The remains of a former slave and proposed saint were moved to a Denver cathedral where they will permanently rest as a sainthood investigation continues.
A ceremony for the transfer of Julia Greeley’s remains was held Wednesday morning at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop Jorge Rodriguez-Novelo led the ceremony that filled the pews of the downtown cathedral.
“[Julia Greeley} will be the first person buried in Denver’s cathedral,” Bishop Rodriguez-Novelo announced to the church. “Not a bishop, not a priest - a laywoman, a former slave. Isn’t that something?” He said, as the crowd of parishioners applauded.
Mass held as former slave's remains transferred to Denver cathedral
Greeley’s remains were laid out on a table before the alter, and blessed by the bishop. The bones were then placed inside a wooden case called a funerary box. The pews of the cathedral emptied as people came up to venerate before Greeley’s remains.
“That the people here got a chance to see what her bones looked like, what her skull looked like, and now to be interred here, this is going to be great,” Mary Leisring said.
Leisring is the director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Denver and president of the Denver-based Julia Greeley Guild. Over the past five years, the guild has promoted the life and work of Julia Greeley.
“Here’s this saint, as far as I’m concerned, that walked the streets of Denver and we found that there weren’t that many people that knew about her,” Leisring said.
Julia Greeley born into slavery in Hannibal, Missouri between 1835 and 1855. She was known as the “Angel of Charity” when she came to Denver. She pulled along a red wagon at night and dropped off food, clothing and supplies to the poor. She visited each and every fire station in Denver to drop off religious literature.
Stories of Greeley’s humility, perseverance and faith were well-known to many in the crowded cathedral Wednesday. Elizabeth Gray brought along her three daughters and two nieces to witness the unique, historic ceremony.
“It teaches me and I hope it teaches the kids that their lives can be saintly, that they can be holy and that they can be perfect people,” Gray said.
After parishioners had a chance to view Greeley’s remains, carpenters sealed the wooden funerary box. It was then carried over to the chapel at the west side of the cathedral.
VIDEO ESSAY: Ceremony for Julia Greeley's remains
“We didn’t think we’d be able to see all of this,” said Margaret Wright, administrative assistant for the archdiocese Office of Liturgy. “This is in our lifetime, and that’s what makes it such a special day.”
Late last year, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila petitioned the opening of a cause for Julia Greeley’s canonization. On May 26, Greeley’s body was exhumed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Wednesday’s ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception took place on the 99th anniversary of Greeley’s death. The sainthood investigation will include several more steps, and likely several more years. The Archdiocese of Denver is expected to complete its portion of the investigation in about a year, a spokeswoman said. The archdiocese will then pass on its findings to Rome.