The Archdiocese of Denver hosted a special Mass on Thursday in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Julia Greeley, who is the first person from Colorado to be proposed for sainthood.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila said Greeley was a holy woman who suffered as a former slave and was riddled with arthritis, but still embraced the love of Christ and lived it out.
“How difficult her early life must have been in terms of experiencing slavery, watching her own mother being beaten, losing her own eye,” Archbishop Aquila told CNA.
“And then, her encounter with Jesus Christ...She knew the love of Christ for her, she knew that she was truly a daughter of the Father, and she lived that out.”
The Mass in Greeley’s honor took place at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on the evening of June 7. Archbishop Aquila celebrated the Mass and, among others, was joined by Capuchin Friar Father Blaine Burkey, who wrote a biography of Greeley.
Numerous organizations were represented at the Mass, including the Julia Greeley Guild, a group raising awareness of her canonization cause; the Secular Franciscans, a lay Catholic community with whom she had been involved; and Denver’s fire department, which provided special honor guards to recognize her service to the community’s firefighters.
A letter from Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado was also read declaring this week, June 3-9, 2018, to be “Julia Greeley Week.”
Born a slave in Hannibal, Missouri sometime between 1833 and 1848, Greeley endured horrific treatment — once, a whip caught her right eye and destroyed it as a slave master beat her mother.
One of many slaves freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Greeley’s work with the family of William Gilpin, Colorado’s first territorial governor, brought her to Denver in 1878. Influenced by Gilpin’s wife, who was a devout Catholic, Greeley converted to Catholicism in 1880.
She was an enthusiastic parishioner, a daily communicant, and became an active member of the Secular Franciscan Order starting in 1901. The Jesuit priests at her parish recognized her as the most fervent promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
During her four decades in Colorado, Greely became known as the “Angel of Charity.” After leaving the Gilpins' service, Greeley found odd jobs around the city. She would beg for goods and then offer them to the poor.
Pulling a red wagon behind her, she would hand out clothes, foods, and medicine to the impoverished, acting at night so as not to embarrass those she helped.
Mary Leisring, president of the Julia Greeley Guild, told CNA that “at one point, someone said they saw her walking down the street with a mattress on her back because she knew that someone needed a mattress.”
Having a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart, Greeley would also deliver Sacred Heart pamphlets to the local firefighters to provide spiritual nourishment. She would travel on foot every month to the fire departments around Denver.
Archbishop Aquila said Greeley was an inspiration because, despite her pains and difficulties, she embraced the love of Christ.
“[She] became extremely generous in the outpouring of her own life, even in the midst of her physical condition, was not shy at all about proclaiming Christ and the good news of the Gospel, and especially with her generosity with the poor,” he said.
Her cause for canonization was officially opened in December 2016, and, on the 99th anniversary of her death, her remains were interred in the cathedral. The local investigation into Greeley’s canonization will likely be closed by this August. A few alleged miracles, credited to her intercession, have been reported and are being reviewed.