Julia Greeley tour reconnects old family friend

Karna Swanson

A faith-filled group of pilgrims followed in the footsteps of Denver’s “Angel of Charity” Julia Greeley last weekend, but for one participant, the pilgrimage was an opportunity to learn more about a longtime, beloved family friend.

California native Virginia Haddad first heard of Julia Greeley as a young girl; she remembers being around six or seven when her mother first showed her an old newspaper clipping that had republished the only known photo of Julia Greeley.

“She told me about Julia,” Haddad recalled, “and that this was the only picture of this woman, and that the child was Aunt Marge, and she was a holy person who helped a lot of people in Denver.”

The story of the photograph begins with Denver residents Agnes and George Urquhart, who had lost their first child in infancy. Doctors had told them they couldn’t have any more children, but when Julia met the couple and heard the news, she thought it was “nonsense.”

“You will have another child,” she told the Urquharts, “and she will be my little white angel.”

Roughly a year later, Marjorie Ann Urquhart was born on Sept. 11, 1915. Haddad’s mother, Virginia Rose, was born in 1918.

Haddad told the Denver Catholic that growing up she knew of Julia, but she didn’t know a lot of details. “[My mother] told me that [Julia] used to be a slave, and she lost an eye because she was hit by the tip of a slave master’s whip, and she was blind in one eye.”

It wasn’t until years later, when Haddad found herself searching for more information on Julia Greeley on the Internet, that she found the Julia Greeley Guild, and Capuchin Father Blaine Burkey’s book “In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart.”

California native Virginia Haddad joined the Julia Greeley bus tour Feb. 21 to learn more about a beloved family friend. In the only known photo of Denver’s “Angel of Charity,” Julia is holding Haddad’s aunt, Marjorie Urquhart.

California native Virginia Haddad joined the Julia Greeley bus tour Feb. 21 to learn more about a beloved family friend. In the only known photo of Denver’s “Angel of Charity,” Julia is holding Haddad’s aunt, Marjorie Urquhart.

“I ordered a copy,” she revealed. “In fact, I ordered a couple copies.”

Upon reading more about Julia, Haddad, a professed lay Franciscan, began to learn new details of Julia’s life that gave her even more reasons to feel connected to her. “For example, I didn’t know she was a lay Franciscan until I read Father Blaine’s book.”

Knowing more about Julia created an excitement in Haddad, who began to spread the word about Julia to many of the people in her life, particularly other lay Franciscans in her fraternity.

She even sent a copy to Martin Sheen in hopes that he would consider doing a movie on Julia.

When reading the most recent newsletter of the Julia Greeley Guild, Haddad learned about the Julia Greeley being named the model of mercy for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and that a pilgrimage to sites associated with her was being organized over a three-day holiday weekend. After discovering some affordable plane tickets, and receiving an offer from the Capuchins for free lodging, it seemed to all come together.

“I felt strongly that I should be out here,” she said. “I felt that for this pilgrimage there should be someone from the family here.”

The bus tour gave Haddad an opportunity to know more about the saintly woman who had such a powerful influence on her grandparents’ life, but what impressed her most about the ex-slave was the “extent of her charity.”

“I read about [her charity] in the book, but to hear Father Blaine talk about it more, and to see the places, it almost puts me to shame because what I do is so fractional compared to what she did,” Hadded reflected. “Some of us in the group were talking today and asked, when did this woman sleep?

“During the day she was doing physical work, and then in the evenings she was out and about walking, delivering things, carrying a mattress on her back, carrying sacks of potatoes, actually dragging them in a little red wagon. She was an amazing person.”

Learn more about Julia Greeley at JuliaGreeley.org.

COMING UP: Q&A: Cardinal Stafford: “The Eucharist has been the center of my life”

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On the dawn of his 60th anniversary of priestly ordination, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, archbishop emeritus of Denver, reflects on the origins and fruits of his vocation. He will celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving with Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m.

DC: What were your desires as a young man and how did God call you to the priesthood?            

Cardinal Stafford: Images of God arose very early in my life. From my parents’ encounter with Jesus in the confessional, concrete impressions developed into images. Those images spoke to me of God’s holiness and beauty. I understood that He was great and forgiving.

Reality became complex with more birthdays. The brutality of the 20th century… insinuated itself into my world-view. I was bewildered by the horror of that era… A few years later I also discovered St. Augustine’s joy in reflecting upon the beauty of the Creator of the world in his Confessions… I learned that the love of Christ transforms our unloveliness into God’s beauty.

Both the beauty of the Ancient One and the rub of evil have coexisted in my faith and experience. Jesus’s invitation, “The laborers are few”, resonated in my soul.  The fact that the priestly vocation is totally given over to the “ministry of reconciliation” became the North Star of my life.

Archbishop J. Francis Stafford blesses the altar of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Aurora, Colo. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: What practices have helped you remain faithful to your vocation during these 60 years?

Cardinal Stafford: When awakening each morning, I recite a single verse from Psalm 51, “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” Three times it is repeated. Thereafter, the grace of God sets the day on the right track. It becomes a song of praise to God. With hard practice it daily gathers momentum. It places front and center the most beautiful mystery of the Christian faith: The Triune God. The love and beauty of the Most Holy Trinity light up the whole day even when God appears more distant than near.

The psalmist has been a great catechist. He has taught me that human beings are doxological (people of praise) by nature especially in the Dark Night – not only as individuals, but also within community… Doxological prayer has led me to appreciate why St. Augustine wrote, “The goal of all Christian watchfulness and all Christian progress is a pious and sober understanding of the Trinity.”

Cardinal James Stafford holds a relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta during a Mass celebrating her feast day at St. Joseph’s Parish on September 5, 2016, in Denver. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

DC: What have been some of the challenges and highlights of your priesthood?

Cardinal Stafford: The challenges: Christians in Europe and North America are struggling with the “juggernaut” of secularization… Generally, its roots are found in the fact that most Europeans and Americans today find themselves thrust into the universe without any foundation for living. Most imagine themselves in a free-fall through space with unintelligible entrances and exits. The challenge is how to confront this unprecedented reality. The pastoral solutions have seldom been forthcoming.

The highlights of my priesthood: Visiting the home-bound. They are the hidden pillars of every local Church. Beyond the home-bound, I have always felt that Colorado’s response to the invitation to celebrate the 1993 World Youth Day was the measure beyond all measure. In other words, the event was from God… [and] God was delighted with Coloradans.

Pope John Paul II thanks Cardinal Stafford for his leadership in organizing World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Who have been your greatest role models and how have they impacted your vocation?

Cardinal Stafford: My mother and father have been my greatest Christian role models. Their love and friendship were life-long and mutual. The two were the best of friends. Their life together, ten years after their marriage, was tested severely… [Tuberculosis] struck [my mother] with extreme severity.

She required prolonged hospitalization that included three major surgical operations over a period of nearly three years. Throughout that time her faith, courage and love remained ever-present signs along the road. My father’s love for his wife never faltered during her hospitalization… His presence to her was reassuring, quiet, and unassuming.  The grace of the sacrament of marriage sustained both of them and was an enormously important witness for me.

Cardinal Stafford celebrates Mass during World Youth Day in Denver, 1993. (Photo by James Baca/Denver Catholic Register)

DC: Reflecting on your priestly experience, what practices are essential to the Catholic priest of the New Evangelization?

Cardinal Stafford: The Eucharist has been the center of my life… Over the years, I learned that priestly celibacy was related to the eschatological nature of the Eucharist.  In 390 AD bishops at the Council of Carthage underlined this connection, “That holy bishops and priests of God…. observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us endeavor to keep.”

I’ve reflected for over four decades over the forthrightness of their statement. I still ask myself why the ancient bishops chose the phrase “in all simplicity.”  Their choice was related to the priest’s acting “in the person of Christ”. That’s Eucharistic and the Eucharist is doxological. Their assertion that clerical celibacy had apostolic origins surprised me.

Finally, a lay friend taught me one of the greatest graces of these sixty years, “Gratitude for the gift is shown only by allowing it to make one fruitful,” from Meister Eckhart. That is my prayer in celebrating my 60th anniversary of priestly ordination.