DENVER - Julia Greeley always walked the streets of Denver with one thing: a red wagon. Inside that wagon was a seemingly endless supply of items for people in need. But Greeley was no rich woman.
"She was a slave," said Father Blaine Burkey, archivist for the Capuchin Province of Mid-America, who has spent years studying Greeley.
The former slave, who lost one of her eyes when her slave master hit her with a whip, came to Denver from St. Louis. She lived in several homes in the areas of Curtis Park and Five Points. And she never went a day without going to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which still stands at 2760 Larimer Street.
"She prayed to the Sacred Heart every day," said Mary Leisring, president of the Julia Greeley Guild.
Greeley's faith inspired her to give back to others, even when she didn't have much.
"She brought food and clothing and all sorts of things," Burkey said of Greeley. "But she did it at night and through the back alleys so that the people wouldn't see her."
The cover of Burkey's book In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart, illustrates that legend, with a painting of Greeley peeking over a fence, red wagon behind her, after leaving a bag of food at a person's door.
Burkey researched state archives and previously-conducted interviews with people who knew Greeley in order to compile information for his book. He also conducted much of his own research, though Greeley left very little behind after her death in 1918.
"The photo of her is the only relic we have," Burkey says of a photo showing Greeley holding a child for whom she served as a caregiver.
Burkey and Leisring hope that the renewed interest in Greeley, brought on by the book, could begin the process of Greeley being canonized as a saint.
"There's been talk of that ever since she died," said Burkey. "Her life is just like a canonized saint."
But the process of canonization is a long one.
"That won't happen until the Archdiocese is convinced that there is a good sized groundswell of people who would like this to happen," said Burkey.
In the meantime, He and Leisring continue to gather stories of charity linked to Julia Greeley, who often supported the church by doing everything from helping with fundraisers to cleaning the floors.
"She would collect dresses from the wealthy to give them to other people that couldn't afford them. Who would do that," asked Leisring, "Except an angel."
Burkey's Book, In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart ($19.95), is now being sold at The Tattered Cover Bookstore, Gerken's Religious Supplies (1175 Santa Fe Dr.) and The Capuchin Provincial Offices (3613 Wyandot St). Information on other locations where the book is sold and details on the Julia Greeley Guild are available at www.JuliaGreeley.org or by calling the Julia Greeley Guild at 303-558-6685 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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