Solanus Casey beatification affirms Phoenix friars’ presence, paves way for future saints

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Franciscan Friars Br. Peter Teresa McConnell, FHS, and Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, display an image of Blessed Solanus Casey and wear replicas of his trademark red glasses at St. Bonaventure Monastery where the Capuchin Franciscan friar is entombed, Nov. 17, the day before his beatification. (Courtesy of Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS)

The Phoenix is an allegorical bird that regenerates itself. Though it dies, it rises again from its own bones. The city of Phoenix was so named because there was once an ancient civilization that prospered in the desert but it was abandoned. Nonetheless, that desert civilization was reborn and we now call it home.

Detroit, too, was once burned to the ground and the priest-founder, Fr. Gabriel Richard, prophesied over the ruins. He said, “Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribusthe”, which translates, “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.”

Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, is a member of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit and is currently pursuing a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.

Detroit, having risen from the ashes before, is rising from the ashes again. It is called the “Renaissance City.” The economic and social renaissance of that city is following in the wake of the spiritual renewal that is so manifest in the Nov. 18 beatification of Blessed Solanus Casey and the deep devotion of the Detroit faithful.

Br. Peter Teresa, FHS, and I temporarily moved from Phoenix to Detroit in August of this year. We believed that Divine Providence arranged it that our first semester in Detroit was also the time when Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., was beatified. God used this moment to increase our faith in His plans just as he has used Blessed Solanus to strengthen the faith of so many.

In the summer of 2016 a local retreat house gave their library of books to our religious community. Of all the 25 or 30 boxes of books there was only one picture. It now sits atop the bookshelves in our community recreation room. The picture shows a Franciscan friar, in a brown robe with a cord around his waist, a skinny friar with round-lensed spectacles, and a long white beard. Of course, that friar is Blessed Solanus Casey.

Somehow and sometime between 1957 and 2016, that picture of Fr. Solanus made its way from Detroit to Arizona. And I believe that picture was providentially placed among those books for our community to find to increase our faith, because in the Spring of 2017 something unexpected happened.

This album consists of pictures from my afternoon of prayer for the friends, family, and benefactors of the Franciscan…

Posted by Athanasius Fornwalt Fhs on Friday, November 17, 2017

Our new Franciscan community, as little as we are, needed to send men to seminary. We began to talk and pray about where to go, and then Bishop Olmsted asked us to consider Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, just a few miles down the road from Fr. Solanus Casey’s shrine.

In a short time we visited Detroit and the seminary. At the last minute of our first visit to Detroit, we visited the Solanus Casey center to pray at his tomb. In the brief moments during that tiny prayer I experienced a deep sense of peace in my heart and that is when I knew that Detroit was the place for us. A few months later, Br. Peter Teresa and I were sent to Detroit and we believe it is due in large part to the intercession of Blessed Solanus.

Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, venerates a relic of Blessed Solanus Casey in front of the official image of the new blessed after the beatification Mass at Ford Field in Detroit Nov. 18. Fr. Athanasius, a priest of the Phoenix-based Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, is currently pursuing a licentiate in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. (Courtesy of Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS)

We were in attendance with 66,000 people gathered in Ford Field, now called “Friar Field”, “Franciscan Field”, or “Fr. Solanus’ Field”. It is not often that an NFL Stadium is honored with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. But on that day, Saturday, Nov. 18, even the steel beams and the neon lights lifted up their voices to bless God in all his designs and now the Church of Detroit, the Church of America and the entire Universal Church rejoices because the simplest of men has attained the height of holiness and now intercedes for us with tremendous effect.

For six decades those who knew Fr. Solanus had been “thanking God ahead of time” for the recognition of his sanctity. Now, in the wake of such a powerful spiritual event, we in the American Church can open our eyes and see more clearly that Christ is preaching His Gospel anew in our day, especially through the lives of the saints. Healings, conversions, reconciliations are occurring. New communities are forming, and old communities — once thought long dead — are rising from the ashes.

The city of Phoenix is waiting for her saints and may she be as eager as the heavenly City of God to produce them. As we journey together as one Church with one faith, we fervently ask for Blessed Solanus’ intercession that we follow his example. And for the future American saints — those from Detroit, Phoenix, and everywhere in between — we thank God ahead of time.