Denver Bishop: Servant of God Julia Greeley shows how love and mercy defeat hate, division


Fathomless and impenetrable is the inner life of the One and Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit — “an infinite love in all directions, that reaches everyone as a wonderful gift of Himself.”

That love and that gift is what gave Servant of God Julia Greeley the power to endure unspeakable suffering in this life en route to never-ending communion with God in the next.

“This is the work of the presence of the Most Holy Trinity in a human heart,” stated Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodríguez of Denver. “This is the way of the saints: the way of love to change things, to bring about healing and true service beyond prejudice and division.”

He was offering Mass in the Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, where the earthly remains of Miss Greeley, a former Missouri slave, await the Resurrection.

It was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and the 102nd anniversary of her death.

Throughout her difficult life, Miss Greeley fixed her gaze on Jesus’s Sacred Heart and on directing His mercy toward people in need.

“Her secret was her love for Jesus and neighbor,” Bishop Rodríguez proclaimed.

Celebrating the Mass with the bishop were Father Ronald Cattany, rector of the cathedral and custodian of Servant of God Julia’s remains, and Capuchin Franciscan Father Blaine Burkey, her biographer, who is actively promoting her sainthood cause.

Safeguards for slowing the spread of COVID-19 restricted attendance to about 50 people, with about 150 others tuning-in via livestream.

“Angel of Charity”

Miss Greeley was born into a family of slaves in Marion County, in what is now the Jefferson City diocese, sometime between 1833 and 1848.

Little can be found about her early life in Missouri, which stayed loyal to the Union while remaining a slave state through the Civil War.

As a child, she got hit in the eye with a whip while trying to stop a slavedriver from beating her mother. Her eye would remain disfigured for the rest of her life.

After being emancipated at the war’s end, she became a housekeeper and nursemaid to the children of Dr. Paul Gerard Robinson, who had married into one of the first families of St. Louis.

In about 1878, Miss Greeley moved to Denver to perform similar service for Mrs. Robinson’s sister, also named Julia, who had married William Gilpin, the first territorial governor of Colorado.

Miss Greeley worked odd jobs around the city after leaving the Gilpins’ employ.

She found her spiritual home at Sacred Heart Church, converting to Catholic Christianity in 1880 and devoting most of the rest of her life to simple acts of charity, devotion and evangelization.

She received Holy Communion daily, and in 1901 made her profession in what is now known as the Secular Franciscan Order, pledging to live the Gospel at home, at work, in her parish and in the world, in keeping with the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi.

The priests at her parish found her to be a most fervent promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

That devotion filled her with passion to serve God by helping people who were poor and marginalized.

She came to be known as “Denver’s Angel of Charity.”

Despite her own poverty and long hours of housekeeping and taking care of children, she devoted much of her time to collecting food, clothing and other goods for the poor.

She would often deliver those things after dark, so as to avoid embarrassing the people she was helping.

She died on June 7, 1918, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

Her death notice and simple headstone both referred to her as “Beloved Julia Greeley.”

Thousands came to pay their respects.

Nearly a century later, the Denver archdiocese opened a sainthood cause for her and moved her earthly remains to a stone sarcophagus inside the cathedral basilica.

Example of holiness

A formal declaration of a deceased person’s heroic virtue, along with miracles attributed to God through that person’s prayerful intercession in heaven, are part of the exhaustive process the Church undertakes each time a saint is declared.

Such miracles, objectively and meticulously investigated, are understood to be a sign of God’s approval.

While His people continue to pray for her to be declared blessed and eventually a saint, “this is merely a formality to make canonical a real example of holiness,” Bishop Rodríguez stated.

From the moment of her baptism, “the Most Holy Trinity dwelled in her, and the finest, silent and divine work of her sanctification begun,” he said.

She nurtured that seed of divine life by frequently receiving Holy Communion and cultivating a loving relationship with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“The dwelling of the Trinity in her soul bloomed into a loving prayer life and works of charity,” said Bishop Rodríguez. “She only needed to open her heart to God’s presence and let Him work on her.”

When her earthly life ended, she was drawn up into the Heart of the Most Holy Trinity, to dwell there for all eternity.

“And that is our destination,” the bishop asserted, “to participate in the communion of love of the Most Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Love never fails

A target of brutal racism, Miss Greeley spent most of her life in physical pain and poverty.

“Nevertheless, she did not hate, and she even took from the little she had to help the poor,” the bishop noted, “many of whom were white.”

She eagerly proclaimed Jesus’s love to public servicemen and firefighters, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Her life points to the only effective remedy to division and hate.

“Reconciliation and healing of the sin of racism comes from holiness and love,” Bishop Rodríguez insisted. “Christian love is able to unify and put together distinct persons into a community of brothers and sisters.”


For more information on Servant of God Julia Greeley and the Julia Greeley Guild, go to:


Contributing to this article were Fr. Burkey, Catholic News Service, Catholic News Agency-EWTN, the Denver archdiocese’s Denver Catholic newspaper, the Julia Greeley Guild and the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad in Colorado.