The remains of Servant of God Julia Greeley were recently exhumed from a local cemetery. And on June 7, the 99th anniversary of her death, they were transferred to the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, where people lined up for the unique opportunity to view and venerate her earthly remains before they were entombed.
The ritual is part of the investigation process for Greeley, whose cause for canonization was opened in December. One of six African-Americans being considered for sainthood, Greeley is the first person the Denver Archdiocese has proposed for canonization.
“She will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral,” Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told the congregation. Drawing applause, he emphasized, “Not a bishop, not a priest — a laywoman and former slave. Isn’t that something?”
Born as a slave between 1833 and 1848 in Hannibal, Missouri, Greeley arrived in Colorado in 1874, 11 years after slaves were freed. Four years later, she came to Denver with Julia Gilpin, wife of Colorado’s first territorial governor, William Gilpin. Following her conversion to Catholicism in 1880 at Sacred Heart Church in Denver, she became a daily Mass attendee.
After leaving the Gilpins’ service, Greeley did odd jobs cooking, cleaning and caring for children. Despite her scant means, she became known as Denver’s “Angel of Charity,” as she went through town pulling a red wagon filled with items she bought, found or begged for poor families and which she often delivered at night in secret.
Known for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, each month she walked to all 20 of Denver’s fire stations to give Sacred Heart prayer pamphlets to firefighters because their jobs were so dangerous. She died on the feast of the Sacred Heart, after falling ill on her way to morning Mass. She was 70-85 years old.
At the liturgy for the transfer of her remains, Bishop Rodriguez highlighted Greeley’s heroic humility, perseverance and faith.
“We know from the stories passed down to us that Julia Greeley was tireless in her charity and in spreading the faith,” he said, adding that the exhumation revealed she suffered from arthritis in her hands, feet and back. Almost every joint that could have hurt, probably did,nevertheless, she never stopped practicing and doing and showing love.”
When she died, she was so beloved that her body lay in state at a small chapel for five hours, as a constant stream of people from all walks of life paid their respects to her.