‘Julia’s canoe’ fills with prayer intentions

Testimonies of miraculous intercession by Julia Greeley could help move her cause for canonization forward

Julia Greeley’s selfless life has captured the attention of Catholics around the world.

Many believe the former slave and now Servant of God who spent her life serving others is answering their prayers and providing miracles for themselves and their loved ones.

“It really grounds me in the sense that she should be a saint,” said Mary Leisring, Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and President of the Julia Greeley Guild. “Hopefully Rome sees that as well.”

The next step in Julia’s cause for canonization would be for her to become venerable, then after one miracle to become blessed and after one more to become a saint.

The Julia Greeley Guild, which is currently made up of 140 people, knows of 849 “friends of Julia” who have written in seeking relics and additional information about Julia. The Guild also receives prayer intentions, which it prays for through her intercession.

“I’m blessed in a lot of ways to be able to be the president of the guild and read all the things that are happening for her and by her and in her,” said Leisring.

The guild has received several testimonies from people who believe their prayers through Julia’s intercession have been answered. Those testimonies could become crucial if Julia makes it to the venerable phase.

It would be no surprise if Julia plays a part in answering the prayers of those who seek her help — Julia once responded to a local grocery and café employee’s request for prayers with, “Mary, I’ll put you in a canoe with a lot of others I pray for. …”

“She used that metaphor to tell people that she would pray for them,” said Leisring.

The guild accepts prayers through a virtual canoe via email but hopes to obtain a real canoe, place it in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where Julia’s body is interred, and allow visitors to put their prayer intentions inside it.

Those who have already added their intentions to Julia’s canoe and expressed interest in her life give Leisring hope that the cause will continue to move forward.

“Her life story is such a powerful story,” she said.

Leisring believes after Julia lost her eye when a slave master caught it with his whip, “somehow the Holy Spirit and the Lord touched Julia and guided her and graced her to be able to treat people and serve the poor, serve firemen, anybody she met.

“They didn’t have to be Catholic,” she added, “she was always just a giving person.”

Leisring hopes Julia’s selfless service continues to inspire others to strive for holiness.

“Here’s a person that I really believe has been graced by God to do the things she did in the era that she did them,” said Leisring. “It shows that ordinary people can become extraordinary.”

If you have an urgent petition, send a brief report of it to juliascanoe@gmail.com or by mail to Julia Greeley Guild, 1535 N. Logan St., Denver CO 80203. Visit juliagreeley.org for more information or if you are interested  in joining the Julia Greeley Guild.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”