The life of Servant of God, Julia Greeley, Denver’s “Angel of Charity,” is a great example for all to emulate - an ordinary woman living an extraordinary life. She is a model for living with joy despite difficult circumstances and suffering; and had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Julia’s Early Life of Slavery and Suffering – then Freedom and Arrival in Denver
The exact date of Julia Greeley’s birth is not known, but she is thought to have been born into slavery between 1833 and 1848 in Hannibal, Missouri. During this difficult period, Julia was blinded in her right eye by a slave master’s whip. She was freed on January 11, 1865 by a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the State of Missouri (2 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation). In the late 1870’s, Julia was employed in the household of the Robinson family in St. Louis, MO. Her association with this family led her to Denver by 1880 as a housekeeper and caregiver for the family of the first Territorial Governor of Colorado, William Gilpin who married the widower Julia Pratte Dickerson with four children. It was during this time that Julia was baptized a Catholic at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. Her position with the family was cut short in 1883 by a divorce of the Gilpin’s whose difficulties were chronicled in a trial where Julia was a witness.
Saint-like Life in Denver
Julia’s activities in Denver exhibited sainthood in many ways, from her daily reception of Holy Communion to her promotion of the Sacred Heart; to care for children and for the poor. Julia was known to fast every day until about noon saying that “My Communion is my breakfast.” She traveled the streets of Denver serving the city’s poor – she pulled a red wagon filled with goods for folks in need, often delivering the goods at night so as to not bring attention to them, or herself. Julia distributed leaflets for the Sacred Heart League to all of the firehouses in Denver. Her special affinity with firefighters is thought to have started when she witnessed the death of four firefighters in 1895 trying to douse a fire at the St. James Hotel on Curtis Street, close to her home. Denver’s firefighters had a love for Julia and the Sacred Heart, too, as many of them sewed a badge that she gave them into their helmets.
Julia’s obituary noted that she “loved children with that intensity found in the saints.” She relished looking after babies and entertaining kids. A special story goes that in 1914, Mrs. Agnes Urquhart asked Julia to help her with some cleaning. While in the house, Julia asked where the children were. There had only been one child, who had died and Mrs. Urquhart was unable to have another child. Julia told Mrs. Urquhart that there would be “a little white angel running around the house. I will pray and you will see.” Mrs. Urquhart bore a daughter two years later, and the only known photo of Julia Greeley shows her holding the baby girl who she called the “little white angel.”
Julia lived a heroically virtuous life. She performed her saint-like service with joy despite being poor herself and her body riddled with arthritis. She never complained and never stopped serving others with happiness.
Cause for Canonization and her Tomb at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Julia Greeley became a Servant of God when her Cause for Canonization (Sainthood) was opened by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila who celebrated by a special Mass on December 18, 2016 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Read more at the canonization process at https://churchwonders.com/2022/11/26/is-grandma-a-saint/.
After Julia’s death on June 7, 1918 on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, a profession of people passed her body for five hours to show their honor, love and respect. She was originally buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge Colorado but moved to a new tomb inside the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver in 2017. Her beautiful 1.5 ton tomb is made from unblemished marble sourced from the world-famous quarry in Carrara, Italy – the same marble that is used in the altars of the Cathedral; and used by Michelangelo in some of his works. The tomb contains much symbolism including a carving of the Sacred Heart on the front and Archbishop Aquila’s episcopal crest on the lid.
Visit Her Tomb and Learn More
When in Denver, visit the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception to see this extraordinary woman’s resting place - read more at https://churchwonders.com/cathedral-basilica-of-the-immaculate-conception-denver-co/; and learn more about her by watching a short video published by the Archdiocese of Denver about her life at https://archden.org/julia-greeley/.