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National prayer union for firefighters honors Denver's Black Catholic saint-to-be

Servant of God Julia Greeley has perhaps the most active cause among the six US Black Catholic saints-to-be, and a prayer union is her guild's latest initiative.

Enrollment certificate for the Julia Greeley Firefighters Prayer Union. (Julia Greeley Home)

DENVER — The Black Catholic “Angel of Charity” in the Mile High City now has an official prayer union, the fruit of an initiative from a local women’s home named in her honor.

The Julia Greeley Firefighters Prayer Union, which enrolled its first members on March 31st, is named after the Church's only African-American saint-to-be west of the Mississippi. Greeley, a former slave and later a noted philanthropist and evangelist, had her cause for canonization opened by Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver in December 2016, granting her the title “Servant of God”.

The Julia Greeley Home, founded a year earlier to serve Denver’s unhoused women, initiated the prayer union by way of executive director Mary Callan, and it became active on social media last fall. The group collects donations, starting at $25 a year, for enrolling firefighters to be prayed for every month by local Capuchin Franciscan friars.

Any firefighter or station/crew can be enrolled in the union, regardless of location. Half of each donation goes to the Home itself, while the rest goes to either the Denver Firefighters Charitable Foundation (if the firefighter enrolled is local) or the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

Born in the early 1800s—the exact year or date is unknown—Greeley herself started an informal prayer union of her own during her life, having been a frequent visitor to the local fire stations to pray for the workers. She was also known for carrying her “Lil' Red Wagon”, full of supplies for the needy, around the city to the homeless and destitute.

The new prayer union is intimately connected to this mission, as Denver Fire Captain Greg Pixley told Catholic media last month that his department responded to 716 calls related to the city’s unhoused population, an increase of 563% from the previous year.

Greeley was also known for her devout practice of the Catholic faith, and would distribute sacramentals and literature related to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which she had a special devotion after her conversion in 1880.

Her feast on the 7th of June—during the Month of the Sacred Heart—commemorates the day of her death in 1918. This year on Monday, June 6th, a special Mass in her honor will be celebrated at 5:30pm MT in Denver at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (where Greeley's body was re-interred in 2017, forming a small shrine of sorts).

Her canonization cause is ongoing, and the writing of the official positio on her life was initiated roughly a year ago, signaling the start of the “Roman phase” of the sainthood process (which followed the proceedings in the Archdiocese of Denver). If the document is approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Greeley will move to the next stage of the process and be declared “Venerable”.

Her cause is the second-newest among the six venerated African American Catholics, and none have yet been declared “Blessed”—the last step before being named a saint. Both of the last two steps usually require the Vatican’s approval of miracles attributed to the person’s intercession, and at least one has been noted recently on Greeley’s behalf in the media.

The total cost involved with the various phases of investigation for a Catholic sainthood cause, including the verification of miracles, has been noted in recent years as ranging from $250,000 to $800,000. For these and other reasons, many US Catholics have begun petitioning Pope Francis to fast-track the causes of the six African Americans, including Greeley. The most notable ally thus far in the push is the Josephites, who began supporting the petition in full force earlier this year.

Details on membership in the Julia Greely Guild, which supports her cause, can be found on her official website, and enrollments for the prayer union—the proceeds of which are independent of the cause—can be made here.

The guild can also be supported via ticket purchases for select Denver sporting events, including Saturday’s MLB matchup between the Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves. Interested parties can contact Mary Leisring at 720-352-4995 for more information.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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