Fr. Peter J. Daly
April 13, 2004
One of the few pieces of practical pastoral advice I got in the seminary was, “When you get to the parish make friends with two people, the cook and the secretary.”
Since our parish does not have a cook, there is one crucial person to make friends with, the secretary. Her name is “Mike”. (Yes, I know it is a boy’s name, but that is her name, “Mike.”)
People not intimately connected with the operation of parish life probably don’t have an appreciation of how essential a parish secretary is to a healthy parish.
She (generally a she) is often the first point of contact of people with our parish. If she is friendly, the parish is perceived as friendly. Mike is unfailingly friendly, greeting people with sympathy and kindness.
The parish secretary is also, in many ways the repository of the parish memory. She keeps the sacramental records and the parish rolls. She remembers who is coming and who is going. Who has moved and who has had a baby, wedding, funeral or tragedy.
The parish secretary, in many parishes, outlasts the pastor. Our secretary has served three pastors here and understands the different styles and plans of each one. In my case we have worked together for nine years and she still knows more about the community and the families than I ever will.
Like the pastor, the parish secretary has to be skilled at a variety of tasks and has to have seemingly contradictory or at least “contrasting” skills. She has to be a detail person, recording mass intentions and paying bills with accuracy. She also has to be a people person, ready to stop and talk with the people who come in about a funeral or a sick loved one.
Being a parish secretary often calls for long hours, low pay, and hard work. Our parish secretary works six days per week. We pay her for five, but Mike donates each Saturday as her gift to the parish as part of her tithing of her time, talent and treasure.
People sometimes presume too much of her. They always presume that she will be there to unlock the door whenever they arrive. They presume that she will not only reserve a room for their group but find them trash bags, set aside a can of coffee for them, and put up signs advertising their meeting.
She does all those things, besides getting the bulletin out, running off inserts, and recording all the contribution records.
Secretaries in parishes are always working under deadlines. They have the liturgical season, with feasts that require programs to be run off and schedules to go out for all the various ministries.
They also have the endless details that people expect to be exactly right. Each year our secretary has the huge task of getting out about a 1,000 statements of contributions so people can take deductions on their taxes. This means that she has to record all their gifts every week. People sometimes presume she should know that the unmarked $20 in the collection should have been attributed to them.
This past week, I certainly found out how much our parish secretary does. Mike was out sick for her first sick day in 18 years. That is an unbelievable record.
With the constant flow of people on the phone and through the door, I realized how indispensable she really is and how much any pastor depends on a secretary.
I am happy to do my own cooking, but I know I could never replace our parish secretary.