Devotion to Julia Greeley grows as beatification cause advances in Rome

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez

An icon of Julia Greeley, the humble African American lay woman who received the greatest honor in the history of the Archdiocese of Denver and has been declared a Servant of God, is becoming increasingly popular as her cause for canonization advances in Rome. 

The image, which was commissioned by the chancellor’s office for the Archdiocese of Denver, depicts the suffering endured by Julia during her childhood under slavery – as portrayed by her closed right eye, which she almost lost after it was grazed by a lash that struck her mother – and is being venerated across the country along with that of other distinguished Black Catholics from the United States on the road to sainthood. This group of devout Catholics also includes Servant of God Mother Mary Lange,Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, Venerable Henriette Delille, and Venerable Pierre Toussaint. 

“All the saints have something about them that makes them stand out – they’re not all born in the same mold. Even when people are praying for something, they know the life of the person they’re praying to”, said Father Blaine Burkey, O.F.M, a local champion of Julia’s cause and author of In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley. “Julia Greeley and a number of these holy African Americans send a very important message to the Church and the world in our time. Their example can help the Church and the world understand what it means to be treated poorly because of your skin, but also know how to respond. Julia Greeley had some terrible things happen to her during her lifetime, but spent her whole life helping people, especially people who were from the very same race that persecuted her.” 

The example of Julia Greeley and these prominent figures was specially highlighted during Black History Month. A parish in Cleveland, for example, displayed banners of these holy witnesses throughout the month. Likewise, different publications highlighted the lives of these African American Catholics: Our Sunday Visitor published a book titled Black Catholics on the Road to Sainthood, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles dedicated its magazine cover in their honor, and other articles focusing on Julia Greeley were written out of Brooklyn and New Jersey.  

Julia Greeley’s cause advances 

Denver in particular has a reason to rejoice after Julia Greeley’s cause for canonization took a step forward in the Vatican, an event that has also increased awareness about the Servant of God. 

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints recently issued a decree certifying that the Archdiocese of Denver had done everything according to the rules for conducting a local investigation. This was the first step of what could be called the “Roman phase” of the beatification process.  

The first phase was the archdiocesan inquiry, which concluded when the Archdiocese of Denver sent 36 volumes of documents, totaling 11,750 pages, to the Vatican in September 2018. These documents detailed the investigation of Greeley’s life and virtues that the archdiocese had conducted since Dec. 18, 2016. The Roman phase began when the documents were opened by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  

After the approval of the work carried out by the archdiocese, the Vatican will advance the cause by allowing the Roman Postulator for the cause, Dr. Waldery Hilgeman, to arrange for someone to process and organize the information into a book. This book would then be published and sent to three different commissions that study the process, Father Burkey explained. 

If these three commissions agree that Julia Greeley practiced the virtues to an extraordinary, heroic degree, the Pope would then declare her venerable. 

The road from “venerable” to “blessed” can be long: in some cases, it has taken centuries, in others, only a handful of years. Given the need for a miracle in order to be declared a blessed, Father Burkley said that, after that, “the process can move on only if God is ready to move it.” 

For people who are interested in helping advance Julia Greeley’s cause for beatification, Father Burkey assured that there are two ways in which the faithful can participate. The first and best way is by asking for her intercession. 

“There’s no point in going on with a cause if people are not asking for her intercession. Part of what needs to be proven is that people have considered her an intercessor and have received favors through her,” he said. “There’s thousands of little things already happening, people have received favors, sometimes serious things, but not all of them can be proven.” 

Secondly, the Franciscan friar said that another way of helping Greeley’s cause for beatification is by assisting with the heavy financial burden. The organization postulating the cause must pay for all the work carried out in Rome, including the investigation process and any celebration following a beatification or canonization. 

“The whole purpose of beatifying or canonizing someone is to find people that can be help up as models and intercessors,” Father Burkley said. “The Church itself holds them up as an example to be followed and also [assures] that there is someone in haven who can intercede for us. 

“Julia Greeley shows us that we can forgive and learn to love everybody as she did. It’s a message that she sends to the Church, and, at this time, it’s a very important message. Let us ask for her intercession.” 

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright