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Pilgrim Ann Sieben embarked on a solo pilgrimage beginning at St. Anselm Church in Creve Coeur. Sieben will be walking to Denver to raise awareness of Servant of God Julia Greeley, who was born in Hannibal, Mo., and worked in St. Louis.
Pilgrim Ann Sieben embarked on a solo pilgrimage beginning at St. Anselm Church in Creve Coeur. Sieben will be walking to Denver to raise awareness of Servant of God Julia Greeley, who was born in Hannibal, Mo., and worked in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Mendicant pilgrim honors, raises awareness of former slave Julia Greeley with walking pilgrimage from St. Louis to Denver

Mendicant pilgrim Ann Sieben is headed on another journey — this time to honor former slave and Servant of God Julia Greeley

On Ash Wednesday, Ann Sieben was spiritually filled, receiving ashes, the Eucharist and a pilgrim’s blessing. And with that, she headed off on a solo pilgrimage from St. Louis to Denver to share with others the story of Julia Greeley, a former slave known as Denver’s “Angel of Charity” and who is being considered for canonization.

Ann Sieben received ashes on Ash Wednesday before beginning her solo pilgrimage to Hannibal, Mo., and then to Denver. Her pilgrimage was to honor Servant of God Julia Greeley.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Greeley, who was born into slavery in Hannibal, Mo., sometime between 1833-1848, and worked in St. Louis as a domestic helper for nearly 10 years after her emancipation, spent much of her life quietly serving poor families. She also lived and worked as a domestic helper in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico — though she mostly lived in the Denver area. She died in 1918. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2016, giving her the title Servant of God.

“This is to help her along the way,” Sieben said. “To be a beacon of what a holy person can do in their lifetime is an inspiration to all of us.”

Sieben’s Lenten pilgrimage started at Saint Louis Abbey in Creve Coeur, where she was hosted by the Benedictine monks. Her journey — roughly 1,300 miles, all by foot — will take her north to Greeley’s birthplace in Hannibal, and then west toward Denver, where she is based. She is expected to arrive at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver on April 30, just in time for the Easter Vigil.

As part of the canonization process, Greeley’s remains were exhumed and transferred in June 2017 to the cathedral basilica in Denver. She is the only person to be interred there. When Sieben arrives in Denver, she will place at Greeley’s tomb a small notebook with prayer intentions she anticipates collecting along her journey. The notebook is called Julia’s Canoe, after a saying Greeley used when praying for others. (See related.)

Sieben, who is considered a mendicant pilgrim, has made these walking pilgrimages a vocation as a consecrated layperson with the Society of Servant Pilgrims. “My duty is to walk from village to village throughout the world and encounter the people who live there,” she said. Every day she must find a community, whether a church, family or a VFW or Knights of Columbus hall, for example, and ask for a place to stay overnight.

“From my 12 years of experience with this, I know people will invite me into their community and offer me a place to sleep. They will do that because of trust — and trust is the foundation of peace, which is universal. It’s an action of building trust.”

A pilgrim must always have a purpose and destination, Sieben said. On her journey, she will have the opportunity to talk to the people she encounters along the way about Greeley’s life. “She is an example to all of us, whether Catholic or Christian or otherwise, as a person who lived in somewhat modern times and on her own accord helped the poor. She sought opportunities to help

Pilgrim Ann Sieben hugged Father Finbarr Dowling, OSB, before beginning her solo pilgrimage to Hannibal, Mo., and then to Denver. Her pilgrimage was to honor Servant of God Julia Greeley.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
the people — she was very active in her help to fellow humanity.”

Greeley, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, was described as giving both charity and sympathy in “unstinted measure,” according to a 1918 Denver Post article from her funeral at Sacred Heart Church in Denver.

“They looked on the face of Julia Greeley, an aged negro woman, whose heritage when she entered life had been the shackles of a slave and whose bequest when she departed after 85 years of worthy living, is the memory of deeds kindly done; of unselfish devotion to those she loved; and a habit of giving and sharing herself and her goods …” wrote the Post’s social editor, Frances Wayne.

Greeley often worked in the night helping others in need, as a measure to protect their dignity. In his book “In Secret Service of the Sacred Heart,” Capuchin Franciscan Father Blaine Burkey noted that Greeley might have been mistaken for a “common bag lady as she hobbled up and down Larimer and Lawrence streets pulling a little red wagon or lugging and old gunny sack. Sometimes they were filled with used clothing; at other time food stuffs or broken toys or firewood. … Often she was on the streets and back alleys at night, apparently unafraid of the dark.”

“She had a very subtle diplomacy and being sensitive to a person’s dignity,” Sieben said. “It was a mechanism for how she could be effective.”

Sieben will be providing regular updates from her pilgrimage, which will be shared at the website of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (www.denvercathedral.org) and the Denver Catholic’s Facebook page at Denver Catholic.


Servant of God Julia Greeley

Julia Greeley
Photo Credits: Image courtesy Archdiocese of Denver
Julia Greeley was born into slavery in Hannibal, Mo., sometime between 1833 and 1848. While she was still a young child, a cruel slavemaster, in the course of beating her mother, caught Julia’s right eye with his whip and destroyed it.

Freed by Missouri’s Emancipation Act in 1865, Julia subsequently earned her keep by serving white families in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico — though mostly in the Denver area. Whatever she did not need for herself, Julia spent assisting poor families in her neighborhood. When her own resources were inadequate, she begged for food, fuel and clothing for the needy. One writer later called her a “one-person St. Vincent de Paul Society.” To avoid embarrassing the people she helped, Julia did most of her charitable work under cover of night through dark alleys.

Julia entered the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Parish in Denver in 1880, and was an outstanding supporter of all that the parish had to offer. The Jesuits who ran the parish considered her the most enthusiastic promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus they had ever seen. Every month she visited on foot every fire station in Denver and delivered literature of the Sacred Heart League to the firemen, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

A daily communicant, Julia had a rich devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin and continued her prayers while working and moving about. She joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1901 and was active in it till her death in 1918.

As she lived in a boarding house, Julia’s body was laid out in church, and immediately many hundreds of people began filing pass her coffin to pay their grateful respect. She was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery and to the present day many people have been asking that her cause be considered for canonization, a request which was finally granted in the fall of 2016. She was given the title Servant of God. As part of the Cause for Canonization, Julia’s remains were transferred to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on June 7, 2017.

Source: Julia Greeley Guild

>> Society of Servant Pilgrims

Ann Sieben has had more than a decade of experience going on pilgrimages. As a mendicant pilgrim (one who dedicates her life to walking on pilgrimages, often going solo and carrying nothing of value) she started the Society of Servant Pilgrims under the approval of the Archdiocese of Denver. In 2016, the society became an official Association of the Christian Faithful under canon law.

In 2017, Sieben and several others took part in a pilgrimage from Mound City, Kan., to St. Charles to commemorate the spirit of the journey of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. The saint arrived in America in 1818 to establish schools with her community, the Society of the Sacred Heart. A second pilgrimage took place in in the fall 2018, this time ending at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on St. Rose Philippine’s feast day Nov. 18.

Sieben has gone on pilgrimages all over the world, including Scandinavia, France, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Mexico.

To see updates from Ann Sieben on her pilgrimage in honor of Julia Greeley, visit the Denver Catholic Facebook page or the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at www.denvercathedral.org.

To learn more about the Society of Servant Pilgrims, see www.societyofservantpilgrims.com.

>> Julia’s Canoe

More than 100 years ago, on Aug. 2, the Feast of Our Lady of Angels of the Portiuncula, the Servant of God Julia Greeley crossed the street from St. Elizabeth Church to Mrs. Fisher’s grocery and café to get something to eat. Mary, the kitchen girl had already finished the dishes and tidied up.

“Oh, get something for Julia anyhow,” Mrs. Fisher told her. “All right,” said Mary, “but you’ll have to pray for me, Julia.” That prompted Julia to say, “Mary, I’ll put you in a canoe with a lot of others I pray for. But I’ll pray special for Mrs. Fisher, all by herself.”

The Julia Greeley Guild invites petitions for the guild’s Julia’s Canoe Prayer Circle. Prayer intentions may be submitted to JuliasCanoe@gmail.com. Guild asks that you notify it in writing, at the address below, of any favors received through Julia’s intercession. If you do not have an email account, send your intention to Julia’s Canoe, c/o Julia Greeley Guild, 1535 N. Logan St., Denver CO 80203-1913.

Source: Julia Greeley Guild

>> Julia Greeley’s St. Louis connection

Greeley’s brief stint in St. Louis included domestic work for Dr. Paul Gervais Robinson and his wife, Lina Pratte Robinson. While working for the Robinsons, she met Lina’s sister, Julia Pratte Dickerson. A widow with four children, Julia Dickerson married William Gilpin, the first territorial governor of Colorado. When they moved to Denver, Greeley followed them.

It was Julia Gilpin who introduced Greeley to the Catholic faith. She was baptized in 1880 at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. Through the image of the Sacred Heart, Greeley dedicated her life to serving Christ. She often prayed and fasted, sharing leaflets about the Catholic faith with others.

The Julia Greeley Guild is seeking descendants of the Pratte family as part of its research into Greeley’s life. Information can be shared with Father Blaine Burkey, OFMCap, by emailing him at blaine.burkey@gmail.com.

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