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.”
“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.