Julia Greeley: "A woman with a wide-winged spirit"
The Julia Greeley Home is inspired by a courageous, faith-filled woman who overcame slavery and poverty to become a source of hope to others even less fortunate than she.
By the time Julia Greeley died in Denver in 1918, she was so well known for her outreach to the poor that her funeral attracted a spontaneous crowd of 1,000 mourners, according to a newspaper account of the day.
For years, Julia was a welcome and familiar sight on Denver’s streets. When she appeared wearing her signature floppy black hat and pulling a little wagon, it meant she was on her way to bring food, clothing and encouragement to somebody in need. “Old Julia,” as she came to be known, did her ministry at night, hobbling on a lame foot, after she had worked all day as a housekeeper, cook and “nanny” to a prominent Colorado family.
“She was ... a woman with a wide-winged spirit,” wrote Frances Wayne, the Denver Post reporter who covered Julia’s larger-than-life funeral. Her legacy, Wayne wrote, included “eighty-five years of worthy living ... unselfish devotion ... and a habit of giving and sharing herself and her goods.”
Hardship didn't stop Julia
Julia started with everything stacked against her. She was born into slavery on a Missouri farm sometime in the 1840s, and in that cruel setting, she was physically abused. She lost an eye in a beating and became permanently lame. As a free woman after the Civil War, Julia took jobs as a housekeeper and nanny, and eventually went to work in Denver for the family of William Gilpin, the first territorial governor of Colorado.
In Denver, Julia lived in a tiny apartment in the city’s future LoDo area, near Blake and Walnut streets. Through her work for the powerful Gilpins, Julia was connected by only a few degrees of separation with Denver’s influential and wealthy families.
But her heart was elsewhere: She loved children and the poor, and she had special compassion for firefighters, who in the 19th century faced daily dangers from rickety fire-prone buildings. On her daily journeys to visit poor homes, she also took holy cards and prayerful encouragements to fire stations across Denver. Her love for little children was legendary. She was known as an especially tender and gentle “nanny” with the Gilpin children and the children of other families. In fact, the only known photo of Julia shows her cradling one of her young charges.
A woman of deep faith
Julia also was known for her commitment to her Catholic faith. Of course, when she served the poor and indigent, Julia never questioned their creed or belief; all she wanted to do was lift up anyone who struggled and suffered as she had done. On her own time, Julia continued her unshakable devotion and trust in Jesus Christ. Every day she trudged to daily Mass at her parish, Sacred Heart Church on Larimer Street. She had a deep love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion familiar to many Catholics as the special recognition of the heart of Jesus as beating with love for each and every human being.
In what many regard as a fitting capstone to her remarkable life, Julia died on June 7, 1918, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And it was in Sacred Heart Church, her parish, that her unexpectedly awesome funeral was held which attracted such huge crowds of mourners.
In the 21st century Julia's fame has grown even larger. In late 2016, her heroic life was officially recognized by the Catholic Church, which began the canonization process to declare Julia a saint. Today her official name is Servant of God Julia Greeley.
We at the Julia Greeley Home celebrate our patron by honoring her legacy of bravery, independence and tireless motivation. She never made excuses for her own painful start in life. Despite an indescribable succession of burdens --- born into slavery, impoverished, alone, and struggling with physical disabilities -- Julia never quit! She moved to Denver, found work, and then turned to others, to help them improve their lives. And she is remembered and revered to this day.
Like Julia, we believe in the intrinsic worth of each individual, no matter what their background, creed or denomination. Our goal is to motivate each woman to become the kind of woman Julia was, a woman of independence, self sufficiency and integrity: “A woman with a wide-winged spirit.”