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Denver firefighters honor Colorado's first potential saint

Julia Greeley's life of service followed the loss of four Denver firefighters in the St. James fire in 1895.

DENVER– She was a slave born in Hannibal, Missouri who became a “Servant of God” and is now being considered as Colorado’s first potential saint.

Julia Greeley died 100 years ago this Thursday. Denver firefighters know her story well.

“Her meager means of transportation was to pull a little red wagon and she would visit every Denver firehouse at that time,” said Derrick Johnson, a Lieutenant with the Denver Fire Department. “She would bring literature. She would talk to them and she would go serve them.”

Julia Greeley came to Denver in the late 1800s and became known as the “Angel of Charity” for her work with the poor. She’d deliver a wagon full of food, clothes and other goods, often in the middle of the night. Lt. Johnson said Greeley’s life of service followed a story of sacrifice involving several Denver firefighters.

“In 1895, the St. James fire happened. We lost four firefighters from engine 3,” Johnson said. “Julia, it’s speculated that she – that was catalyst that took Julia and got her really involved in going out to firehouses.”

Johnson and fellow firefighters wanted to return the favor. On Thursday, Denver Fire’s honor guard took part in the procession at the beginning of a special celebratory mass held to mark the 100th anniversary of Julia Greeley’s death.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila led the service at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where Julia Greeley will forever rest. Last week, her remains were transferred to a marble tomb sculpted in Italy.

“No bishop, no priest, no cardinal is entombed here, but she is,” said Mary Leisring, president of the Julia Greeley Guild.

During the mass, Archbishop Aquila shared Julia Greeley’s story and made a pew full of firefighters proud – Lt. Johnson most of all. The lieutenant is studying to earn another title.

“I’ve felt kind of a tug at my heart and on my own time, I’ve pursued entering formation to be a Catholic deacon,” Johnson said.

The cause for Greeley’s canonization was opened in December of 2016. Her remains were exhumed from Mount Olivet Cemetery last year, on the 99th anniversary of her death. The Archdiocese of Denver expects to wrap its part of the sainthood investigation in August before turning things over to the Vatican.

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