Annunciation fifth graders write, illustrate children’s book about Julia Greeley

Moira Cullings

When members of the Julia Greeley Guild visited the fifth-grade class at Annunciation Catholic School in Denver, they mentioned their hope of someone writing a children’s book about Julia.

“They asked, ‘Do you know anyone who would want to write a children’s book?’” said fifth-grade teacher Maggie Ellis. “I said, ‘Well, we can.’

“My class is very artistic and they’re very creative,” she said.

From October 2018 until February 2019, Ellis’s class wrote and illustrated a hardcover children’s book about Julia’s life, called Julia Greeley: Denver’s Angel of Charity. They presented a copy to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the St. John Paul II Center May 31.

“It gives me great joy to see their interest in Julia Greeley because she is such a great example of a very simple, humble woman who lived the Gospel and had a deep love for Jesus Christ, who lived her life as a true authentic disciple,” said the archbishop.

The fifth-grade class at Annunciation Catholic School presented Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila a children’s book they wrote and illustrated about Julia Greeley. Photo by Moira Cullings

“And it really helps the children see that it is possible for them, too, to live our faith in Christ.”

For Mary Leisring, Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and President of the Julia Greeley Guild, the students’ achievement is moving.

“It almost takes your breath away because here’s a group of fifth graders that are able to get it, about all the things that [Julia] did, what she represented and everything,” she said.

“And then to publish a book with photographs that they themselves drew — something like this is just God sent.”

Julieta Ochoa is a member of the class who served with a fellow classmate as project manager, designed the book cover and helped with another picture inside the book, as well as one of the paragraphs.

“It was really special to see that my drawing was on the cover,” she said.

Archbishop Aquila was inspired by the students’ efforts to share with other young people the life of Julia Greeley, who is on her way to sainthood. Photo by Moira Cullings

Throughout the project, Ochoa was most inspired by Julia’s actions in the midst of her suffering.

“She had arthritis through all her bones, yet she managed to go up and down the streets and give people things even though it probably hurt a lot,” she said.

Ellis hopes the book can inspire even more children the way it did her students.

“I think they were so amazed about how she’s this slave who started with nothing, started with so much pain and trauma, and grew up to be someone who, [although] the pain wasn’t washed away, was able to use her life in service to others,” said Ellis.

“I just feel really proud of them and really hopeful that they can see there is someone who experienced great pain who did something incredible with their life, and they can do that, too.”

If you are interesting in purchasing a copy of Julia Greeley: Denver’s Angel of Charity, email Maggie Ellis at maggie.ellis@annunciationk8.org.

COMING UP: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.