By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Administrative professionals in parishes, Catholic schools and religious education program settings have a wide range of roles and responsibilities to fulfill.
But most find that first and foremost on their job description is to serve as the first outward sign of the Church for the person who is on the other end of the telephone line or standing at the doorstep of their office.
In appreciation of the service administrative professionals give to parishes around the Diocese, a Lunch and Learn gathering was hosted in their honor by the diocesan Offices of Pastoral Life and Mission and Catholic Social Services May 2 in 618 Restaurant, Freehold.
Along with being treated to a meal, the day included a presentation by Terry Ginther who reviewed the process of maintaining sacramental records in parishes, including those that have or will experience changes resulting from mergers and closures. The second presentation by Brenda Rascher focused on the importance of having a list of resources readily at hand when inquiries from people in need of emergency assistance are made.
As sacramental records are vitally important documents that can affect the lives of every practicing Catholic, Ginther, diocesan chancellor and executive director of the Office of Pastoral Life and Mission, reminded the 140 secretaries, bookkeepers, business managers, religious education directors, coordinators and assistants as well as the few pastors in attendance, that “people depend on them” because Sacraments establish the status and rights of a person within the Church. Sacraments that are to be recorded include Baptisms, Confirmation, First Holy Communions, marriages, ordinations, profession of vows, funerals and persons who enter the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Using her background as an attorney and a social worker, Rascher, diocesan executive director of Catholic social services, provided handouts containing information that administrative professionals can use when encountering a person with an immediate social need, including a compilation of agencies with contact information that was distributed to the parishes by their respective counties and dealt with situations that would not be addressed by parish St. Vincent de Paul conferences.
Most importantly, Rascher reminded the gathering of their very important role in serving as the first voice a person hears when they call for help. “You are the voice of the Church and the voice of Christ for that person in need,” she said.
Patty Smith, parish secretary in St. Catharine of Siena Parish, Seaside Park, for 17 years, said she found the event helpful and appreciated learning more about handling sacramental records in merged parish settings.
“I wanted to make sure that all record keeping was going to be done correctly,” she said, noting that her parish is set to merge July 1 and that new sacramental and certificates will be needed.
“It was also wonderful to meet people who have the same position in other parishes. We had a chance to compare notes,” Smith said.
Nancy Dormanski, business manager in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, saw the event as a time to communicate important information, to bring the support personnel together in a social atmosphere, to enhance communication and was a way to show support staff that they are appreciated.
Noting that she accompanied St. Martha’s religious education director and assistant and parish secretary, Dormanski said the group wanted to clarify questions or concerns regarding the recording of Sacraments, learn more about the various services that are available to people needing assistance, particularly in Ocean County, and meet and brainstorm ideas and best practices with peers from around the Diocese.
“There is a right way to provide information to someone requesting his or her sacramental data and a wrong way. We can never take the shortcut method of a photocopy of a page; we need to take the time and prepare the proper document,” she said.
Father John Bambrick, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, came with seven staff members who work with records because “at some point, they all run into a curious case” in which they will ask him for guidance. But the workshop, he said, “gave them direct knowledge.”
“People coming to our parishes today have complex needs and relationships that impact how sacramental records are recorded, including for those who are adopted and single parents,” he said.
He noted, “Besides the wealth of practical information and well-organized comprehensive handouts, the day also highlighted the vital role support staff play in a parish and the gratitude we, as clergy, have for their service.
“I wanted the staff to know I appreciate them and the dedication they show to the parish,” Father Bambrick said.