From Slavery to Sainthood: Julia Greeley Is the First Person to Be Entombed in Denver Cathedral

In Depth

Good news for the legacy of a saintly woman: On Thursday, the 100th anniversary of her death (June 7, 1918), Julia Greeley will be the first person entombed at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Greeley was known for charity work and evangelism. An emancipated slave, she helped the poor people of a post-Civil War Denver, all while living in poverty herself. According to the Washington Post, Greeley carried food, clothing, coal and mattresses to those in need in her famous red wagon. After being freed, Greeley worked as a housekeeper for a white family and gave up nearly all of which she earned—including her burial plot to a poor black man who otherwise would have been buried in a pauper’s grave. Because she was so beloved in her community, rich residents bought her a new grave at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church—making her the first non-religious figure buried in a catholic church in the Colorado capital.

Now under review for sainthood (by the way, she’s one of three former slaves currently being considered), her upcoming entombment is a step in making it official.

From the Washington Post:

The tomb is white marble, sculpted specially for Greeley in Italy. Her remains were exhumed last year as part of the canonization process for sainthood and, once again, a large crowd paid respects as her bones were laid out in the cathedral for all to see. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gave the go-ahead to open the cause for Greeley’s canonization process in 2016, which formally happened in December of that year. She has since been awarded the designation as “Servant of God.”
“[Julia Greeley] will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jorge H. Rodríguez, who led last year’s ceremony, according to Denver Catholic. “Not a bishop, not a priest — a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?”

It certainly is! Though it seems to me Greeley is already a saint in her own right. The article continues:

Greeley came to Denver in the 1870s, following her emancipation, with a woman for whom she worked as a domestic servant. The woman would go on to marry William Gilpin, Colorado’s first territorial governor, and Greeley stayed on as their housekeeper. She converted to Catholicism in 1880 because Gilpin’s family was Catholic, and she used her proximity to Denver’s wealthiest families to solicit donations and raise money for the church, using her own meager wages to do the same.
She would give fancy dresses the wealthy ladies no longer wore to the poorer girls who had no dresses to wear to school socials. She’d regularly visit all the firemen in Denver to distribute Catholic leaflets so they’d know what to pray inside burning buildings. And when she visited poor white families, knowing they would be embarrassed about taking charity from an old black woman, she was discreet, knocking on their doors late at night while the neighbors were asleep.

The honor is long overdue for a woman so selfless that she’d even help those who would otherwise scorn her, but how great that it’s finally happening now.

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