Brooklyn priest Monsignor Raymond Roden got some interesting looks when he set about subtly sharing some of Servant of God Julia Greeley’s joy.
While visiting a Brooklyn firehouse on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he handed out copies of a devotional booklet called “An Hour with Julia Greeley” and prayer cards depicting the sainthood candidate’s likeness.
“They were a little startled, I think,” the priest acknowledged. “We’ll have to see how much of it sinks in.”
Msgr. Roden spoke of his endeavor during a recent virtual meeting of the Servant of God Julia Greeley Guild (juliagreeley.org), an organization committed to sharing the Missouri native’s story and praying for her to be declared a saint.
Miss Greeley, born into an enslaved family near Hannibal before the Civil War, is one of six African American Catholics currently under formal consideration for being declared a saint.
One of the others is Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, the Roman Catholic Church’s first recognizably Black priest in the United States, who was also born in part of what is now the Jefferson City diocese.
Compassionate and deeply spiritual, Miss Greeley was known even in her lifetime as an Angel of Charity.
Her self-effacing kindness, missionary zeal and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus emblazoned her memory onto the minds of people who encountered her in Colorado, where she spent most of her adult life.
She was blind in one eye due to the harsh treatment she had received as a slave. Her body bore the ravages of excessive, menial work.
She never earned much money as a housekeeper, even to a governor of Colorado and his family.
But as a Catholic convert and professed member of the Secular Order of St. Francis, she held nothing back in helping people who were worse off than she was.
When she ran out of her own money to give away, she begged for more.
She worked in darkness and secret, in deference to the dignity of the people she was helping.
Now, more than a century after her death, her earthly remains await the Resurrection in a place of honor in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver.
The Denver archdiocese opened a sainthood cause for her in 2017.
Msgr. Roden spoke of his admiration for her at a recent virtual meeting of the Servant of God Julia Greeley Guild.
“She was a very holy woman,” she stated.
Long affiliated with New York’s Catholic Worker community, Msgr. Roden first read about Miss Greeley in an article by Amanda W. Daloisio in The Catholic Worker newspaper.
He was struck not only by her evangelical ardor but also her willingness to cultivate personal relationships and give one-on-one help to people in need.
“She was all about St. Therese’s “little way” and being a “fool for Christ,’” he said. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a popular way of life these days. That’s why I hope devotion to her takes off.”
The “little way” was how St. Therese of Lisieux described doing little things and carrying out life’s everyday tasks with great joy and love.
St. Paul wrote of being a fool for Christ, being rejected for persistently preaching the Gospel to people who would not accept it.
Msgr. Roden shared Miss Greeley’s story in a homily he preached at Mass in St. Clare Church in Queens on the parish’s feastday.
He stirred up her memory again during his visit to that Brooklyn firehouse on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania.
“Julia had a special place in her heart for firefighters,” the priest noted, pointing to her practice of delivering food to Denver firehouses along with tracts promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Msgr. Roden’s simple gifts were given and received in light of the anniversary’s remembrances and intense emotions.
“I got some thanks,” he noted. “I got some blank stares. Nobody told me to get lost. We’ll see if anything comes of it.”
He gave one of the booklets to a firefighter’s teenage sister.
“I said, ‘You might be interested in this,’” he recalled. “‘If it’s not for you, you can leave it on the subway.’”
She accepted it and put it in her purse.
“So we plant some seeds,” the priest noted. “We’ll see what comes up.”
Copies of “An Hour with Julia Greeley” by Capuchin Franciscan Father Blaine Burkey, can be ordered online at:
A new, expanded edition of Fr. Burkey’s book, In Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley, can be purchased online at: