Auburn’s Blessed Solanus Casey Doorway Ministry aims to foster healing

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    02.04.2019
Category: Finger Lakes


In 2013 Pope Francis famously called the Catholic Church “a field hospital after battle” and repeatedly has called the church to become a place of healing for the spiritually wounded. A new ministry at Auburn’s Ss. Mary and Martha Parish aims to carry out that call by providing healing for area residents who need it.

The Blessed Solanus Casey Doorway Ministry opened in October at Ss. Mary and Martha’s parish office, 299 Clark St. It is named for a Capuchin Franciscan priest who died in 1957 and was beatified in 2017. Humility and charity are noted in the cause for sainthood (https://solanuscasey.org) as outstanding virtues of Blessed Solanus, who also was known for comforting troubled souls.

The ministry at Ss. Mary and Martha is modeled after employee-assistance programs offered at many workplaces, providing confidential support to those facing challenges that could negatively affect their physical, mental or emotional health, as well as their job performance, according to Deacon Dennis Donahue, coordinator of new evangelization at Ss. Mary and Martha.

Organizers referred to the ministry as a “parishioner-assistance program” as they were planning it, but there is one key difference between this ministry and traditional employee assistance programs, said Deacon Donahue, who leads the ministry with his wife, Cindy.

“It’s adding the spiritual components,” he noted.

Adding these components means Deacon Donahue tries to help those who come to him find not only practical solutions to the challenges they’re facing, but spiritual solutions as well. Such an approach is more effective both at finding long-term solutions and improving a person’s future effectiveness as a missionary disciple in the community, said Deacon Donahue, who is a licensed mental-health counselor.

“The idea is not to give them intensive therapy at all,” Deacon Donahue explained. “It really is a ministry of just being present to hear people’s issues and give them the permission to talk about things they don’t feel comfortable talking about, and giving them ways to move through that. It’s adding the spiritual components to the practical, existential issue and then giving them the resources or books or referrals to what they can do about it.”

If someone comes to the ministry for help in dealing with a marital problem, for example, Deacon Donahue will talk with the person about communication between the spouses and about each spouse’s faith journey, he said.

“It’s looking at all the different components as opposed to one, and not necessarily giving the answers but allowing them to answer for themselves,” he added. “The beauty of it is in most cases you see someone have an ‘aha’ experience. It’s nothing you reveal, but you’ve allowed them to work toward their own recognition of the problem or what the potential solutions are.”

The society we live in today can sometimes be very toxic and confusing, so the idea that someone can find the answer to a problem within himself can be very surprising, Deacon Donahue said. Sometimes people just need an opportunity to talk with someone, he added, noting that the Doorway Ministry is open four hours each week to provide such opportunities. Hours vary each week and are listed on a recorded message available at 313-252-7593, ext. 106.

“People just drop in or make an appointment. It’s not restricted to our parish or even the Catholic community,” Deacon Donahue said.

When people arrive at the ministry they’re greeted at the doorway by Cindy Donahue, who invites them to come inside and talk with Deacon Donahue if he’s available. She also offers a listening ear and, on at least one occasion, a visitor found his conversation with Cindy Donahue so helpful that he decided he no longer needed to meet with her husband, Deacon Donahue said with a chuckle.

“She’s really the Solanus Casey of the group,” he said, explaining that Blessed Solanus Casey spent many years as the doorkeeper at a monastery in Detroit. He became a familiar presence to many who sought him out because his deep understanding of the faith allowed him to speak directly to their hearts, and he carried out “an extraordinary ministry of healing,” Deacon Donahue said.

The Doorway Ministry is just one component of a larger focus on new evangelization at Ss. Mary and Martha and the neighboring St. Mary Parish, which are both led by Father Frank Lioi. Deacon Donahue also plans an annual series of dinner gatherings with talks on Catholic topics, and the parishes are in the process of forming “affinity groups” of parishioners who share natural affiliations of various types. The parishes also have a membership to Formed.org, where parishioners can find a variety of Catholic resources, including a documentary about Blessed Solanus Casey.

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