'Celebrate Solanus' documentary chronicles Detroit blessed's life, ministry and legacy; novena and special Masses start July 22 

DETROIT — Summer brings ice cream, and with it memories of a saint who stopped it from melting.

Leading up to Blessed Solanus Casey's second feast day July 30, Detroit’s Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, which operates the Solanus Casey Center and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, is celebrating a series of special Masses and a novena in honor of Detroit's first beatified saint.

Starting July 22, liturgies and devotions will be prayed at the Solanus Center, 1780 Mt. Elliott St. in Detroit, with each day of the novena prayed for a different intention celebrating aspects of Blessed Solanus' life and ministry.

A new documentary about Blessed Solanus has also been released ahead of the second annual celebration of his feast day, July 30.

Noel Thompson is the producer and director of “Celebrate Solanus,” a 27-minute documentary chronicling Blessed Solanus’ life and the legacy he continues to leave. 

Noel Thompson, creator of the new documentary, “Celebrate Solanus,” says he was moved by the testimonials of those he interviewed who knew the blessed porter in real life. (Courtesy of Noel Thompson)

Thompson decided to create the film while people who knew Blessed Solanus are still alive, with interviews taking place in homes and at St. Bonaventure Monastery over four to six months.

“It’s actually pretty amazing to see how many people knew Solanus,” Thompson told Detroit Catholic.

Sources shared memories including Fr. Solanus’ less-than-beautiful violin playing and singing, as well as his warmth as the doorkeeper at the monastery. Fr. Solanus was a prison guard, farmer, and trolley operator before joining the priesthood and becoming a simplex priest, Thompson said.

“The people were older, but their memories of Solanus were so vivid of him, so pure,” Thompson said, adding that most of the people he interviewed seemed to see the stories unfold again as they told them.

He also said the friars who knew Blessed Solanus knew he would be a saint.

“Him becoming a saint wasn’t a question to them,” Thompson said.

Thompson also has a more personal connection to Blessed Solanus. His grandmother, who used to run a fish fry at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in St. Clair Shores, got her fish from the same place as the Capuchins and came to know many of them.

Many asked Blessed Solanus to pray for them and claimed his intercession helped. Miracles seemed to tag along after the friar, including one in which two packed ice cream cones multiplied into three after he shoved the pair in an unrefrigerated drawer in his desk to save for later. He pulled them, in perfect condition, out again to celebrate the healing of another friar’s tooth.

Pilgrims leave prayer intentions at the tomb of Blessed Solanus Casey in 2017. The Solanus Casey Center continues to be a place of prayer, healing and welcome, thanks to the Capuchins who continue to minister there. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

The documentary ends at Fr. Solanus' beatification, which took place on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Ford Field. He was beatified after a woman with a skin condition prayed over his tomb and her symptoms disappeared. 

Blessed Solanus' cause for canonization continues as the Capuchins collect stories of healings, miracles and intercessions attributed to him.

Despite the miracles, Blessed Solanus was seen by many as a normal guy, Thompson said. He was down to earth, caring, liked to spend time with friends, and enjoyed beer, but everything he did was grounded in a deep and solid faith, Thompson said. Nothing fazed him.

“That’s something to strive for in life,” he added. “It’s a story that really resonates with the young people today.”

Fr. David Preuss, OFM Cap., director of the Solanus Casey Center, agreed.

“What made him a saint, any of us can do,” Fr. Preuss said. 

Unlike many saints, Blessed Solanus wasn't martyred and didn't found a religious order, but “he welcomed, he listened, he prayed with people, and then he saw what he could do for them,” Fr. Preuss said.

As the doorkeeper, Casey was the first face visitors to the monastery saw. He greeted people, found out what they needed, and helped.

“Whether you’re 9 or 90, you can do that,” Fr. Preuss said.

While Fr. Solanus was at the monastery, the front office was always packed, Fr. Preuss said, and he had a way with balancing people’s physical and spiritual needs.

“The needs those people had are the same needs we have,” Preuss said. “We are called on to carry on that ministry.”

Needs might not have changed, but American and Catholic culture has since evolved. Fewer churches are open during the week to offer people places to pray and meditate, Fr. Preuss said. He also said people live under pressure and in fear — a void the Solanus Casey Center and its St. Bonaventure Monastery Chapel are designed to fill.

Zaid Chabaan carries a first-class relic of Blessed Solanus Casey in a procession at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica last year. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

“This is a place of peace and calm and healing that people can come to in their time of need,” Fr. Preuss said.

Visitors to the center come all day every day, and priests hear confessions from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week. The center saw more than 12,000 visitors in June and more than 14,000 in May.

The Detroit Capuchins also take care of people’s physical needs. The Capuchin Soup Kitchen includes a meal program, through which two dining and kitchen spaces offer food to hundreds of people each day. 

Other ministries include On the Rise Bakery, which employs former inmates and those who have completed substance-abuse programs; Earthworks Urban Farm, an organic Detroit-based farm; a substance abuse program and Jefferson House, a residential treatment facility for up to 12 men at a time; the Capuchin Services Center, which offers emergency food and clothing; and the Rosa Parks Children’s Program, which offers tutoring, art therapy, family activities, and a library.

'Celebrate Solanus,' a documentary by Noel Thompson

“Celebrate Solanus” was produced by Rochester-based Foxfire Entertainment and is available for $19.99 at celebratesolanus.com, on the Solanus Casey Center website, and at the Solanus Center gift shop. Proceeds benefit Capuchin ministries.

Mass and novena intentions, dates and times

Monday, July 22 (Mother earth)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon

Tuesday, July 23 (Musicians and artists)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon

Wednesday, July 24 (The sick)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon
English/American Sign Language healing service at 2 p.m.

Thursday, July 25 (The poor)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon
*Visitors are invited to donate a gift of men’s or women’s socks and/or underwear for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

Friday, July 26 (Children and grandparents)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon
*Noon Mass celebrated by Fr. Ed Foley, OFM Cap., vice postulator for the cause of canonization

Saturday, July 27 (Young adults)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon

Sunday, July 28 (Holy Mother Church)
9 a.m. Mass celebrated by Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon; noon Mass with music from the Solanus Casey Choir

Monday, July 29 (Religious & consecrated life)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon

Tuesday, July 30 (Feast day)
Masses at 7:45 a.m. and noon. A 7 p.m. Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap., archbishop of Boston


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