'Old Julia:' Celebrating a Heroic Life

Imagine a young woman born into slavery 150 years ago. She’s abused so much that she loses her eye and full use of one leg. When our country comes to its senses after the Civil War and recognizes her innate freedom and dignity as a human being, this young woman thinks to herself, “I hurt, and I can’t see well, and I know many people won't accept me because I am black, but I’m going to take this chance and make something of myself.” 

We know Julia Greeley must have thought something like this, because of what she did: She left Missouri and came to Denver to conquer life in spite of the huge obstacles she still faced -- including the obstacle of forgiving her enemies. (We know she must have forgiven her enemies because the way she conducted her life showed that there wasn’t a bitter bone in her body.)

I’m marveling a lot over Julia Greeley right now because -- well, what a 2016 she's had so far!

In January this poor housekeeper from Denver known in her day as “Old Julia” was named Denver’s Model of Mercy, as part of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy. In February, a packed bus tour followed the historic paths she trudged every day bringing food, clothes and encouragement to other poor people. The tour was sponsored by the Julia Greeley Guild (yes, “Old Julia” even has her own guild today) and she is the subject of a fascinating biography written by my Capuchin brother, Father Blaine Burkey, O.F.M.Cap.

Now it's March, and of course, Julia Greeley continues to inspire the Julia Greeley Home, which had been on my heart as a great need for many years, and which finally opened in 2013 for today’s women who, like Julia, are poor, and have been traumatized and abused by life. 

The mysterious thing about Julia Greeley is, unlike most famous people, her fame doesn't fade with time, it continues to grow. We can only wonder what it means. We know that more and more people are asking today whether the woman known as “Old Julia” will someday also be known as “Saint Julia.” We don’t know. Whether or not that happens, she has already done something that she never could have guessed -- she's inspiring people a century after her death. It's said Julia loved to laugh, and we can only think she would have laughed to think that, someday, she would be "famous" just because she got up every day, determined to do what she could to love others.