Luncheons honor work of parish admin professionals

BRAINTREE -- Susan Ho, director of faith formation at St. James the Greater Parish in Boston's Chinatown, calls herself a "Jane of all trades."

She has been a parishioner at St. James, home to the Archdiocese of Boston's Chinese community, for over 25 years. Along with being director of faith formation and catechist, she mails out the weekly parish bulletins, helps parishioners prepare for sacraments, and assists the priests with anything they need.

"I see Christ in all circumstances," Ho told The Pilot, "whether you're serving somebody in the parish as well as visitors coming to the parish, or making a difference in the kids that I help grow in their faith."

People like Ho go by many titles, such as director of faith formation, office manager, parish secretary, and administrative assistant. They are usually the first people when they call the parish or see when they walk in. They keep track of sacramental records, help people prepare for weddings and funerals, handle paperwork, direct phone calls, assist priests and deacons, and lend a hand whenever and wherever possible. They are parish administrative professionals, and on April 23, dozens of them were invited to the Archdiocese of Boston's Pastoral Center in Braintree to socialize, eat chicken parm, and be celebrated for their hard work. Similar appreciation luncheons were also held at St. Brigid Parish in Lexington on April 10 and St. Theresa Parish in North Reading on April 17.

"It's unfortunate that you sort of are the people who have only gotten secondary attention," Sister of St. Joseph Pat Boyle, associate director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning, said at the luncheon. "You are the first face of the parish. So, whatever you are is what you're communicating about your parish, and we really, really value the way you present yourself to people."

Sister Pat said that the warm welcome parishioners receive from administrative professionals "is what evangelization is all about."

"It's not the banners," she said. "It's not fantastic programs. While those may be wonderful, it's the person who answers the phone and greets you at the door who makes all the difference in the world."

The luncheons, the first of their kind in the recent history of the archdiocese, were organized by the Archdiocese of Boston Office of Family Life and Ecclesial Movements, directed by Liz Cotrupi. She and her colleagues agreed that parish admin professionals are responsible for "gateway moments" of evangelization, and are deserving of more recognition than they get.

"They see this face, and that's like a first impression," Cotrupi told The Pilot. "So, they're very integral to the mission of the church, and we started thinking, 'When was the last time anyone did anything for them?'"

Mary Curley, who has answered the phone at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Walpole for almost two years, sometimes gets calls from people whose loved ones are sick or have recently died, and are looking for advice and consolation. Many of them are strangers to her, but she thinks of each one as "another one of God's children."

"I'll talk to them about it and try to find them help," she told The Pilot. "Try to understand what they're doing, what they need. I just figure that God loves them, and God wants me to love them too. I feel like I'm talking to another person just like me. I could be that person, and they could be me."

Curley used to work for the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington but she always wanted to work for the church.

"I just love it," she said. "I love all the people I'm meeting. Just wonderful."

Bishop Mark O'Connell delivered the blessing at the luncheon.

"I have been asked before, 'What's the key to my success?'" he said. "I said, 'I surround myself with smart women.'"

Bishop O'Connell recalled his first day as a parish priest. The admin of the first parish he served in was Rita Coyne, mother of Archbishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Hartford.

"She set me straight on the very first day," he said. "I've been paying attention as best I can ever since, and I thank God for your good work."

Archdiocese of Boston Evangelization Consultant Rosemary Maffei led the professionals in prayer and reflection. Cotrupi wished a happy birthday to "the Maureens:" Maureen Louzan and Maureen Kane, both of whom volunteer at the Christ by the Sea Collaborative of Cohasset and Hull. On April 23, Louzan celebrated her 74th birthday, and Kane celebrated her 80th.

Kane, who wears a wristwatch with the Virgin Mary on its face, told The Pilot that it was a "blessing" to be celebrating her birthday at the luncheon. When Cotrupi asked her why she is still volunteering at the age of 80, Kane replied: "What else would I be doing?"

"There's so many various things to do," Kane told The Pilot. "It's just a pleasure. It's uplifting."

Kane and Louzan answer the phone, help schedule Masses, serve lunch after funerals, and keep sacramental records. The two Maureens met at church and have been friends ever since.

"I think we complement each other," Kane said. "She helps me do everything."

"It's very fulfilling," Louzan told The Pilot. "Each day is different. It's an honor. It's an honor and a privilege and it brings me a lot of happiness."