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“The problem is not that we have doubts and fears. The problem is when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even — without realizing it — racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
— Pope Francis
FROM YOUR PASTOR
Two weeks ago, I offered a Reflection on a General Confession On The Sin of Racism. My Focus was the Five Chapters of my personal life – – – Chapter One: Schools, Chapter Two: Professional Life, Chapter Three: Community and Social Life, Chapter Four: Seminary and Catholic Priest, Chapter Five: Use of My Time, Talent, and Treasure to Build and Not Divide.
That Reflection is on the social media of both of our Churches if you would like to look at it. It will help frame today’s Five Chapters.
Why did I write it? I wrote it because of a song that we used to sing at Presentation of Our Lady Grade School during the racial unrest of the late 60s — ‘Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.’
Since that time, we had a very informative discussion in the Julia Greeley Guild Zoom Meeting last week. In that meeting, Mary Leisring — the Coordinator of the Guild, an employee of the Cathedral, and former Director of the Archdiocese Black Catholics Office — made the comment that her phrase is — Black Lives Have Not Always Mattered.
Mary reflected on that concept as it related to her life and career. As a Priest, she has been a great ground for me in Pastoral Counseling through her patience, wisdom, and love. And it was she, and the other Guild members last year, who told me about the reality of The Negro Motorist Green-Book — Victor Hugo Green’s guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans produced annually from 1936 to 1966. I never thought that my Beloved Denver would need such a guide!
At that meeting, Dustin Caldwell, a member of the Guild and an Altar Server here at the Cathedral Basilica, said that when he was interviewed by the Denver Catholic, he chose to focus on his faith and his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus who will ultimately resolve these racial divides. But what he shared with us was HIS BACKSTORY. As a Young Black Man, he would get pulled over by the police for no apparent reason. When he would show them his Pilot’s License, it changed the story! That affected me deeply because Dustin is one of the finest Young Catholic Men that I have met in my life.
Mary and Dustin’s conversations made a difference to me in how I look at the current situation…how I process everyone’s Backstory…and that their Black Lives Matter in my life today.
Their thoughts and those of many others are in this week’s issue of Denver Catholic. I encourage you to read it.
After reading the Issue myself, it brought me to the NEXT QUESTION FOR ME: WHAT BLACK LIVES MATTER IN MY LIFE? And five more Chapters unfolded…
>Chapter 6: Presentation of Our Lady Church. For 88 of its 108 years, a member of my family has been a Parishioner at Presentation Church in West Denver. It was the Church of my Baptism, First Confession, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. And for 50 years in the 20th Century, my Dad, Ted, and my Uncle Frank were members of the Improved Order of Redmen founded at the time of the Revolutionary War. Ironically, in November 1912, the First Mass for the newly formed Presentation of Our Lady Church was celebrated at Redmond Hall near 8th in Knox Court. The Lodge was an organization of white men and a women’s auxiliary until that restriction was dropped the 1970. Its foundation is Liberty, the Flag, Community, and Fraternity. It’s an irony that a Catholic Church in Denver celebrated its First Mass in the Lodge Hall of such an organization. But my Dad and my Uncle (and the many parishioners who were members) were not racists, but two of the finest men I have ever met in my life. They joined the Redmen because there was a Hall in every mining town in Colorado where they lived growing up. They supported their community work serving the developmentally disabled and physically and mentally challenged communities in Denver. What shaped them, Presentation Parish, and me was not ancient membership criteria, but the spirit of service and the knowledge that Black Lives Matter in their service.
>Chapter 7: Newlon and Perry Schools in Barnum. I attended Preschool at Newlon Elementary School and Kindergarten – 3rd Grade at Perry School. (Yes, my classmate at Perry School was Duane Chapman – – Dog the Bounty Hunter!) In Preschool I met a woman by the name of Mrs Marie Greenwood. She was maybe one of the first Black women I met at four years old. My Mom, Gladys, and her best friend Pat Kreps, were the leadership of the PTA. Mrs. Greenwood was the first black teacher to receive tenure in Denver Public Schools. She was Called Home last November at age 106. She was a pioneer of integration in Denver, going to work in all-white Newlon School in 1955. She made an impression on me because of her kindness, her ever present smile, and her desire for me to be a good learner…she loved kids! Now here, once again, is the culture irony. In 3rd Grade I was the Student Body President at Newlon’s affiliate school, Perry School — the last red brick two room schoolhouse in Denver. It was the 50th Anniversary of Perry School in 1961. I accepted the Colorado State Flag from the Daughters of Colorado. They were originally affiliated with the Sons of Colorado organization (which 100 years ago was racially restricted to white men). It is ironic that the first tenured Black Woman in the Denver Public School System and a restricted pioneer heritage organization were both present in this school campus. The Black Life that Mattered in shaping my early years was Mrs. Greenwood.
>Chapter 8: Big Sisters of Colorado. As you can guess by now, I grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in West Denver. Of the 18 houses in my block on Quitman Street in Barnum, we had 11 Anglo, 5 Hispanic, one Native American, and one Austrian family. This diversity was important to my culturalization in the late 60s. After being in the Denver Chamber of Commerce Leadership Denver Program in 1980, I was asked to be on the Board of Big Sisters of Colorado in 1985. My old neighborhood helped me to understand the importance of the mentoring work of Big Sisters. Over time I chaired the Board and three of their major fundraisers. There were many Denver Angels who introduced this Kid from Barnum to the Denver funding community. One such couple was Dr Reginald and Faye Washington. Reggie is a prominent Black heart surgeon, and Faye is the consummate volunteer community leader. I still see his picture regularly and fondly at PSL Hospital. They, along with some other wonderful women leaders who are well connected in Denver, taught me how to conduct myself and move through the funding community in Denver. These Black Lives Mattered in shaping me as a compassionate member of a Diverse Denver Community.
>Chapter 9: The Salvation Army. I have been a member of The Salvation Army board since 1985 and was an officer for 11 years. During that time, I met well-known Denver Boxer Ron Lyle. He coached kids in the Cox-Lyle Boxing Program at the Salvation Army Red Shield Center in the Whittier-Five Points neighborhood, near where he grew up, and where the Senior Center at Red Shield is named after my parents, Gladys and Ted. Ron taught me something about how to work with young people…a key to my ministry to Young Adults as a priest 15 years later! This Black Life showed me that his rich, sometimes good and sometimes bad, life history, a compassionate heart, physical and mental discipline, and basic Christian Hope can change someone’s life.
The other iconic stalwart for me at that time was Mayor Wellington Webb. While we had been professional colleagues during the Lamm Administration, it was as Mayor that he responded EVERY YEAR to my call to assist The Salvation Army Annual Kettle Kickoff. He attended the Red Shield Center growing up — and he never forgot! When I lead the Prayer in the House of Representatives for the Memorial Service of my friend Ruben Valdez in January, the Mayor was there. It gave me the opportunity to thank him once again. This Black Life taught me the importance of loyalty and community service by witnessing that value to me.
>Chapter 10: Broadway. Over 20 years ago I met a Black Actor, Russ Costen, at Mother of God Church. Here in Denver, he was a playwright and a Broadway and Denver Actor. When I arrived at the Cathedral he attended here periodically. I asked THE VOICE as I called him at Mother of God, to be a Lector. Eventually as a regular attendee of the Sunday Concerts and Friday Night at the Movies, he would relate the stories of many of the actors in those movies who he knew and with whom he performed. (And, yes, Russ was in the movie HAIR!) Russ had a voice that was magnificent, and he mesmerized the Congregation. We were trusted friends. Russ was inducted into the Chappell Players Hall of Fame, his Alma Mater, in 2016 for his Commitment and Achievement. He often focused on the Road Not Taken and what that life might have been versus the life he developed in Denver. As he grew older, he realized the fleeting relationships of one world and the enduring values of another. He was Called Home two years ago last October. I was the last person to visit him…I miss him greatly…we had great fun! What he taught me was that life has its up’s and down’s… but what matters are the friends you make along the way. This Black Life Mattered in adding perspective to my priestly life.
Relationships in our life are a Gift From God…a Gift for which we should always say THANK YOU! And through Him the right people come into our life at the right time for the Virtue we Need to Learn, the Job we Need to Do, or the Person we Need to Become.
For me these eight BLACK LIVES MATTERED in my life and have helped me to this place and to this moment. More importantly, it was members of an often-Undervalued Denver Community who taught me how to Embrace A Total Community…
For those who have been Called Home, may God Bless Them in Abundance for their impact on my life. And for those who may become aware of this Reflection someday, thank you for all the Good YOU DID IN MY LIFE.
What Black Lives Matter in Your Life? You just may not have to look too far…if you open your eyes and your heart…
Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…
Servant of God, Julia Greeley, pray for us!
+May God Bless You and Keep You+