DENVER, Colorado – In May, a century-old body was exhumed from Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a western suburb of Denver. This wasn’t an episode of “CSI” – for one thing, the exhumation took six days, not the five minutes generally required in TV crime dramas.
Nor was there any crime to be solved. On the contrary, the aim was to relocate the remains of an African-American Catholic woman buried in 1918 to Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, as part of the long process of declaring her a saint.
Julia Greeley was born into slavery, lived a life of poverty, and is now the first person to be interred at the cathedral in her adopted city of Denver.
Ask any journalist, and they’ll tell you that details matter. But trying to piece together the details of Greeley’s life is no easy task, which is one of the reasons Denver-based Capuchin Father Blaine Burkey wrote In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart: The Life and Virtues of Julia Greeley, published by the Julia Greeley Guild.
Greeley is undeniably an intriguing case.
She was born into slavery, but nobody can be quite sure of the year since she didn’t know herself. By most accounts, it was between 1833 and 1848, probably in Missouri, but also possibly in the Carolinas. She relocated to Denver, Colorado, between 1878 and 1880.
Many people who knew her mentioned she had a badly damaged eye, but some thought it was the right and some the left. (It was her right eye.) How her eye was damaged is also not certain. The most common theory was that it was damaged by a master’s whip, but whether she was the intended victim or her mother, since she was holding onto her mother’s skirt at the time, isn’t known.
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