Julia Greeley tour reconnects old family friend

Karna Lozoya

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: Relationship, not sacrifice is at the heart of Lent

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When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, the Lord said to us, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2:12-13).

During Lent we strive to unite ourselves with Jesus’ experience of conquering temptation in the desert and pursuing the Father’s will, so that we can fully experience the joy and victory of Easter. The Scriptures and Fathers of the Church consistently recommend three forms of penance that help us on this journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

But before we can fruitfully carry out these forms of purification, we must rend our hearts. In the Jewish tradition, ripping one’s garments – known as keriah – is done when mourning a relative who has passed away. Today, some Jews specifically rip their clothes over their hearts if the deceased is one of their parents. The Scriptures mention this expression of grief several times, including Jacob mourning his youngest son Joseph when he thought he was dead, or King David rending his garments at hearing that Saul had died.

Even more important than this outward expression of grief is returning to God with our whole heart, tearing it away from any unhealthy desires and attachments. In his 2018 message for Lent, Pope Francis offers some insights into the ways people develop unhealthy attachments today by reflecting on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus warns, “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12).

The Holy Father echoes Jesus’ warning that there will be many false prophets who lead people astray. One kind of false prophet, which he calls snake charmers, are those “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others … with momentary pleasures” like dreams of wealth or the belief that they are self-sufficient and don’t need others. Pope Francis also alerts us to “charlatans” – people who offer “easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” Their traps include drugs, disposable relationships and the temptation of a “thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless!”

But despite these snares laid by the Devil and his false prophets, God the Father declares through the Prophet Joel that he is “gracious and merciful … slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13). God’s mercy and love for us can transform our hearts, if we are willing to open them to him and deepen our relationship, especially through the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

When it comes to prayer, pursuing a deeper relationship with God means going beyond our first inclination, which is to make ourselves the focus of our prayer and to even boast of our accomplishments. Instead, we should ask God to help us know him better, to experience a greater intimacy with each person of the Trinity. The great Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila, calls this kind of prayer “mental prayer.” “In my opinion,” she said, “mental prayer is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”

If we pray in this way, then our fasting and almsgiving will naturally flow from us as acts of love for Christ in others, rather than being a set of tasks or Lenten requirements to fulfill. Our hearts will be rent, and not merely our garments.

Fasting is another way for us to draw closer to God. Saint Augustine observed this when he wrote, “Fasting purifies the soul. It lifts up the mind, and it brings the body into subjection to the spirit. It makes the heart contrite and humble, (and) scatters the clouds of desire … .” By denying our appetites and giving up distractions, we can more clearly hear God’s voice and place ourselves at his service.

The final practice of Lent that conforms our hearts more to Jesus’ Sacred Heart is almsgiving. Pope Francis notes in his Lenten message that almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

This other-centered approach will help us to draw closer to the heart of Christ, particularly if we follow the advice of Saint Mother Teresa. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving,” she was known to say.

As we seek to rend our hearts this Lent in preparation for Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter, let us remember that God desires to draw each of us closer to him. He is waiting for us to seek him out so that he can pour out his mercy, love and kindness upon us.