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Sharing Solanus, Heart-to-Heart

Br. Peter reflects on his first years in ministry at the Solanus Casey Center: St. John Newman’s motto was “heart speaks unto heart.” Father Solanus Casey had a way of connecting heart-to-heart with those around him.
Br. Peter Chinnappan, OFM Cap. at the blessing of the new Meditation Garden at the Solanus Casey Center.
Br. Peter Chinnappan, OFM Cap. at the blessing of the new Meditation Garden at the Solanus Casey Center.

By Br. Peter Chinnappan, OFM Cap.

St. John Newman’s motto was “heart speaks unto heart.” I unpack that as the desire of the human heart to be in close communion with God. Father Solanus Casey, Capuchin priest and member of our Province on the road to sainthood, had a way of connecting heart-to-heart with those around him. Coming to know Solanus in ministry at the Solanus Casey Center and now with the Father Solanus Guild, I can say that my heart has been touched by what I have seen and experienced here.

Beginning My Ministry

When I came to the Solanus Casey Center in late 2022, shortly after my ordination to the priesthood, I found a ministry in transition. The world was coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. People were coming back to the Solanus Casey Center in large numbers. The Center was about to host its 20th anniversary celebration and rededication following a major expansion and renovation. The renovations included an expanded confessional space and gift shop, a more welcoming reception area, as well as a new home for the On the Rise Bakery Café. With these changes, we have growth in all of these areas. More than 28,000 confessions were heard in 2023, sales at the gift shop increased 10 percent after renovations, and sales at On the Rise Café are up a whopping 40 percent following its move to the Solanus Casey Center. A few months after the rededication, new outdoor space opened with stations of the cross, a rosary garden, and a new relief sculpture by artist Deborah Luke. The sculpture is titled “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, shall grow like the cedar in Lebanon.” The sculpture features the Holy Family in the center of the work, flanked on each side by a procession of saints, dating from the early Church to the present day. Blessed Solanus is there, along with what we believe is the first artistic depiction in the Archdiocese of Detroit of Blessed Carlo Acutis. Then, just a few months after my arrival, the Solanus Casey Center launched a new website at www.SolanusCasey.org. This is the fourth major iteration of the website since the first simple website launched in 2004, just two years after the Center’s dedication in 2002.

An aerial photograph of the new Rosary Garden and Stations of the Cross at the Solanus Casey Center. They were opened in late 2023 and were among the changes to the Center funded by a generous gift from the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation.
The Rosary Garden (L) and Stations of the Cross (R) at the Solanus Casey Center were opened in late 2023 and were among the changes to the Center funded by a generous gift from the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation. Photo credit: James Haefner.

Renovating the Chapel and Museum Spaces

More recently, we have just re-opened St. Bonaventure Chapel following the replacement of carpet flooring with new hardwood floors. We also installed beautiful new pews in place of chairs, making the Chapel a more dignified and beautiful place for worship and prayer. And as I write this, we eagerly anticipate the start of construction in the Solanus Casey Center Museum, which will be the first top-to-bottom renovation of the museum in the Center’s history.

In addition to these new brick-and- mortar features at the Solanus Casey Center, we are also witnessing profound changes in the way engage in our counseling and fellowship.

Counseling Ministry

Since its opening in December 2002, the Solanus Casey Center has been a place of refuge and respite for those seeking spiritual nourishment amidst the chaos and challenges of modern life. Just as Solanus would sit and listen with those seeking help, today the friars and our partners in ministry accompany those who suffer. For many years, friars in the confessionals would hear penitents speak of deep- seated pain that is not necessarily something to be addressed by a priest sacramentally. So, in 2023, the Center, in partnership with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, began offering Christian counseling with licensed psychologists and social workers on-site at the Solanus Casey Center. We currently have two friars and two lay people available to serve the public by appointment and at no charge.

Tap Into Life Becomes Solanus Casey YouFra

Our young adult ministry is also reinventing itself. Formerly known as Tap into Life, the group has joined the international YouFra (Young Franciscan) movement and is among the first chapters established in the United States. Solanus Casey YouFra is here for young adults ages 18-39. Br. Fred Cabras is the group’s chaplain.

The St. Bonaventure Fraternity of Secular Franciscans is the group’s sponsor organization. Solanus Casey YouFra has as its mission bringing the Gospel of Jesus to young adults in Metro Detroit and sharing the Franciscan way of life through prayer, formation and social justice action.

I have found my time with the Solanus Casey Center as Assistant Director to be incredibly impactful and insightful. As a newly-ordained friar just beginning my ministry as a Capuchin, I have gained valuable experience working among the friars and our partners in ministry at the Solanus Casey Center. The Director of the Solanus Casey Center, Br. Steve Kropp, has been a tremendous mentor to me.

Now, I’m moving on to a new assignment as Director of the Father Solanus Guild. I am eager to begin ministering in this capacity at this time where we are hopefully awaiting the eventual canonization of Father Solanus. In the words of Father Solanus, I thank God ahead of time for the many blessings and graces yet to come!