DENVER — Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila formally opened the
sainthood cause of Julia Greeley, a former slave who spent her days caring for
the poor, during a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
in downtown Denver in late December.
Born into slavery in Missouri in the 1840s, Julia Greeley gained
her freedom after the Civil War and worked as a nanny. She moved to Denver,
where she was employed to care for the children of William Gilpin, the first
territorial governor of Colorado.
Known for her love of children and the poor, Greeley also was a
known for her piety, often passing out prayer card devotions to the Sacred
Heart. She was a convert to Catholicism.
Despite working long hours taking care of children, cooking and
cleaning, she would often be seen walking at night through the streets of
Denver pulling a small wagon of food and supplies, which she would deliver to
poor families. She was known as Denver's "Angel of Charity."
In November, Archbishop Aquila presented the case for Greeley's potential
sainthood at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.
As part of the episcopal consultation in the Catholic Church's process for
causes, the bishops Nov. 15 approved by voice vote that her sainthood cause
should go forward.
Once a cause has officially begun, the candidate is declared a
servant of God and a postulator is named. The next step is a diocesan inquiry
on the life of the person. The Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes then
reviews the gathered information, and if he or she is found to have led a
heroic life of Christian virtues, the church bestows the title
The next steps would be beatification and canonization. In
general, two miracles determined to have occurred through the candidate's
intercession are needed for sainthood — one for beatification and the second
At a conference in Rome in September sponsored by the Denver
Archdiocese and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Greeley was
recognized in a group of evangelizers and missionaries in the church in the
Americas that included Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, who served in the U.S.
Southwest, and Franciscan Father Antonio Margil de Jesus, a missionary who
evangelized North and Central America.
Greeley's ministry to the poor on the streets of Denver and her
piety is all "evidence of a beautiful life ... of a saintly life,"
said Martha Reichert, who is president of Endow, an apostolate dedicated to
educating Catholic women and girls.
Reichert said Greeley's life shared "a striking
connection" with the Year of Mercy because it was an example of the
"enduring power of mercy." Despite her sufferings at the hands of
white people, Greeley held no grudge, Reichert said, and she went out of her
way to help all poor people, no matter what their race.
The Julia Greeley Guild, headed by Mary Leisring, has been
working to spread awareness of Greeley since 2011. As the director of black
Catholic ministry for the Denver Archdiocese, Leisring said she is thrilled at
the possibility of Greeley's canonization.
"She's a model for me," Leisring said in a statement.
"We're all called to be saints, and it just goes to show that an ordinary
person can become extraordinary. For some of us, she's already a saint."