Behind any good parish is a good church secretary
by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The parish secretary’s voice is often the first one you’ll hear when you dial your church.
From offering words of comfort to designing the bulletin, the secretary’s duties can vary greatly.
“Every single day is different,” said Maureen Leiker, longtime secretary at St. Matthew Parish in Topeka. “You come in in the morning, and you don’t know what the day’s going to bring your way.”
In a busy season for the church, like the bustling weeks of Advent — and soon, Christmas — their work and expertise make a world of difference.
But it’s not just during the special liturgical seasons that their work shines.
“They always say that a good parish secretary really runs the parish, as they know what and who makes things happen,” said Father Jerry Volz, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.
“They are the eyes and ears of the community,” agreed Father John Torrez, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Topeka.
And although there’s not enough room in an entire issue to do justice to all the contributions parish secretaries make, it seems only appropriate in this, The Leaven’s Christmas issue, to acknowledge a few longtime fixtures in their parish offices.
St. Matthew Parish, Topeka
Years working at parish: 20 (“And I love it here,” said Leiker.)
How she’d like to see parishioners connect more deeply: “I just wish if there was something we could help them with, they would call us and let us know. . . . I would rather have three phone calls telling me about something than not hear at all when somebody needs prayers or needs Communion.”
Maureen Leiker shares a special bond with St. Matthew Parish.
“My parents were charter members,” said Leiker. Her 91-year-old mother is still a member.
Leiker was born in the spring of 1955, but the parish didn’t form until that fall, so she wasn’t baptized there.
Since then, however, it’s always been home.
She attended St. Matthew School and went on to Hayden High School, where she met her high school sweetheart Jim — to whom she has been married for 38 years.
Their three children also went to St. Matthew and Hayden.
“I guess I kind of stick with things, don’t I?” said Leiker.
Her years at the parish pay off for Father John Torrez, who arrived this past July as pastor.
“It is a blessing to have someone like Maureen, because she knows almost everyone and knows a little about everyone’s situation and history,” he said. “When asked about someone, she is always able to respectfully speak of what she knows. I believe this is a major reason why so many love and respect her. She is without a doubt an asset.”
She and others from the parish were waiting for him the day he arrived to help him move into the rectory, and she had even stocked the refrigerator with some of his favorites.
“Maureen was an excellent ‘Director of First Impressions’ for St. Matthew as she was very pleasant to all whom she came in contact with,” said Father Jerry Volz, previous pastor at St. Matthew and now pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe. “And since she has been a lifelong member of the parish, she really did know most of the people.”
“There are moments of sadness, but there’s great joy, and I love the people of St. Matthew’s,” said Leiker. “Getting to know the people and sharing their lives — I would say that’s the greatest perk.”
Mary Kay Traffis
Cathedral of St. Peter, Kansas City, Kansas
Years working at parish: 25 in January (I’m here for anybody, any time,” said Traffis.)
How she’d like to see parishioners connect more deeply: “I think the Eucharist is one way that you can connect with your church, with God, with your fellow man. We’re all in the same boat when we walk through those doors. Nobody’s perfect. . . . But we’re all in unison here. It just gives you a feeling of ‘I’m not out here alone.’”
“I don’t think I have a chance on God’s green earth,” thought Mary Kay Traffis in January 1990 as she drove the couple of minutes home from her interview with Msgr. Henry Gardner at the Cathedral of St. Peter.
But she left it in God’s hands and, when she arrived home just moments later, her mother rushed to the door.
“Monsignor’s on the phone,” she said. “You’d better hurry.”
And with the offer that followed, “I walked away from banking and never looked back,” said Traffis.
This has been among the most rewarding and fulfilling things she’s ever done.
Just as when she helped parishioners and good friends Michael and Terry Rebout coach kids in T-ball, she brings the attitude of “Thank you for letting me be part of it.”
Although she went to school at St. Anthony in Kansas City, Kansas, she was raised in the cathedral neighborhood and knew its families.
She officially became a member of the cathedral parish once she started working there.
Sad times and changes in peoples lives — from divorces to people who have to move from the neighborhood — bring some of the more difficult times for her, and she hopes people know their church is always there for them.
“The door is always open; we always care,” she said. “One of the most difficult things is trying to get across to people that we’re here for you no matter what goes on in your life. And so is God, so is Jesus.”
Christmas is one of her favorite times of the year to work for the church.
“Watching the faces of the children delighting,” she said.
And she also believes that Christmas doesn’t end in January for cathedral parishioners.
She has a front-row seat for their regular food drives, the way they serve the homeless, the way they care.
“This is a parish that does Christmas all year long,” said Traffis.
(Known as “Trudie” within the parish)
Sacred Heart Parish, Emporia
Years working at parish: 14 (It’s always interesting,” said Krueger.)
How she’d like to see parishioners connect more deeply: Get involved! “Many times through the bulletin, I’m trying to let them know there are so many things people do. We have so many great parishioners and such a great parish, and things are happening all the time.”
Marilyn Krueger has a great view from her window at Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia.
“I can see the school from my window, and I enjoy watching [the students] run out and scream and play,” she said.
“When they leave in the summertime, it gets a little dull around here.”
But then, intensive Bible school sessions fire up.
There’s always something going on at the parish, and Krueger has a role in orchestrating a lot of it.
That can mean there are plenty of interruptions, and her plate stays pretty full.
“I do love working for the church,” said Krueger, who spent years previously working in education.
She enjoys starting her day with Mass.
“My main job is the publishing of the bulletin, which I love,” said Krueger. “I’ve learned a lot through that.”
She helps with church records and also with managing the parish hall. In addition, she loves being a cantor.
She holds a bereavement group and answers questions when calls come in during families’ most difficult times.
She loves working with the staff, and also seeing people take advantage of everything from adult education to prayer groups.
“There are so many ways that they could become involved,” she said. “All they have to do is call me, and I love welcoming new parishioners.”
“Marilyn wears probably about 15 different hats around here; she’s just indispensible,” said Father Tom Dolezal, who arrived at the parish in April to serve as pastor.
And he likes to say: “When she retires, we’re going to need probably about three or four people to take her place because she is just so great.”
The pastor depends heavily on the parish secretary, and the position requires a sense of the parish and knowledge of the organizations and people to contact.
“Plus just having a good personality,” he said, and he’s worked with some great ones.
“It behooves a parish to find a good parish secretary that lives the Gospel — not only says it, but lives it,” said Father Dolezal. “And Marilyn truly lives the Gospel.”
Mary Alice Hutley
Immaculate Conception Parish, St. Marys
Years working at parish: 29 (“It’s the people I work with,” said Hutley.)
How she’d like to see parishioners connect more deeply: “They need to register. I think it’s very important that they do that. That way, they kind of get to know people.”
Mary Alice Hutley never planned to work for Immaculate Conception Parish.
But when in 1985 she called Father John Erickson, then pastor, to inquire about getting two of her sons who had graduated from school on the church envelope list, he asked if she’d come in a couple times a week to help with the bulletin, which sometimes kept him busy until the last minute before Mass.
“Father, I haven’t typed for 23 years,” answered Hutley.
“It’s just like riding a bike,” assured Father Erickson, who sometimes found himself working on the bulletin on Saturday afternoons.
Having the money certainly wouldn’t hurt, so Hutley went to work.
Although Hutley had grown sons at the time, she and her husband Richard, who died in 2009, hadn’t quite completed their family yet.
Their youngest daughter Pamela came along the following year, bringing the total number of Hutley children to 10.
Although Hutley worked alongside priests at parish functions, and some of her boys had served Mass, working in the church office provided a whole new perspective.
“My kids really learned to know the priests,” said Hutley. “It’s just made a difference.”
They’re human, too, she tells people, and she’s thoroughly enjoyed the laughter and conversations she’s had with all of them.
“Father Earl [Dekat] and I, we used to compare what we did as kids,” said Hutley. “We did a lot of the same things.”
With some of the priests, though, “I’m old enough to be their mother.”
She encourages parishioners, also, to get to know their priests.
Priests tend to move around fairly often compared to Hutley’s longevity in the parish, said Father Ray May, who arrived this past summer as pastor.
“I figure working for so long, you learn the job better and better every year,” said Father May.
“She has such a calming and soothing demeanor that you can truly see that she is a lady of prayer and devotion,” said Father John Torrez, a previous pastor of Immaculate Conception and current pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Topeka. “I believe this makes her so approachable and the reason why so many find her to be a joy in the parish. I know I did.”
Sacred Heart Parish, Baileyville
Years working at parish: 20 (“I look forward to going to work,” said Broxterman.)
How she’d like to see parishioners connect more deeply: “Get involved with the church. Nothing is more satisfying than helping people. Pray a lot.”
“She makes it look so easy,” said Father Ed Oen, CPPS, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Baileyville.
Unlike secretaries at busier parishes who spend every weekday in the office, Broxterman usually goes in once or twice a week, but that’s enough to stay on top of the parish bulletin and other important assignments.
Broxterman had always been a stay-at-home mom to her five boys and one girl, but it was always a dream of hers to work for the church.
So she was thrilled when Father Ed Weigel, CPPS, then-pastor of Sacred Heart, brought her on board.
“After I worked for him two days — which would have been two weeks — he said he was leaving,” she said.
And so when his replacement, Father Al Fey, CPPS, came — joined by his sisters — “It was a joy to work with him, but we both had to learn everything together,” said Broxterman.
She has always found the archdiocesan offices helpful.
“You just can’t believe how much you can do over the phone with the computer,” she said.
But even the computer work was a skill she picked up on the job.
She once worked in a grain elevator office and still leans on those bookkeeping skills.
“I really love math; bookkeeping is fun to me,” she said.
The busiest time of the year for her is when the financial statements are due.
And although things don’t change much in the office, Christmastime is her favorite.
Working for the church runs in the family for Broxterman, whose sister is Joyce Klingele — who served as secretary to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Archbishop James P. Keleher before that, before retiring.
Broxterman believes their education at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Seneca instilled in them a good faith foundation.
Father Ed is impressed with her unwavering energy and how people know to call her if they need to reach him when he’s out and about — and she’ll know how to track him down.
“People trust and love her,” said Father Ed. “She even directs the parish choir.”