An icon of “Beloved Julia” Greeley, the humble African American lay woman who was born into a family of slaves in Missouri and eventually became Catholic in Denver, has been declared a Servant of God, is becoming increasingly popular as her cause for canonization advances in Rome.
The image, which was commissioned by the chancellor’s office for the Archdiocese of Denver, depicts the suffering endured by Julia during her childhood under slavery — as portrayed by her closed right eye, which she almost lost after it was grazed by a lash that struck her mother.
The icon is being venerated across the country along with that of other distinguished Black Catholics from the United States on the road to sainthood.
This group of devout Catholics also includes Servant of God Mother Mary Lange, Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, Venerable Henriette Delille, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, who was also born in Missouri.
“All the saints have something about them that makes them stand out — they’re not all born in the same mold,” said Franciscan Father Blaine Burkey, a local champion of Miss Greeley’s cause and author of In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley. “Even when people are praying for something, they know the life of the person they’re praying to.”
He said Julia Greeley and a number of other holy African Americans send a very important message to the Church and the world at this time.
“Their example can help the Church and the world understand what it means to be treated poorly because of your skin, but also know how to respond,” said Fr. Burkey. “Julia Greeley had some terrible things happen to her during her lifetime, but spent her whole life helping people, especially people who were from the very same race that persecuted her.”
Julia Greeley’s cause for canonization (juliagreeley.org) took a step forward at the Vatican earlier this year, an event that has also increased awareness about the Servant of God.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued a decree certifying that the Archdiocese of Denver had done everything according to the rules for conducting a local investigation.
This was the first step of what could be called the “Roman phase” of her beatification process.
The first phase was the archdiocesan inquiry, which concluded when the Denver archdiocese sent 36 volumes of documents, totaling 11,750 pages, to the Vatican in September 2018.
These documents detailed the investigation of Miss Greeley’s life and virtues that the archdiocese had conducted since Dec. 18, 2016.
The Roman phase began when the documents were opened by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
After the approval of the work carried out by the archdiocese, the Vatican will advance the cause by allowing the Roman Postulator for the cause, Dr. Waldery Hilgeman, to arrange for someone to process and organize the information into a book.
This book would then be published and sent to three different commissions that study the process, Fr. Burkey explained.
If these three commissions agree that Miss Greeley practiced the virtues to an extraordinary, heroic degree, the Pope would then declare her venerable.
The road from “venerable” to “blessed” can be long: in some cases, it has taken centuries; in others, only a handful of years.
Given the need for a miracle in order to be declared a blessed, Fr. Burkley said “the process can move on only if God is ready to move it.”
Pray for a miracle
For people who are interested in helping advance Julia Greeley’s cause for beatification, Fr. Burkey assured that there are two ways in which the faithful can participate.
The first and best way is by asking for her intercession.
“There’s no point in going on with a cause if people are not asking for her intercession,” he noted. “Part of what needs to be proven is that people have considered her an intercessor and have received favors through her.”
There have been reports of thousands of little things already happening.
“People have received favors, sometimes serious things, but not all of them can be proven,” the priest stated.
Secondly, the Franciscan friar said another way of helping Miss Greeley’s cause for beatification is by assisting with the heavy financial burden.
The organization postulating the cause must pay for all the work carried out in Rome, including the investigation process and any celebration following a beatification or canonization.
“The whole purpose of beatifying or canonizing someone is to find people that can be help up as models and intercessors,” Fr. Burkley said. “The Church itself holds them up as an example to be followed and also (assures) that there is someone in haven who can intercede for us.
“Julia Greeley shows us that we can forgive and learn to love everybody as she did,” he said. “It’s a message that she sends to the Church, and, at this time, it’s a very important message. Let us ask for her intercession.”
A version of this article was originally published in the Denver Catholic (denvercatholic.org), newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver.