DENVER, Colo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Declared a Servant of God, a former African-American slave is the first person to be interred in Denver's Cathedral.
Known in her time as Denver's "Angel of Charity," Julia Greeley is finally being recognized for her virtues of humility, faith and perserverence. In a solemn ceremony on June 7, Julia Greeley's mortal remains were interred at the feet of a large crucifix in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, not unlike the location of her favorite pew in Sacred Heart Parish where she was a daily communicant.
Church Militant spoke with Fr. Blaine Burkey, a Franscian priest who researched and wrote In the Secret Service of the Sacred Heart, chronicling Greeley's life. Father Burkey was invited to the exhumation of Greeley's remains, a process that took 6 days, involving a forensic anthropologist. He said they found every bone, except one tiny bone from a finger and that she was "encrusted with arthritis." He was moved by the level of pain she must have been in, knowing that she walked all over the city of Denver with a limp and pulling a little red wagon full of supplies for the poor.
Julia Greeley was born to slave parents in Hannibal, Missouri. During a cruel beating of her mother, her slave master's whip caught the little girl's eye and destroyed it. Father Burkey confirms this was her right eye, a fact that is often misreported. Historians attribute her freedom to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Afterward, she worked as a domestic servant or cook for various households in Colorado and Wyoming.
Greeley converted to Catholicism in 1880, at the urgings of her then- employer. She developed a tremendous devotion to the Sacred Heart, Blessed Virgin and the Eucharist. The fact she died on the feast of the Sacred Heart is not viewed as just a coincidence to many. Her funerary box is made out of redheart wood reinforcing her connection to Sacred Heart badges and red Rosaries she distributed.
Aware of the sensitivities and embarrassment the families might feel by being helped by a black woman, she often worked at night. Greeley's charity was so evident when she was misinformed of her former employer leaving her some money in a will to take care of her needs, she withdrew nearly her entire life savings to have a Solemn High Mass said for her. When she eventually learned that there was no money left in the estate, she was known to have said her employer had given her more than money, stating, "She gave me my faith."
Burkey said the initial forensic results were unable to determine Greeley's exact age, which has been estimated to be between 65 and 95. When Greeley was asked how old she was, she replied, "No one's ever told me." Father Burkey also told Church Militant that Greeley lived near a fire company that was nearly "wiped out" during a fire. Every month, despite her painful arthritis, she walked to every firehouse in the city distributing Catholic pamphlets of the Apostleship of Prayer to the Sacred Heart. She wanted every fireman to know of Our Lord in case they were to die on the job.
During the two-hour ceremony at the Cathedral, Fr. Burkey told Church Militant that he couldn't help but to reflect back to the day of Greeley's funeral. "This was one of the things that happened at the time of her death," he said, recalling that only by word of mouth, the news of her death spread so quickly that there were reports of "throngs of people" filing past her casket to pay their respects. So many came and from all walks of life that it took five hours. At the time of her death, many were already calling her a saint called for her worthiness to be investigated by the Vatican. Those calls continuing well into the 1970s when another Franciscan father began documenting stories of those who actually knew Greeley and others that were invoking her intercession.
Father Burkey didn't have any new stories of answered prayers or miracles to share just yet. He said members of the guild are busy preparing her file for the Vatican, the first to be prepared by the Diocese of Denver. The one confirmation of an answered prayer we do have is the little blonde girl seen in the black and white photo with Greeley, born to parents that asked Greeley to pray that they conceive a child.