New Director of Black Catholic Ministry hopes to continue outreach to African-American community

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The Archdiocese of Denver recently welcomed its new director for the Office of Black Catholic Ministry and Community Outreach Specialist for the Office of Catholic Schools, Kateri Williams.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in a Catholic family, Williams moved to Colorado in the 1970s when she was still a child. She grew up attending St. Thomas More Parish, where she married her husband, Dwayne. They’ve now been married for 19 years. Her family members were some of the founding members of the parish. Williams is currently a parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Aurora but stays connected with her community at other parishes where she had previously been a member of, including Our Lady of Loreto and Church of Risen Christ.

With a master’s degree from University of Colorado in Denver and 12 years of experience at DSST Stapleton High School, Williams took over her two new positions at the Archdiocese of Denver in mid-August.

“My goal as the new director is to reflect the faces of African-Americans in the archdiocese, to increase the engagement of Black youth, and to partner with active parishioners at predominately Black parishes to provide outreach to other African-American Catholics throughout the archdiocese,” Williams told the Denver Catholic.

The Office of Black Catholic Ministry works with other Catholics by a common faith to share hope and mutual charity. Their goal is to evangelize, embrace, and engage Black Catholics in the archdiocese by sharing the rich culture and contributions of African-Americans in the history of the Catholic Church.

The ministry also serves to meet the pastoral needs of the African-American community within the archdiocese in accordance with the implementation of the pastoral Plan of the National Black Catholic Congress.

“I am most grateful for my faith foundation which was established by my parents and prepared me for the opportunity to now serve the Lord in this capacity. My immediate goal as the new director is to meet and hear the needs and suggestions of Black Catholics across the archdiocese” said Williams.

As far as her role as Community Outreach Specialist, Williams is creating an advisory group of African-American parents of students enrolled in Denver’s Catholic Schools.

“I am excited that my additional role as Community Outreach Specialist in the Office of Catholic Schools will allow me to continue to work with youth by promoting the quality of a values-driven education, which was an opportunity that I was blessed to personally experience,” she added.

The Office of Black Catholic Ministry annual events include a Black Catholic Retreat held each spring at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, the St. Josephine Bakhita & Katherine Drexel Recognition Award Dinner, which honors a Catholic who has excelled in service to the Black Catholic community and has shown exceptional leadership in promoting evangelization and discipleship, and the Peace and Justice Mass held on the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, among others.

However, activities are not limited to Catholics of African descent — Williams warmly invites the general public to participate in any of these events, or simply join the ministry.

As of today, there are no African-American saints in the Roman Catholic Church, though there are black saints from other nations.

Nevertheless, an ex-slave from Missouri who moved to Denver and became Catholic in the late 1800s, is now the first person the Archdiocese of Denver has proposed for sainthood, and she could become the first African-American saint if the Vatican approves. The Office of Black Catholic Ministry has helped to move her cause forward.

Julia Greeley earned a reputation as a woman of charity as she walked the streets of Denver at night, hauling around food, clothes and other charitable goods in a little red wagon to hand out to those in need. Despite being poor herself, she spent her life doing good deeds for the neediest. She would often do her work at night, knowing that some of the white families would be embarrassed to be seen receiving charity from a black woman.

Greeley was also known for visiting firehouses throughout the Denver area promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart by distributing pamphlets, patches and other materials to firefighters. She is a patroness of Black Catholics in the U.S., as well as of firefighters and the homeless, whom she served.

In 2016, the Archdiocese of Denver opened the Cause for Sainthood to determine whether she may someday be canonized. As part of the canonization process, her bones were exhumed in 2017 and showed that she suffered from severe arthritis, meaning this task was likely a painful one for her. Nonetheless, she persisted through the pain and still found immense joy in serving others. Her remains rest at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

“The presence and contributions of Black and African Catholics, from the time of Servant of God Julia Greeley, to the new immigrant arrivals of today, have been a blessing to the Church in northern Colorado. I am thankful for the work of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry that serves these communities and shares their gifts with the entire Archdiocese of Denver.” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.

Featured image by Daniel Petty

COMING UP: ‘Julia’s canoe’ fills with prayer intentions

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‘Julia’s canoe’ fills with prayer intentions

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

Moira Cullings

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.