Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver offered Mass in that city’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception June 6, the 104th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Julia Greeley, a Missouri native who came to be known as Denver’s Angel of Charity.
Instead of praying the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart as on previous anniversaries, Bishop Rodriguez used the Mass for that day’s feastday, Mary, Mother of the Church, and he skillfully wove Julia Greeley into his homily as a model of Mary-like adoptive motherhood of countless children to whom she ministered.
About 25 members of the Julia Greeley Guild sat as a group on the left side of the transept, many wearing their Greeley stoles or Sacred Heart red clothing; and after the Mass they had an informal gathering near Julia’s sarcophagus.
The guild (juliagreeley.org), an organization committed to sharing Servant of God Julia’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.
She also visited firehouses and gave away tracts promoting devotion to Jesus’s Most Sacred Heart, to which she was deeply devoted.
Her earthly remains now await the Resurrection in a place of honor in Denver’s soaring gothic Catholic cathedral.
The Denver archdiocese opened a sainthood cause for her in 2017.
Aspects of motherhood
In his homily for the June 6 Mass, Bishop Rodriguez pointed out that emancipation from slavery did not mean the end of a life of servitude and poverty for Miss Greeley.
“God ‘writes straight on crooked lines,’ and this event meant for Julia the beginning of a journey to the loving Heart of Jesus and to the Catholic Church,” the bishop stated.
He drew parallels between Miss Greeley and the Blessed Mother, whom Jesus presented to the Church as mother from the cross.
Since the moment when Jesus said to St. John, “Behold your mother,” “Mary became the mother of all the Church’s children,” Bishop Rodriguez noted. “And she has shown to be a mother for all, a mother of all peoples, races and human conditions.”
He pointed to how a mother is “always open to receiving all her children, understanding them, forgiving them, serving them when they come back from a long journey; the one who is able to continue loving even if her child doesn’t fit the expectations people have on them.”
Furthermore, the bishop noted, a mother “is the one with a heart big enough to love each child in a unique way without making distinctions, between a smart and a less smart one, a healthy one or one who is sick ... a mother is the one who is able to spend entire nights at the bedside of her sick child. One who doesn’t judge her child but tries to understand why.”
The bishop pointed to various apparitions of the Blessed Mother throughout history, in which she appeared with the features of the people who were seeing her.
“She took the features of her children because she wanted all of them to see a mother in her,” said Bishop Rodriguez. “All Catholics must know and experience that they have a mother in the Church and a mother in Mary. This is what we celebrate today liturgically, and we live in our daily lives.”
The Church, he emphasized, is also called to be seen as a mother to people throughout the world.
“Under the loving mantle of Mary there is no room for racism, division, discrimination, or inequality,” he stated. “Under the protective and loving mantle of Mary we all discover ourselves to be children of God with the same dignity and rights.”
He pointed out that Miss Greeley lost her own mother at an early age and was never a biological mother herself.
Nonetheless, she “found in her heart the love and care children need and offered them in a life of service as a nanny, which inspires us to find ways to be, as a Church, the loving mother all need, with our openness, service, and sincere care for each other,” he said.
“May our Sister, Servant of God Julia Greeley, who in 1865 experienced liberty for the first time, and found a Mother in the Church and in Mary, help us to be a Church where nobody feels like a motherless child,” the bishop prayed.
Much of the information in this article came from the August 2022 edition of the Lil’ Red Wagon, newsletter of the Julia Greeley Guild.