I could not possibly count the number of times that I’ve been to St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. From the multiple occasions of going to Mass there as a child with my family, to the number of times I’ve prayed in the church, or at Fr. Solanus Casey’s tomb, and received absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation—these times of grace are too many to count.
St. Bonaventure is a place I’ve always felt comfortable, like walking into my parents’ house. It’s a place where I could experience Jesus Christ in a manner that may have seemed elusive prior to entering through the heavy wood doors.
I imagine that many local individuals feel the same way that I do about St. Bonaventure Monastery. The Capuchin Friars are known for an “open door” policy. All individuals are welcome, to be greeted by Jesus Christ in the person of one of his servants at this holy place.
Of course, this is true in all the missionary endeavors of the Capuchins on the eastside of the city and beyond. Nevertheless, those of us who have experienced the welcome of the open door at St. Bonaventure often attribute the welcoming to our local saint, Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey, who will soon be beatified as Blessed Solanus Casey.
Recently, I was fortunate to attend the press conference that announced the upcoming beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey. It was another comforting moment in the collection of blessings I’ve known from God at St. Bonaventure as Archbishop Allen Vigneron revealed the blessing for the City of Detroit and all the people of God. It was a beautiful gathering punctuated with prayer, praise, gratitude, wonder, and joy.
As another priest and I returned to our seminary offices that day, he asked me if I knew anyone who had been healed by God through Father Solanus. He asked knowing that I grew up on the eastside of the city and that I come from a couple generations of Eastsiders. Fortunately, his question brought back a blessing that I had forgotten being told as a child.
Indeed, I did know someone who was healed in such a manner.
It was my grandmother.
Gears of Prayer
My grandmother, Margaret Mary (McNamara) Burr, was healed after visiting Father Solanus as a child. At the age of six or seven years old, she was home from school and not feeling well. To fill her time away from her grade school, she played with her china doll. That’s correct, a breakable porcelain doll. The country wasn’t big on warnings signs for choking hazards or dangerous toys in those days.
While she was playing, the porcelain broke and deeply gashed her hand. Her parents took her to a doctor right away to dress the wound. After a few days, my great-grandparents noticed that their daughter’s hand was not healing and returned to the doctor’s office. The doctor informed them that the wound was infected and, if it did not improve soon, part of Margaret Mary’s hand would need to be amputated. Thus, being good Irish Catholics, the gears of prayer snapped into action.
“She Will Be Fine”
Her father, my great-grandfather, James Pulcher McNamara, owned Master’s Pickles on Bellevue Street just blocks away from St. Bonaventure Monastery. He knew of Fr. Solanus Casey and the good works that had been attributed to his prayers.
Father Solanus greeted the pair when they arrived at the monastery, prayed with them, and told them that my young grandmother would be fine. He may have said one of the phrases he was known to offer when he knew how God’s healing hand was working. These phrases are noted in Fr. Michael Crosby’s book, Thank God Ahead of Time: “The doctor will be surprised,” or “Have the doctor look again,” or “I don’t think there is a need for that.”
At her next visit to the doctor, all the signs of infection were gone from my grandmother’s hand. Like similar stories of personal miracles, the doctor was surprised that the infection was gone.
Something Good Happens
Throughout my grandmother’s life, she believed that she was healed by God through Fr. Solanus Casey on that day. She lived her life with a firm conviction that God cared for her in an extraordinary way through his servant when she and her family were frightened, yet trusted in God’s care for them as they recognized their dependence upon him.
To be clear: that my grandmother did not have any portion of her hand amputated and that her hand was healed from an infection is not a “miracle” vetted by any authority in the Church credited to the sanctity of Fr. Solanus Casey—although the healing is an event that is known in my family as a miracle. Of course, my family does not have our own formal process to offer evidence to the matter, nor was the event made known to the Church for investigation.
The simple fact is that there were many individuals who sought the Lord on my grandmother’s behalf when she was injured, which includes Father Solanus. Something good happened to bring her good health following those prayers.
Miracle without Fanfare
Does my grandmother’s healing pale in comparison? No. A miracle is exceptional in whatever form. A miracle doesn’t need pretension or any sort of fanfare to be significant.
As a matter of fact, in the Gospel of Luke (9:17), the disciples collect the small fragments after the multitude was fed. The twelve baskets of leftovers are another feast in waiting as there is no small gift from God. Indeed, the scraps are still a part of the miracle.
There are many miracles that dazzle our minds even when we have been given the faith to believe them, and then there are miracles that may only be known to an individual who cries aloud to the Lord. For my grandmother and family, the simplicity of Father Solanus’ prayer and his comforting words offered the reality of Christ’s care for a frightened young girl. God heard the cry of a poor man, Father Solanus, a poor girl, my grandmother, and the poverty in all who were helpless in assisting her when turning to God.
God’s Merciful Care
Not only do we know from the Psalms that when we cry out to God in our poverty we are heard by him, we also believe that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps 34:11). The truth and hope significant in the psalm informs faith and practice.
Verse 10 from Psalm 34 is often omitted for other salient statements when Psalm 34 is prayed as a responsorial psalm at Mass or as part of the liturgical music as stylized by Fr. John Foley, SJ, in a mellow 1978 version: “The Lord hears the Cry of the Poor.” Both the psalm in the lectionary and the popularized form of the song offer a beautiful encouragement of God’s care for the poor.
As one of God’s holy ones, Fr. Solanus Casey often made his cry known to the Lord. Through his writings and witnessed actions, Father Solanus was in untiring communication with God. It is clear that God heard the cry of Father Solanus.
There is a part of me that is spiritually ecstatic that one of our own, Fr. Solanus Casey, will be recognized as having a holy life by the Church. His acts while a priest on earth bore blessings for many who were able to come in contact with him.
Even though I never had an opportunity to meet him personally in my own life, I have always felt close to him due to my grandmother’s story and my family’s devotion. So many lives were touched by Father Solanus and there are so many other healing stories beyond this short anecdote.
Miracles are still happening through God’s healing hand and Father Solanus’s intercession.
The beatification Mass is near. Now is not the time to grow cold in giving thanks to God for all the blessings that have been offered through Father Solanus. We must also “thank God ahead of time” by crying out to God for all of the pressing needs known to us.
When the day of the beatification comes on November 18—whether you are at the Mass, watching a broadcast, or not able to take time away from your schedule—thank God for revealing his care for his people through a poor servant like Fr. Solanus Casey.