June 21, 2017IMLAY CITY — The miracle of birth at a hospital in Detroit seems to have brought about another in a series of miracles centered around a Catholic priest who is on his way to sainthood.
Pope Francis in May approved a miracle attributed to Fr. Solanus Casey, paving the way for his beatification.
The connection from the Vatican to Detroit to Imlay City? Little Adalena DeOrnellas. She was welcomed into the world on June 6th, having arrived at St. John Hospital in Detroit. That's where Fr. Casey breathed his last, but not after devoting his spiritual powers and strong faith to healing the sick. Some believe he still roams the halls, looking after all the souls who pass through them.
Cycle of life
Adalena DeOrnellas's entrance into the world was, initially, like most other births. Her mom Samantha had gone into labor the night before, and doctors at the hospital on Moross and Seven Mile decided to wait until the morning before inducing the birth.
Samantha's mom, Nichol Alessandrini is a busy, working single mother of five. When Samantha goes into labor, she makes an extra effort to be at her daughter's side.
After work, Nichol runs home to Imlay City to sleep. First, she sets the alarm for 5 a.m. to make the long drive to St. John's.
Adalena DeOrnellas, born on June 6, appears to have a guardian angel welcoming her into the world as one of the original crosses at St. John Hospital hangs in the room.
A familiar visitor to the hospital—her daughter was born there, as was her daughter's first child—Nichol immediately notices something amiss in Samantha's birthing suite.
"There's no cross in the room, and it's a Catholic hospital," Nichol says. "There's a screw on the wall where the cross used to be, but no cross."
Symbol of faith
The absence of the cross didn't feel right to Nichol, though she and her family aren't Catholic.
Nonetheless, throughout her life she found comfort in the symbol, and felt a little distressed that it wasn't there.
"I didn't want to make a scene and I didn't want to make it obvious in front of my daughter, but I was nervous about it and I wondered why it wasn't there," she says of the missing cross.
She takes an opportunity away from Samantha to ask a nurse why there's no cross, and she's surprised—and a little dismayed—by the answer.
"The nurse said 'society has made us take them down, we cannot have them up any more because people are offended,'" Nichol says. "She said 'the only cross you'll see is the one at the main entrance.'"
Nichol shares her disillusionment with the nurse, who offers a solution.
"If you have anything with you you are more than welcome to put it up," the nurse says.
While Nichol appreciates the offer, she can't act on it.
"I don't carry a cross in my purse," she says.
As Samantha's labor continues, so does the dismay.
"Mom, do you see the wall?" Samantha asks, directing attention to all of the monitors keeping track of the baby's vitals.
The heart rate is irregular, and Samantha's contractions are strong. The baby is in distress.
There's also some trouble administering the epidural. Everyone is anxious and ill at ease.
Before long, the anxiety is quelled. The nurse Nichol discussed the cross with finds one of the originals that used to hang in every room and attaches it to the screw on the wall.
Miracle of birth
After some struggle, Adalena makes her appearance, much to the delight of all in the room. She's a beautiful little girl, and Nichol is excited to share the little miracle with her family and friends.
She asks Samantha if it's okay to take a picture of the baby and post it to Facebook. Samantha says "Yes, go ahead."
Nichol says a little prayer of thanks and snaps the photo. When she posts it online, she's overwhelmed at the sight.
"You can see an angel above the baby's head," Nichol says. "I knew right then and there that somebody in that room was thankful that I wanted that cross put back up on the wall."
Nichol takes another photo to post alongside her new granddaughter's angelic face—one of the cross that the nurse dug out and hung on the wall.
"I made it a point to take a picture of that cross, a point to make it public," she says. "There's no doubt that there was an angel in that room, and I'm thankful for that."
While moving and memorable, what happened in Adalena's birthing room isn't new for Nichol.
When her brother Kevin was hospitalized in a coma at St. John Hospital in 2013, the family had another encounter that cemented their faith.
For a short time, Kevin emerged from the coma and uttered a few words.
"We were all there, it was a room full of people, and he literally opened up his eyes and looked at my mom and said 'St. Edward long way out,'" Nichol recalls. "That was it. No other words and then he was in and out of the coma."
When Kevin finally emerged from the coma, he had no recollection of anything. He didn't remember anyone in the room, nor did he recall speaking any words.
Soon enough, however, the puzzle pieces fit together.
"We had gone down to the chapel in the hospital...it is beautiful...I'm still stunned by it, and learned that the name of that chapel is St. Edwards," Nichol says. "Friends still talk about that to this day."
Man of faith
Fr. Solanus Casey was born Bernard Francis Casey in 1870. He was the sixth of 16 children born to his Irish-Catholic parents.
He worked as a lumberjack and a hospital orderly. He also worked as a prison guard, where he reportedly befriended two of Jesse James' associates.
He felt called into the priesthood in 1897, and was admitted to the Capuchin Order in Detroit.
He was given the name 'Solanus" after who also shared a love of the violin.
A humble man who struggled academically, Fr. Casey was assigned to the position of porter. He soon became known for his strong faith and spiritual counseling abilities. He was also known for paying extra attention to the sick, and the poor, for whom he celebrated many special masses. During his lifetime, many who crossed the priest's path attributed miracles to his intercession.
Fr. Casey died at St. John Hospital in Detroit on July 31 from a skin disease. He reportedly uttered "I give my soul to Jesus Christ" as his last words.
More than 8,000 people attended his funeral services and burial in Detroit.
His remains were exhumed in 1987 and reinterred inside the Fr. Solanus Casey Center at the St. Bonaventure convent. According to published reports, Fr. Casey's remains were intact, except for some decomposition around his elbows.
The miracle officially recognized by Pope Francis involves a woman suffering from an incurable, genetic skin disease. She was healed after stopping by Fr. Casey's tomb to pray for others. According to the Michigan Catholic, the woman also felt compelled to ask for Fr. Casey's intercession on her behalf as well. She was instantly, visibly healed, which was reportedly confirmed by doctors in her home country, in Detroit and in Rome.
For more information on Fr. Solanus Casey and the miracles attributed to him, visit solanuscasey.org.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.