The Miraculous and Inspiring Life of Julia Greeley
Every now and then, you read about someone’s life and are touched in a profound way that transcends reason. It’s not that this effect was somehow irrational, but rather that it was completely unexpected. Such was my experience when I learned about Julia Greeley.
Born in Missouri in the mid 1800s, Julia Greeley began her life as an enslaved person. She lost her right eye at a young age when she tried to protect her mother from being whipped by a cruel slavemaster, and the whip caught her eye instead.
Little is known about her early life, but at some point she was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and found her way to Denver, Colorado. There, she found housework, cleaning the homes of white families. She also became Catholic and developed a devotion that would play a central role in her life.
At one point, she began doing housework for a family that she later discovered was also Catholic, like herself. The couple had lost their only child, and the doctor had told them that the wife would not be able to have children again. Julia comforted her, telling her that she would pray that she would have a child within a year.
The only picture we have of Julia is one that she took with this child that was born, sure enough within that same year, somewhat like a miracle.
Today, Julia is one of six African American Catholics who are on the path to sainthood–an official recognition of the Catholic Church that they have lived examplary lives worthy of inspiration and emulation. There is a site dedicated to Julia Greeley that outlines her good works, including a short video.
Despite her own poverty, she was constantly helping others. She would find out what people needed, and at night, she would leave the needed items by their doorsteps. She did this because she knew the white families that she helped would have probably refused and perhaps been offended to receive generosity from a black woman. She would carry these items in a little red wagon that she pulled everywhere. She did this despite having painful arthritis herself.
She died on June 7th, 1918. At her funeral, crowds showed up to pay their respects to the woman who had become known as “Denver’s Angel of Charity.”
She reminds us today that no matter how little we have, even this tiny amount can be a blessing, not only to ourselves, but to others, too. She who had so little was able to touch and inspire so many.
Her faith, her devotion, and her orientation to serving others are remarkable and truly worthy of contemplative admiration at the very least, but also–to those ready to rise to the challenge–of outright emulation.