At the hospital where he died and every day since, Detroit's blessed porter continues to quell fears and offer God's miraculous peace

DETROIT  In April, Dr. Thomas Graves spent weeks praying outside Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit as the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head. 

As people were admitted in droves with fever, cough, chills and difficulty breathing, Dr. Graves and others from his men’s group at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms interceded for the patients and medical staff inside, praying especially that people would be healed of their fear.

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After all, that’s what Blessed Solanus Casey would do.

On July 31, 1957, Detroit’s beloved Capuchin friar was one of those patients at St. John, struggling to hang on as he lay dying from a debilitating skin disease. 

Rosellen Loye-Bucy remembers that day well. As a young woman who worked at St. John, she visited Fr. Solanus during his last days, recalling an “air of reverence around his room; it was quiet and peaceful.” 

“I had the privilege of visiting him there at the end, very weak and frail but alert. An aura of holiness surrounded him almost visibly,” Loye-Bucy said. “My mother and I were among the estimated 10,000 mourners who came to his funeral on a scorching hot day in August 1957.”

Dr. Thomas Graves, a family physician and parishioner at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, prays outside Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit, where earlier this year, cases of COVID-19 declined after a local men’s group spent weeks praying outside. Dr. Graves said he believes Blessed Solanus Casey, who died at St. John in 1957, played a big role.

It wasn’t her first encounter with the holy porter of St. Bonaventure Monastery.

As a young girl, she remembers Fr. Solanus regularly visiting her grandmother’s house on Lenox Avenue in Detroit for Sunday dinners, and praying with her father who was ill. 

“Fr. Solanus seemed very tall to this 8-year-old girl,” said Loye-Bucy, who belongs to Sacred Heart Parish in Imlay City. “He’d bound up the steps to my dad’s room so quickly, his brown robes and long white rope belt swirling around him. When he had finished praying for my dad and giving him his blessing, he’d bound back down the stairs.”

Now 78 years old, Loye-Bucy has witnessed miracles big and small that she attributes to the intercession of her friend Fr. Solanus, both while he was alive and now that he’s with God in heaven.

“Fr. Solanus has never let me down, never once. He is a good friend,” Loye-Bucy told Detroit Catholic recently. “He was such a good man. And I firmly believe in miracles. I think if you look for miracles, you are going to see them. There are so many people who don’t believe in miracles, but they are there. Whether you believe in them or not, they happen. I think if we ask for miracles, we’re more likely to receive them.”

For Loye-Bucy, Fr. Solanus’ miracles weren’t abstract. They hit close to home.  

Thousands gather outside the cemetery to pay respects during Blessed Solanus Casey’s funeral Mass in 1957, a testament to the countless lives the friar touched during and after his life. (File photo)

About 20 years after Fr. Solanus’ death, Loye-Bucy’s only sister discovered a suspicious breast tumor. Doctors suspected cancer, and the lump had to be removed quickly.

“A friend of hers was taking her to the hospital early in the morning and promised to call with news. A couple of hours later, my sister herself called,” Loye-Bucy said. “I was expecting her to still be under anesthesia. She explained that just before they were to operate, the doctor decided to do one more X-ray.”

The tumor had disappeared, but Loye-Bucy wasn’t at all taken aback. 

“I wasn’t surprised, and my sister asked ‘Why not?’ Because I asked for Fr. Solanus’ intercession,’ I explained calmly,” she said.

It was that kind of confidence that inspired Dr. Graves and his men’s group to pray outside St. John for COVID-19 patients.

As time went on, the group received requests for prayers from people all over the country: for those infected, for pregnant women afraid of getting sick, for the terminally ill and immunocompromised. 

A statue of Blessed Solanus Casey is pictured inside St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, where the saintly friar is buried. 

Dr. Graves and his fellow prayer warriors marched around the hospital, reciting the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet while holding up a crucifix as well as icons of the Divine Mercy and Blessed Solanus. 

“As people know, many people were healed from his prayers when he was alive,” Dr. Graves said. “We believe now that he’s in heaven, his prayers are heard by the ear of God even more.”

Because of his holiness and faithfulness, Blessed Solanus continues to be a powerful ally and intercessor for Detroit as someone who unabashedly asked God for miracles — and thanked Him ahead of time for His answer, said Dr. Graves, who practices family medicine in Chesterfield Township. 

As Dr. Graves and his group continued praying, cases of COVID-19 began to drop at St. John. The group also witnessed the healing of a young woman who was admitted with increasingly severe COVID symptoms, only to be discharged shortly after her arrival, as her symptoms miraculously cleared. 

Catholics carry crucifixes, rosaries and an icon of Blessed Solanus Casey while praying outside Ascension St. John Hospital for a decline in COVID-19 cases earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Thomas Graves)

“We could call that a coincidence, but as a medical doctor, and seeing many patients with COVID, once you start that downward slope, it’s almost inconceivable that you would have an immediate break of your fever and all your symptoms, especially as you’re being admitted to the hospital,” Dr. Graves said.

Dr. Graves later found out emergency room nurses would tell their patients who were frightened not to fear because there were people praying for them right outside.

As a physician, Dr. Graves has not always been a believer in miracles. He came to his faith about 20 years ago, but miracles were one of the last things he took to. 

Now, however, he believes witnessing miracles has helped strengthen his faith. 

“Miracles are God’s way of increasing our faith,” Dr. Graves said. “I pray like I believe — I believe God is going to do a miracle. Maybe not what I am asking, but a miracle is going to happen.”

Fr. Solanus’ final words were, “I give my soul to Jesus Christ,” and to this day, patients still request placement in the hospital room where the holy friar took his final breath.

Dr. Thomas Graves prays at a grotto dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary outside St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms. 

Dr. Graves said that in dark times, such as what the world is seeing now, God seems more willing to reach down and allow miracles to happen, but the faithful must be open to receiving them.

Even someone as holy as Blessed Solanus did not create miracles, Dr. Graves said, but rather allowed — and continues to allow — God to work through him. 

“God used him to heal people,” Dr. Graves said. “If I pray for you and you have a miraculous healing, God is using me.” 

“Maybe He has never used you for a miracle before. Maybe you’ve been sitting on the bench,” Dr. Graves said. “If we are open to God doing the miracle through us, He is going to do what He does. No matter what, when we pray for a miracle we are bringing the light and the love and the peace and the joy of Jesus into the situation, and that alone is a miracle. 

“That’s a miracle because heaven is going to be greater than this earth anyway.”

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