Barb Ruemmele, a long- time supporter of his cause for sainthood, holds a front-page-story photo of Solanus Casey that she obtained in Detroit.
(Superior Catholic Herald photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

Catholics who boarded a bus to make the pilgrimage from Hudson to Detroit to see and hear the beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey said the Nov. 18 Mass in his honor was both reverent and vibrant – and even a bit over the top in its scope.

It was in Detroit that the Capuchin Franciscan spent many of his last years of service. And it was in the Hudson area that he received his Catholic sacraments of initiation.

Bill Vilendrer, of St. Patrick’s Parish in Hudson, made the pilgrimage with his entire family, including his wife, Char, and son, Greg.

“We experienced a wonderful reverence throughout the entire Mass celebration,” he said. “The initial entrance procession – especially including the lady who experienced the miracle that led to Fr. Solanus Casey’s Beatification – was very moving.”

The instrumental offertory music was inspirational, fitting and beautiful, he said. “We had not heard the ’Glendalough Theme’ before, and we were truly moved by it.

“The choir and two (featured) people singing were excellent. All in all, everything was highly professional,” Vilendrer said.

Underscoring a point mentioned by many, the images on the Ford Field Jumbotron helped greatly, he said, “so that all could view the main activities close up. Every facet was very well planned. This was truly a unique and major Catholic experience. The liturgy and music blended heaven and earth in a holy union.”

Vilendrer said he and his family felt the Holy Spirit was truly present.

“We were also greatly impressed by the presence of 500 priests who flooded the entire stadium for communion,” he added. Also larger than life was a portrait that was taller than life-size, of this man who turned out to be larger than life, although still very unassuming.

“Several of us commented that the altar image of Fr. Solanus Casey looked real … as though he were standing right there witnessing everything in his honor. This was amazing, a massive act of faith enjoyed by more than 60,000 people.”

“We think that Bl. Fr. Solanus Casey – in heaven – was feeling humbled, yet full of joy, and wanted to embrace all who were present, both young and old,” Vilendrer said.

The bus pilgrimage to and from Detroit was lengthy, taking in four states, but this allowed the group to bond together, he added. “We slowly evolved into a small community of Catholics as we met new people and shared common but unique experiences.”

On the return trip, people seemed rather tired but energized, Vilendrer said. “Some read, slept, visited or just enjoyed the view as the sky cleared and the sun shone as we headed west into God’s country.”

Their adult son, Greg, who has Down syndrome, also said that it was great to be present there, and that it was special to him.

“We were a bit surprised at his deeper understanding,” Vilendrer said. “We were very grateful to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Christine Canino is a Third Order Carmelite and founder of the local group Spirit of Catholic Success. She has been a member of St. Patrick’s for 25 years. Despite all her varied experiences, this latest one stands out, she said.

To Canino, the portion of the day that was the most intriguing was straightforward.

“The most interesting part of Mass to me was the part that was unique (to this service),” she said, “the reading of the Apostolic Letter and the presentation of the decree from the Holy Father stating that Fr. Solanus Casey was now Blessed.”

As someone who enjoys music, she said that high point among many also was easy to cite. There was one song in particular, Canino said: “In the communion song, ‘Taste and See,’ the refrain goes, ‘Taste and see, taste and see the goodness of the Lord.’ I was so overwhelmed with the song because of the gratitude I felt at being at this special event. I won’t lie; I shed a few tears. We also sang a hymn in honor of Blessed Solanus Casey.”

Being in a stadium posed challenges to remaining reverent during Mass, she said.

“It was difficult to kneel and of course we didn’t have the sacred reminders around us to help keep the mind focused. However, I thought that the altar was set up simply and reverently, and the choir and musicians were exceptional,” Canino added. “This was the largest Mass I have ever attended. The feeling of seeing all the people and especially the groups of religious was an experience I will never forget.”

But the man of the hour was a humble, simple soul.

“I suspect he would have thought the whole thing a bit much,” Canino said. “However, when people came to Fr. Solanus for help, he would often give them spiritual things to do. I can’t help wondering if the pouring rain (that day) was God’s way of allowing Bl. Solanus to give us a bit of suffering to offer up as the price for being at this extraordinary event.”

Still, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience Canino said she will not soon forget, and the bus ride home gave them plenty of time to further reflect. It left from Jackson, Michigan, the day after the beatification, and arrived back in Hudson about 10 hours later. “We prayed morning and evening prayers and a rosary during our ride,” Canino emphasized.

Barb Ruemmele, also of St. Patrick’s, has been a longtime supporter of the cause for sainthood, and being in Detroit was a capstone for her, as she made new friends with those seated around her.

“Oh my goodness, it certainly was (such a highlight). Even though we were quite far away we could see everything,” she said, noting the huge stadium screen helped.

“Where we were sitting, we were surrounded by friendly people who were strangers. We didn’t know them or where they were from,” she said, adding it was a beautiful thing to have them worshipping in the seats in front of her and husband John and all around them.

“A group from St. Michael’s drove by car and had seats down on the very level,” she said of a group from Stillwater, Minnesota, who likely made a special request to the guild in Detroit to obtain such a position among the tens of thousands at the Mass. Some of them had been in a long-running play about him.

Someone from that group contacted Ruemmele about erecting a table of information and memorabilia during the Mass weekend, but that effort was cut short by rain. They agreed to make another attempt locally when they all got home.