arrow-left-s arrow-left arrow-right-s arrow-right arrowhead-downarrowhead-upchurch couple facebook instagram logo-icon payment searchtwitter white-chevron-upyoutube

Servant of God Julia Greeley

(Born circa 1835-1855, died 1918)

A convert who used her freedom to help Denver’s poor

Born into slavery near Hannibal, Missouri, Julia Greeley never knew when she was born. She spent nearly a decade in St. Louis as a housekeeper for a prominent white family before gaining her freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation. The brutality of violence stayed with Greeley all her life; she bore a drooping eye that she received as the result of a beating.

In 1879, Greeley accompanied the family of Colorado’s territorial governor, William Gilpin, to Denver. With the help of Gilpin’s wife, Greeley fell in love with the Catholic faith. She converted at Denver’s Sacred Heart Church and immersed herself in the devotional and sacramental life of the Church.

She found great joy in her love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which she saw as the source for her many charitable and service-oriented ministries. She spread the devotion, even using it as a tool to evangelize Denver’s firemen by helping them to prepare for a sudden death.

Taking on odd jobs like cooking and cleaning, Greeley used her meager salary to finance a ministry to the poor. Wearing her trademark floppy hat, Greeley dragged a red wagon filled with food and goods to distribute to the poor.

When Greeley heard that young women of the parish were not coming to the parish youth activities because they had nothing nice to wear, she went begging for hand-me-downs from well-to-do families.

Greeley regularly cared for the sick, often telling caretakers to take rest for themselves. She helped bury the dead. She even gave her own grave away to keep an elderly Black man from a poor man’s plot.

It is amazing to consider all that she did, even while suffering from painful arthritis and blatant episodes of racism. Once a group of women claimed that Greeley’s poor wardrobe should have made her ineligible to rent a pew in the front of the Church. Another time, a religious sister told Greeley that in heaven “she would be as white as the angels on the altar at Sacred Heart Church.” Greeley bore these pains in her heart and never challenged or returned any such insults.

Many of those Greeley helped were not even aware it was she who came to their aid; she conducted works of mercy under the cover of darkness. Only after her death did they come to know of all she was secretly doing to build God’s kingdom. Greeley died on June 7, 1918, which that year fell on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Her canonization cause was opened in 2016, held up by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a model of mercy in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Her remains were moved to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception the following year.
from Angelus News

Go deeper with Michael Heinlein…

Read pages 81-91 of Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood. Writing and reflecting on Servant of God Julia Greeley, Michael Heinlein and Sr. Josephine Garrett, CSFN inspires us to trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and learn to give until it hurts.