing I want is that at the beatification Mass, with Ford Field filled with all the people, that we pray the prayer for the favor for his canonization. I am praying diligently that God, right there at Ford Field, will shower down blessings and the favor that we need so we can advance Fr. Solanus to sainthood and make this a universal celebration.”

Msgr. Ronald Browne, Judicial Vicar for the Detroit archdiocese and, since 2014, Archbishop Vigneron’s Delegate for the Cause of Fr. Solanus. Msgr. Browne worked on the miracle investigation that was completed earlier this year.

Monsignor Browne“This was my fourth miracle investigation and this one we knew it was something very special, in the sense that the person who was granted the favor never knew anything about Fr. Solanus until she was here in Detroit. She’s not from the United States. A Capuchin friend was showing her (the tomb) and explaining that’s where Fr. Solanus was buried, and he was a very holy man. She was at the tomb praying for her family and when she finished praying, she heard a voice say to her: ‘Well what about yourself; what do you need?’ And the next thing she knew, she was feeling warmth on her leg where her skin disease was very prominent. She rolled up her slacks and looked down, and the skin disease was crumbling off.

“It’s a very exciting time for the Church, especially for the Church in Detroit and the city of Detroit, because Fr. Solanus is a historical figure here, being recognized universally by the church for his holiness. It’s a beautiful example for us in our day in age, in our time, because this was a man who greeted the people at the door. He welcomed whoever – rich or poor, no matter what race – and they were welcomed. He would do what he could for them.”

Br. Michael Sullivan, OFM Capuchin Provincial Minister

Brother Michael Sullivan“It was an honor and a joy for me to be prayerfully present for this event. For me it was an occasion to pray for all the Friars, especially the sick and those who minister here in Detroit as well as for vocations to our way of life. I am deeply grateful for all the ways God continues to work through the presence and ministry of the Capuchins.”

Dr. Robert Fastiggi, professor in Systemic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He has lectured and authored articles on relics.

Doctor Robert Fastiggi“When someone is going to be declared Blessed, the diocesan bishop oversees the process of procuring relics, but everything must be done in communication with the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Prior to the beatification, there cannot be public venerations of the relics of Solanus Casey.

“A first-class relic would be something that is actually a part of the blessed or saint’s body; skin, bones, blood and hair all would be first-class relics. Second-class relics are clothing or items used by the blessed or saint during his or her life. Third class relics are items that have touched a first class relic.”

Exhumation process
  • Once the casket was retrieved from the vault, Archbishop Vigneron began by ceremonially breaking a seal left after Fr. Casey was exhumed in 1987.
  • Three medical professionals examined the remains to officially identify Fr. Casey and to report on the condition of the body.
  • Church officials attested to the collection of relics, such as bone fragments, hair and/or clothing.
  • The collected relics were secured inside vials for transport to Rome, where they will be catalogued and prepared for distribution alongside authentication documents.
  • The body was reinterred in a new tomb at the Solanus Casey Center and Archbishop Vigneron closed the ceremony with a prayer.
  • The relics will be returned to Detroit prior to the November 18th beatification Mass. They will be on the altar during the liturgy.
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